With two of this offseason’s four marquee free-agent shortstops having already been claimed with a pair of contracts totaling $580 million, (the Phillies‘ $300 million deal with Trea Turner and the Padres$280 million commitment to Xander Bogaerts), that leaves two (Carlos Correa and Dansby Swanson) still unsigned.
Correa is perceived as the bigger prize than Swanson due to his superior overall offensive profile and cannon arm, and he was indeed ranked higher on our free-agent rankings heading into the offseason. But there’s a lot to like about the longtime Braves shortstop, who’s only seven months older than his fellow former No. 1 pick. He’s hit more home runs than Correa in each of the last three seasons, has stolen 32 bases to Correa’s zero over that period and seems more likely to stick at shortstop for longer after winning the National League Gold Glove this year. Swanson also seems like the safer bet to avoid the injured list going forward, as he’s missed only 39 games over the last four years—including just two in the last three seasons—compared to Correa’s 127.
All that is to say, Swanson should be in high demand, as quite a few teams would like to upgrade their outlook at baseball’s premium position. Let’s try to figure out which destinations make the most sense for him. This isn’t about the rumors swirling around each team; this is about which club is actually the best fit for Swanson—most notably his particular style of play and the annual salary in the mid-to-upper $20 million range he’s expected to command. The latter pushed the Angels out of this exercise—the Halos are in the middle of an ownership change and have a lot of future money committed for a team aiming to sign Shohei Ohtani to a long-term deal. But if they can swing it, Swanson sure would help their cause by appealing to Ohtani’s desire to play for a contender more than it would to roll with Gio Urshela at short. Likewise, the Cardinals, Orioles and Diamondbacks could all use a shortstop of Swanson’s caliber, they seem more likely to prioritize pitching upgrades than outbid the below teams for his services.
The Twins have been heavily linked to Carlos Correa, whom they signed to a short-term, megadeal with opt-outs before last season and appear eager to bring him back. Swanson would be an advisable backup plan, however, as they’d otherwise be projected to live with Jorge Polanco’s leaky glove at shortstop after he was one of the league’s worst defenders last year at the less demanding position of second base. The Twins also have cash to spend with a projected 2023 payroll of just $98 million, $44 million less than their ’22 outlay, and no players guaranteed money past next season other than Byron Buxton.
That being said, this isn’t the greatest fit from a defensive standpoint—the Twins’ pitching staff had MLB’s fifth-lowest ground-ball rate in 2022. And while they could still overhaul their staff in an attempt to funnel more grounders Swanson’s way , most of Minnesota’s projected starters—including Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, Tyler Mahle and Bailey Ober—profile as fly-ball pitchers, meaning Swanson’s impact at shortstop would be mitigated.
Swanson has fit like a glove during his time in Atlanta. He’s a Georgia native, has come up with clutch hit after clutch hit during the club’s five consecutive NL East titles and assumed the leadership role vacated by Freddie Freeman when his old pal signed with the Dodgers. Atlanta has greatly benefited from his presence in the infield, as the pitching staff’s 47.2% ground-ball rate ranked third in the league last year (as for the team that ranked first … just one moment).
However, it also seems that if the Braves were going to re-sign Swanson, they would have done so by now. Instead, Vaughn Grissom, who tore up the majors as a rookie second baseman this summer before cooling off as the postseason approached, has reportedly been working with infield coach Ron Washington this offseason to prepare for the possibility of taking over at shortstop. They could very well opt to keep Grissom in the lineup at Swanson’s expense once Ozzie Albies returns from the injury that gave Grissom his shot at second base. It’s wild to think that Atlanta could lose the guys who were considered the team’s foremost leaders in consecutive offseasons after winning the World Series, but it certainly seems like we’re headed that way.
Like the Twins, the Giants have been strongly connected to Correa, and after they missed out on Aaron Judge with a wide-open payroll beyond 2023, there is no better financial fit for one of the few marquee free agents left on the market. They’re also a pretty terrific fit from a defensive standpoint, as the Giants’ pitching staff boasted the aforementioned highest ground-ball rate in the league last year, partially thanks to sinkerballer ace Logan Webb and projected No. 2 starter Alex Cobb. Swanson would be an upgrade over the incumbent Brandon Crawford, a former Gold Glove winner who’s still an above-average fielder but has seen his effectiveness on that end slightly sour, a trend that’s unlikely to reverse as he enters his late 30s.
Crawford is under contract for another year, however, and it’s unclear how manager Gabe Kapler would fit both him and Swanson on the diamond, as neither seems ready for a position change. Swanson’s rather frequent swing-and-miss tendencies also aren’t the best fit for this offense, which had the ninth-highest strikeout rate last year (23.9%) and could be even higher next year after adding outfielder Mitch Haniger (26.3%) this week. Swanson struck out 26.1% of the time last season.
The Cubs reportedly hold a “particular focus” in the Swanson sweepstakes, and it’s no wonder why. He and Nico Hoerner would give the Cubs the best middle infield defense in the league, which would be especially important for a team like Chicago, which features several starters who pitch to contact: Marcus Stroman, Kyle Hendricks and the newly acquired Jameson Taillon. Stroman’s 51.7% groundball rate ranked 10th among 124 pitchers with at least 100 IP.
Hoerner could easily play shortstop again if the Cubs needed him to—he ranked second among NL shortstops in outs above average, behind only Swanson—but second base was a major weakness for them last season. If they’re looking to take a step forward, it makes more sense to go and get a premium shortstop and shift Hoerner to second than shop for a bargain-bin solution at the keystone.
We projected Swanson to sign with the Dodgers in our free-agent signing predictions, and it only makes more sense now with several major pieces off the market and Los Angeles still looking for a shortstop to replace the departed Turner. LA has yet to make a big move and is currently projected to start Miguel Vargas at third base and James Outman in left field, which … doesn’t seem likely.
The only two players among our top 10 free agents who have yet to sign are Swanson and Correa, who has a, shall we say, complicated relationship with the Dodgers after his time with the Astros. So complicated, in fact, that The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal reports the Dodgers are reluctant to sign him due to how they think their fan base would receive him in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal that may have cost Los Angeles a World Series title.
Swanson is the natural option for the Dodgers’ big move this offseason, then. Bringing him into the fold would push Gavin Lux and Chris Taylor to their more natural positions at second base and left field, respectively, and let Swanson rejoin Freddie Freeman, his best friend in the sport, and burnish his reputation as a winner. The 28-year-old has always gone a little bit under the radar for a former No. 1 pick and World Series champion, but he’d be able to increase his star power quite a bit in Hollywood.