With the 2022 season behind us and the Hot Stove ready to burn, we take a close look at some of the hottest players available in free agency.
Last name: Dansby Swanson
Former team: Atlanta Braves
Age (as of opening day 2023): 29
2022 statistics: .277/.329/.447, 25 HR, 96 RBI, 99 R, 18 SB
The No. 1 overall pick by D-backs in the 2015 MLB Draft, Swanson had been a bit of an underperformer until 20, when he had a breakout season with the Braves.
Swanson hit 10 home runs with 35 RBIs and an .809 OPS while playing in every game of the pandemic-shortened 60-game campaign. He followed that up with a career-high 27 homers and 88 RBIs in 160 games in 2021. He hit two home runs in the World Series that year, helping Atlanta win its first championship since 1995.
The 28-year-old proved his emergence was no fluke in 2022, hitting 25 homers with 96 RBIs and a .776 OPS while playing in all 162 games and earning his first All-Star appearance.
Swanson’s last three seasons have propelled him into the top echelon of this year’s free agent class, one that includes three other star shortstops: Trea Turner, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts.
Many expect Swanson, a Georgia native, to stay with the Braves. But there will be no lack of interest for him this offseason.
With Matt Olson, Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley all locked on multi-year deals, Swanson is the only missing piece to keep Atlanta’s infield together in the second half of the decade. Swanson clearly loves hitting at Truist Park – he slashed .304/.362/.492 at home to .251/.298/.405 on the road last season – and the core Braves should keep the club in contention on a annual basis. Will Atlanta use some of the money saved on its team-friendly deals to bring Swanson back?
Turner is also a free agent, although he is expected to command a much larger contract than Swanson. If the Dodgers try Aaron Judge or one of the top free agent starting pitchers, Swanson could be a cheaper alternative to Turner, although hardly inexpensive.
The Phillies are likely to pursue one of the big four shortstops this winter, although Turner and Bogaerts are apparently higher on their wish list. If they miss those two options, the Phils could turn to Swanson, who produced well against Philadelphia (.815 OPS) in 19 games last season.
It’s natural to assume that any team facing the loss of their own shortstop will be in the market for a replacement, and if Bogaerts leaves Boston, the Red Sox could see Swanson as a younger alternative. Boston’s No. 1 prospect (and No. 7 in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline) is shortstop Marcelo Mayer, who turns 20 in December. He’s not expected to reach the Majors until at least 2024, so the Red Sox could be looking for a short-term stopgap if they believe in that schedule.
Miami received below-average production from its shortstops in 2022, with Miguel Rojas (.605 OPS) getting the vast majority of playing time. Rojas still has a year and $5 million left on his contract, but Swanson would represent a significant upgrade as the Marlins look to compete in a deep National League East.
The Giants will be connected to virtually every notable free agent this offseason as San Francisco is expected to spend aggressively. Brandon Crawford has one year left on his contract, so it wouldn’t be surprising to offer a new shortstop on a long-term contract.
“Dansby is an All-Star caliber casual player who is arguably the best defenseman in this class of deep free agent shortstop. He was blessed with a career year offensively and posting above-average power numbers for a second straight campaign in his platform year. He uses all the ground, and while he’s had some luck this year, the positive speed and improved approach give reason to believe it could be close to sustaining. He has more reach, hands, feet, and arm strength. Teams will value the defender appropriately, and it’s a skill that should age well. However, buyer beware will also be required in less offensive home environments. Swanson is a winner with a well-above-average makeup that will be a boon to any team able to get him into free agency.
Swanson will be an upgrade to almost any roster, but the team signing him must be prepared to watch him swing and miss frequently. Swanson’s strikeout percentage was in the bottom 20% in 2022, while his smell percentage was in the bottom 15% in MLB. Swanson’s strikeout rate has been in the lower 40% of Majors every year of his career, consistently worse than the league average.
Swanson’s three-year production as free agency is similar to that of Marcus Semien, who landed a seven-year, $175 million contract with Rangers last winter. Semien had 85 home runs and 217 RBIs in 377 games from 2019-21; Swanson has 62 home runs and 219 RBIs in 382 games over the past three seasons.
Swanson starts his season at 29, while Semien started his campaign at 31, giving Swanson a solid case for a contract of at least seven years.