What happens if the Braves don’t re-sign Dansby Swanson or land a star shortstop?

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com

LAS VEGAS – As the past season progressed, Dansby Swanson earned a nickname that, while hilarious, might symbolize what he means to his teammates.

“The Sheriff.”

Swanson, the Braves’ unquestioned leader, is their unofficial captain. On and off the field, he’s a steadying force on which his teammates rely.

“I talked about it during the year, so now that we’re in free-agent mode, I’m probably not going to get into anything,” Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos said when asked about Swanson’s situation. “But I have made my feelings clear. But look, you get to the offseason and free agency, you know, we have a hole right now, so we’re gonna have to make decisions one way or the other. But obviously, my thoughts about him and everything else have made that very clear during the year.”

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All year, Anthopoulos praised Swanson. He continued to do so Wednesday at the General Managers Meetings. He called Swanson “arguably the best defensive shortstop in the game.” Anthopoulos said he congratulated Swanson on his Gold Glove Award.

“He’s become an amazing player,” Anthopoulos said.

As of Thursday (at 5 p.m., to be specific), Swanson was allowed to sign with another team. The Braves on Thursday extended the one-year, $19.65 million qualifying offer to Swanson, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

The Braves have made it clear they want to re-sign Swanson. Swanson has said he wants to stay, including in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in August.

The two sides have to strike a deal, right? It makes a lot of sense to keep the Marietta High product, who has transformed into an incredible ballplayer, all while captaining the clubhouse. This might be the best outcome for both the Braves and Swanson. The team re-signs a tremendous shortstop, while Swanson stays home and continues to play for a winning team.

But what if it doesn’t happen?

The logical answer to this: There are other big-name shortstops on the market. Trea Turner, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts are the top three shortstops on the market. Sign one of them.

Asked if he believes the Braves would pursue Correa or Bogaerts, Scott Boras, who represents both, said this Wednesday: “The idea of, philosophically, what teams want and why they want it – they have their metrical analysis of such. When you’re a winning team, can you say, ‘Is one or the other better?’ You talk to them on the phone, and they are pleased with all. Do they have opinions? They do. Clear opinions. Those opinions, I will certainly keep confidential. But I would say clearly, the Braves have a pecking order among the shortstops, no doubt.”

But what if the Braves don’t end up with Swanson, Turner, Correa or Bogaerts? It’s entirely possible the Braves would prefer one of Turner, Correa or Bogaerts to Swanson, but Anthopoulos never reveals his true plans. Anthopoulos surely knows it would be difficult to fill Swanson’s void with a lesser player.

Could the Braves survive a situation in which they don’t land any of the big-four shortstops?

It would be risky. Swanson is beloved and respected throughout the organization, and especially by his coaches and teammates. The Braves are well aware of what he’s meant to their team. Swanson’s teammates see him as someone who relates to all corners of the clubhouse. The Braves want him back.

The Braves’ two internal candidates to replace Swanson would be Orlando Arcia and Vaughn Grissom. The Braves also could make a trade, or could sign someone like, say, Jose Iglesias, who had a nice 2022 season with Colorado.

Arcia, as Anthopoulos noted Wednesday, was an everyday shortstop for a Brewers team that won a division title. “We believe in his ability to play shortstop again,” Anthopoulos said. Arcia has a strong arm, plays good defense and even hit well for the Braves in 2022, when he needed to fill in for the injured Ozzie Albies.

Then there’s Grissom, the 21-year-old who broke onto the scene and became a fan favorite for his contributions. He didn’t have much experience at Double-A, but went to the majors, hit well, ran the bases instinctively and played a good second base.

Anthopoulos provided a key nugget that may be worth reading into.

“I know in talking to (Braves third base and infield coach) Ron Washington, he really has belief that he will develop into an everyday defensive shortstop,” he said of Grissom, who will spend some time with Washington this winter to hone his craft.

This doesn’t mean the Braves don’t want Swanson, and it isn’t a hidden message that they won’t sign him. But the Braves do feel they have quality internal options, even if re-signing Swanson is a better outcome than deploying those in-house players.

The Braves found themselves in a similar situation a few years ago. They wanted Josh Donaldson back, but had Austin Riley behind him. The Braves couldn’t have known they would sign Riley to a 10-year, $212 million extension a couple of years later, and they coveted Donaldson. The Braves offered Donaldson a long-term deal with significant average annual value, but the Twins’ offer beat that of the Braves.

The Braves turned out fine. They had a third baseman (Riley) under team control for years to come. He got better and better and better.

The Astros lost George Springer one winter, then Correa the next. They won the World Series this year. Correa’s replacement, Jeremy Peña, won World Series MVP, but posted only a .715 OPS over the regular season.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out. Years ago, Robinson Canó departed the Yankees in free agency. Brian Roberts (one season) and Stephen Drew (one and a half seasons) filled the void at second base after that, and it didn’t go particularly well.

Though the Braves believe in Grissom’s bat, he has only 141 big-league at-bats. Arcia traditionally hasn’t been a terrific hitter, though Swanson took time to develop into a good hitter at the major-league level. Neither possesses the leadership qualities, at this point, that Swanson does.

Swanson is one of the top shortstops in the sport. He might have reached his peak earning potential with an incredible 2022 season that included an All-Star nod, a Gold Glove Award, 25 home runs and 96 RBIs. It seems rather certain that both the Braves and Swanson want the relationship to continue. It’s now about seeing whether Swanson’s price lines up with what the Braves are willing to do.

The Braves, to be clear, would be taking on a massive amount of risk if they let Swanson walk and don’t replace him with one of the other three big-name shortstops. Arcia and Grissom aren’t Swanson. It’s not even close.

The Braves would have to evaluate whether they can find a way to be a postseason club with whoever were to replace Swanson. Part of that decision: Could they save that money and use it somewhere else?

Looking at all angles of this situation leads you to a natural conclusion: Re-signing Swanson makes the most sense for the Braves.

But in free agency, anything can happen.

“Any time you have a great player who’s a free agent, those guys are hard to sign because they earned it,” Anthopoulos said. “They’ve put themselves in a really good position with great play. You’re happy as a club because they’re a big part of winning.”