Braves: Ranking the top shortstop free agent options

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The winter of 2021 was not like any other that I’ve had as a Braves fan in my 31 years on Earth. For starters, it was the first time that I’d spent nearly a thousand dollars on World Series Championship merch. Next came the Freddie Freeman saga, which began immediately after the championship parade concluded–-no need in going over how that played out again.

Now, in Winter 2022, the Braves are face to face with another critical free agent situation with a player near and dear to the hearts of Braves Country. Cooter Swanson’s son, or Dansby as he likes to go by, had a career year for the Braves this season, and this happened when he and Atlanta needed it the most. The Braves, however, did not get an extension done during the year, therefore Swanson will be part of an amazing free agent shortstop class, leaving the Braves with options at a premium position.

I’ll detail the pros and cons of my top four players:

4. Xander Bogaerts

Xander Bogaerts has spent his entire career playing shortstop for one of the most iconic franchises in MLB history in the Boston Red Sox. While there, he has become one of the premier offensive shortstops in the league. The Red Sox have another shortstop on the roster in Trevor Story and will have to extend Rafael Devers this year or commit to a full rebuild. Either way, it seems that Bogaerts is the odd man out in Bean Town.

The pro with Xander is the bat. The guy can flat out hit. He’s a career .292 hitter with an OPS of .814 and a 117 OPS+. Those numbers are above average and exceptional for a position that is still more known for its defensive prowess. The con with Bogaerts is also just that, his defense. His fielding run above average comes in at -38.2 (via FanGraphs); his outs above average is -34; his runs above average is -25. When you think of a Braves infield that has Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies, and Gold Glove finalist Matt Olson already in it, maybe they can make up for this, but with the ban of the shift coming, range and overall defensive ability will be on display.

I love the bat from Xander, but the glove just doesn’t fit for me, so of the four shortstops, I have to rank him 4th.

3. Dansby Swanson

Dansby Swanson has won the heart and soul of Braves fans from the start. Trevor Plouffe and the guys at Talkin’ Baseball marvel at his “amazing” hair, the Atlanta natives love that he’s from the city and is an active fan of the other teams, and I have loved the guy for the passion he shows day in and day out. It’s the energic “Hell Yeah!” after his game-tying double in the 2019 NLDS or the speeches given after winning the World Series where you can tell it just meant so much for him to give us something to celebrate. And he never misses a game.

However, the love affair will have to be put aside while I look at what’s best for the Braves in this championship window. Swanson is an average player by nearly every metric career-wise. Brian Snitker was not lying when he stated that Swanson has gotten better every year. If the trend continues, we’re looking at a player who over each of the last three seasons, has improved his OPS. He’s coming off career highs in runs scored (99), RBI (96), stolen bases (18), and an impressive BABIP of .348. Defensively, Dansby put together the best season of his career, posting a 20 in the outs above average category and 15 in runs above average. Insane when compared to Xander.

I really like Dansby Swanson, but what if this season is an outlier? I’m on the fence about that part.

2. Trea Turner

Trea Turner has been a thorn in the Braves side since he was called up to the majors. In his career, he is slashing .320/.370/.520 against Atlanta, so there is no wonder why most Braves fans have him number one on their wishlist.

Turner has done nothing but produce for the teams he’s played on. From winning a World Series with the Walgreen Nationals to sliding into the hearts of the Los Angeles faithful. This past season, when a few of the Dodgers big bats like Max Muncy struggled, Turner carried the team on his back. Through the first half of 2022, he hit .302 with 14 homers and 68 RBI, though the pace cooled in the second half as the Dodgers cruised to 111 wins. Offensively, there’s hardly a flaw with Turner like the aforementioned Bogaerts. I would take Turner over Bogaerts with the bat due to him striking out less. That along with his speed (230 career stolen bases) opens the door for the Braves to do so much more with the lineup.

There is a reason that Turner is not number one on this list, though. His glove has progressively gotten worse. Over the last two seasons, Turner has made 27 errors. Dansby Swanson, for comparison, has only made 18 in that timeframe. Turner can’t be perfect and that’s okay. He’s a damn good player that’s going to make a lot of money this winter. If it just so happens to be in Atlanta, nobody would complain.

1. Carlos Correa

In years past, this would be a pipe dream for Braves fans. A Scott Boras player entering free agency and the Braves actually have a chance to sign him? But thanks to me buying shots at The Battery, there is a new commitment by Atlanta to be in the top five payrolls in all of baseball.

There was a slight rumble last year that Correa had interest in joining the Braves. Of course, that fell through and he went on to Minnesota and has since opted out of that deal.

I want to get this out of the way now: I couldn’t care less about the whole banging on trash cans thing. Carlos Correa is a PREMIER player and could be a franchise cornerstone for whomever backs the Brinks truck up to his home. Defensively, he’s coming off his worst season in recent memory, but when a guy has a platinum glove sitting at home, I worry less about that being a trend. He made the same number of errors as Dansby Swanson last year (8), and over the past FOUR seasons, has only committed 28 compared to Trae’s 27 in the last two.

Combine his history of being a defensive wizard with the fact that he slashes .279/.357/.479 for his career, and he’s a manager’s DREAM. And my favorite thing about him? His walk rate, over 10 percent for his career. He isn’t perfect–Correa has only played over 150 games once in his career, but when healthy, he might be the best shortstop in baseball.

There will be a race for his services, but I think Correa is someone the Braves can’t afford to miss out on if they want to become a true dynasty.

Photo: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire

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