At a certain point, this became the likeliest outcome. A continuation of the partnership between the Braves and Dansby Swanson always made sense for both sides.
Until it did not.
The writing appeared to be on the wall.
As the weeks passed this offseason, this day – and this resolution – seemed to become more and more of a possibility. As the Braves and Swanson appeared to achieve little progress, reality set in for this situation.
This all became final Saturday: Swanson, the team’s unofficial captain, no longer is a Brave.
Swanson agreed to a seven-year, $177 million contract with the Chicago Cubs, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The deal, which has an average annual value of about $25.3 million, includes a full no-trade clause.
For the first time in his career, Swanson, a Marietta High graduate who was the Braves’ shortstop since his debut in 2016, will wear another uniform. He will not walk into the clubhouse at the spring training facility in North Port, Florida. He will not don a cap with the “A” on it. You will not see him at shortstop or in the batter’s box for the Braves.
Instead, the Braves will move on with another shortstop – whether it be Vaughn Grissom, Orlando Arcia or an external candidate – as they continue chasing their goals. Swanson, on the other hand, will be part of the Cubs’ attempted rebuild, the prize of that organization’s offseason, a potential beacon of hope for fans at Wrigley Field.
For the second time in as many years, the Braves will go forward without a franchise icon, as Freddie Freeman and Swanson – who were as synonymous with the Braves as anyone from the past decade – have departed Atlanta. Fans (some more than others) will undoubtedly feel the sting, even if they understand this is a business. President of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos has built a winner here, but some fans might hurt over this for a period of time.
Both Swanson and the Braves publicly stated their desire to continue their relationship. Swanson is from metro Atlanta, someone who has helped drive the Braves’ culture in the way that Freeman did. The Braves valued him as a player and leader.
“He’s become an amazing player,” Anthopoulos said at the general manager meetings in November, also calling Swanson “arguably the best defensive shortstop in the game.”
In an interview with the AJC in August, Swanson said: “I’m an Atlanta kid. This is my home. This will always be my home. After I’m done playing Mallory (Pugh, now his wife) and I will be in Atlanta, and our kids will grow up in Atlanta, too. This is home, and (the Braves) know that. We’ll just see where things go.”
Based on all of everything, Swanson seemed destined to continue his run as one of Atlanta’s most recognizable athletes. But it seemed that the Braves were not willing to step outside their comfort zone, and Swanson didn’t want to take less money.
During the second half of the season, the Braves and Swanson’s camp discussed a potential contract extension. The Braves, according to someone with knowledge of the situation, offered Swanson six years and $100 million at the time. Swanson’s side countered with six years and $140 million.
The Braves rarely, if ever, overpay. Anthopoulos is adept at understanding his comfort level with something as it relates to his short- and long-term vision for his club. He will take risks, but he won’t do something he feels he cannot do.
In 2022, Anthopoulos gave contract extensions to Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Michael Harris and Spencer Strider. These joined the extensions previously handed to Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies. No one on the Braves’ roster will make more than $22 million in a season on his current deal. The Braves would have crossed the luxury-tax threshold if they re-signed Swanson, though they’ve said they are willing to do this, and accept the penalties, for the correct player and deal.
Swanson, who never has played for another team, played in 827 games over seven seasons in Atlanta. He has made one All-Star appearance and won one Gold Glove, both captured last season. He has developed into one of the game’s better shortstops, evidenced by the deal Chicago gave him. Swanson, who was part of a group of four top shortstops on the market this winter, was the last one standing until signing with the Cubs.
Asked about Swanson’s future after the Phillies eliminated the Braves from the postseason in October, Braves manager Brian Snitker said: “I love that guy, just what he brings, consistency. I’ve never seen a player that wants to win more than him. And like I say, hopefully I get to reconvene with him. …But I can’t say enough good things about that kid and his makeup and drive and determination and the person he is. And I think the world of him. I have so much respect for him, how he goes about it. It’s cool, too, because I’ve seen the first day he got in here until now and how he’s grown and matured and the player that he’s become.”
That same day, third baseman Austin Riley said this: “He’s such a genuine guy. He loves the game of baseball, wants to win more than anybody, and the important thing is he’s very selfless. He wants the best for everyone else.”
Swanson’s teammates and coaches say he possesses the “It” factor. It can be a sports cliché, but they often swear by it. With Freeman gone, Swanson became the Braves’ unquestioned leader in the clubhouse. In that way, Saturday’s news is a blow.
Over his career, Swanson has hit .255 with a .738 OPS. He has amassed 102 home runs and 411 RBIs. He is known more for his defense and has terrific instincts. In “late and close” game situations – a category used by Baseball Reference to give a player’s statistics in clutch moments – Swanson has posted a .777 OPS. With two outs and runners in scoring position, he has an .802 OPS.
It might be fair to say that Swanson benefitted from the high free-agent prices this winter. Fans and pundits will debate whether the Braves were smart to pass on paying him what the Cubs did. However, as Anthopoulos has said publicly this winter, Swanson earned the right to test the open market.
Excluding the condensed 2020 season, Swanson never has finished a full season with an OPS higher than .776. He hit 27 homers in 2021 and 25 more last season, displaying his power, but he doesn’t feature the bat of many of the game’s top shortstops. But he’s often terrific in big spots, he plays incredible defense, impacts games with his speed and is a positive for any clubhouse.
Swanson might be the type of player who can help the Cubs begin to accelerate their rebuild attempt. He seemingly has improved each season, and that could continue as he progresses through his prime.
But it never appeared the Braves were willing to come close to what the Cubs offered Swanson, whose wife plays for the United States Women’s National Soccer Team and the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League.
The question now: Where do the Braves go from here?
Swanson leaves a sizable void from a 101-win team. The Braves have won five consecutive National League East crowns, and their decision about their starting shortstop will be one factor in whether they can capture a sixth.
Grissom is talented. The Braves believe his bat is real, and infield guru Ron Washington believes in his defense. But he hasn’t played a ton of baseball at the major-league level. Arcia is an established big-league shortstop. The free-agent market might not net anyone better than Grissom or Arcia. The Braves could look to swing a trade for a starting shortstop.
Swanson is not one of the game’s superstars, but he’s a proven big leaguer with talent and experience. He won’t be easy to replace.
Around 20 minutes after the Braves’ season ended in Philadelphia, Swanson walked into the clubhouse, sweat on his face, head down, tears in his eyes. In that moment, he understandably dealt with the emotions of losing the game, even if everyone else seemed focused on something else.
“It’s the last thing on my mind right now,” Swanson said of his future.
As it turned out, that would be the final time he would wear a Braves uniform. Another franchise icon is gone, and both sides are left to move on without the other.
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