Braves: Has the Vaughn Grissom era begun?

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Dansby Swanson’s reign as the starting shortstop in Atlanta is over after he signed a seven-year, $177 million contract with the Cubs on Saturday. With Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, and Xander Bogaerts also off the board, it looks like the Braves are going to roll with their internal options — Orlando Arcia and Vaughn Grissom — at shortstop in 2023. They could potentially sign a stopgap option like Elvis Andrus or Jose Iglesias, but I’m not sure either of them are much of an upgrade over Orlando Arcia.

At the beginning of the offseason, I thought there was next to no chance Vaughn Grissom would enter 2023 as the team’s starting shortstop. Grissom ended 2022 poorly. He struggled defensively at second base and hit just .220 over his last 27 games in the majors. If it wasn’t for a blistering hot start to his big-league career, there’s almost no way fans would be alright with him being the starting shortstop next season. Grissom’s surface-level numbers are more than respectable, but regression smacked him in the face, and we won’t know until next season how he will rebound.

That’s a scary prospect for the Braves, but they seem convinced he’s the future at the position because there aren’t any inspiring places to turn at this point. Andrus and Iglesias are coming off solid seasons, but they aren’t much more than a lateral move from Orlando Arcia. If the Braves are to get well-above-average production from the shortstop position next season, Grissom is their best bet.

Asking essentially a rookie to play the most important position on the diamond and fill the shoes of arguably the best shortstop in franchise history almost seems unfair. However, if there’s one aspect the Braves organization has been one of the best at, it’s evaluating their internal talent.

When looking at the prospects they’ve lost in recent years via trade, most of them are underperforming. That’s not to say they can’t turn it around, but it hasn’t been encouraging. Comparatively, the players the Braves have decided to deem untradeable have already blossomed into stars at the major-league level — most of which earning long-term contract extensions.

Ron Washington has raved about Grissom’s progression this offseason. We also know the Braves made Grissom unavailable in discussions surrounding Sean Murphy. There’s enough evidence to suggest the organization is convinced Grissom is the future at the position, and if that’s the case, it’s probably best to hand him the reins sooner rather than later.

I’m not saying Grissom will be the next Jeremy Peña. In fact, this decision could turn out to be disastrous, leaving the Braves scrambling for answers during the season. But I don’t see any free agents being an upgrade over Arcia or Grissom. Atlanta could play it safe and bring in a stopgap free agent option like Andrus or Iglesias, but if money is tight, it’s probably best they use whatever cash they have left on an outfielder/DH.

Offensively, I think Grissom will do just fine. He’s posted insane numbers at every stop in the minors on his way to Atlanta, and his overall slash line with the Braves last season was actually better than Dansby Swanson’s. I’m not sure if that’s sustainable over a 162-game campaign, but eventually, Grissom should turn into an above-average offensive shortstop.

Defense is where the primary concerns lie. Grissom was a below-average defender at second base, and it was always thought that he would switch positions from shortstop once he made it to the majors. However, Washington’s word carries a lot of weight, and if he thinks Grissom can handle the defensive duties at shortstop, who am I — or anyone else — to doubt him.

I have come around to the idea of Grissom entering 2023 as the starting shortstop for the Braves, mainly because I believe the other options are rather atrocious. Unless Alex Anthopoulos can swing another trade, it’s time for the Vaughn Grissom era to begin in Atlanta.

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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