Signing Dansby Swanson Would Increase Need for Cubs to Add Offense Elsewhere
Which of the big four shortstops will the Cubs sign this winter? Let’s see. Swim? Swami? Slippy? Slappy? Swenson? Swanson? It’ll take a Samsonite briefcase full of money to woo any of those top free agents, but Dansby Swanson is only projected to command about half of what either Trea Turner or Carlos Correa end up getting. He’s also less of a difference-maker at the plate in particular, which should be a very significant consideration for a Cubs team believed by at least one person to be favorites for Swanson.
Jon Heyman wrote Thursday in the New York Post that the Braves were not willing to offer Swanson the same six-year, $140 million deal received by both Trevor Story and Javier Báez last offseason. Reports from earlier in the year had Atlanta’s offer much lower in the nine-figure range, possibly $20-40 million less. Would the Cubs, who traded Báez after balking at an ask of $180 million or more, really stretch to $23.3 million AAV for a guy with a below-average career wRC+ mark?
Swanson is coming off of a career-high 116 wRC+, meaning he was 16% better than the average MLB hitter at producing runs, but that number is two points lower than Bogaerts has averaged over 10 seasons. Correa carries a 130 wRC+ and put up 140 in what was considered a down year, then you’ve got Turner with a 124 average. Even if we narrow the focus to the last three seasons, Swanson’s 109 wRC+ lags well behind the 130-140 range of his colleagues.
For the Cubs, who have publicly stated their need to improve the offense in a big way, signing Swanson would mean needing to make upgrades in multiple other spots. We know one of those won’t come at catcher, where anything other than trading for Sean Murphy will see the Cubs taking a steep drop in production at the plate even if they do get better behind it. Matt Mervis could be the second coming of Anthony Rizzo, but it would be irresponsible to depend on that. That really just leaves center field, third base, and the other middle infield spot.
Could a platoon of Christopher Morel and Patrick Wisdom improve enough at the hot corner to make up for what can only be called lackluster defense if we’re very charitable with our phrasing? Might Cody Bellinger rediscover the form that had him looking like a Hall of Famer through three seasons? Will Seiya Suzuki make the necessary adjustments to reach his potential? Will Ian Happ become more consistent?
There are simply too many questions right now that would all have to be answered yes in order for Swanson to really make sense as the Cubs’ big acquisition. There is an all-encompassing answer in the form of trading for Shohei Ohtani, so feel free to dream about that if you’re so inclined. As much as I personally love that idea, I can’t yet bring myself to see it as a realistic possibility and won’t entertain it further here.
Swanson does have a lot more pop than Nico Hoerner, hitting double-digit homers in each of the last five seasons with 27 and 25 in the last two. Solid baserunning is one of the former Brave’s calling cards, and that’s an area in which the Cubs desperately need to improve after TOOTBLAN-ing their way to roughly 670 outs on the basepaths in 2021. So Swanson represents an upgrade over Hoerner and Hoerner would be a big improvement over a second base collective that combined for an 85 wRC+ with mediocre defense.
That said, the incremental boosts at both middle infield positions would not be nearly enough to stop “actively bringing randomness into the game,” as Jed Hoyer said back in October. The Cubs appear to be avoiding the top of the pitching market, which means they may be willing to settle for mid-tier rotation options. If they also stay away from spending big money for big bats, they’d be openly embracing a strategy that requires them to get everything right with virtually no margin for error.
As I noted in an earlier piece, it might actually be better for them to spend less money in exchange for greater risk than to go with players who are merely very solid. Don’t get me wrong, I want them to spend huge sums of money. I just don’t think a six-year deal for Swanson, even at less than half the total cost of Turner or Correa, is going to provide enough immediate lift to justify the savings. What’s more, I think such a deal could even age more poorly as a result.
Not that we really need to worry about such things until the Cubs actually make a move, or don’t, but it’s not like we’ve got anything more substantive to discuss for the time being.