Did the Braves make the right decision with Dansby Swanson?

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Over the weekend, the Braves lost their second star player in free agency in as many years. It was announced the Cubs inked Dansby Swanson to a seven-year, $177 million contract on Saturday, ending his tenure in Atlanta.

Much like Freddie Freeman, Swanson is arguably the best player at his position in franchise history. He was also a leader in the clubhouse and a fan favorite. But unlike last year with Freeman, this departure has a much different feel to it.

I love Dansby Swanson more than just about anyone. I’ve defended him throughout his entire Braves tenure, and it paid off this past season, as he was arguably the best shortstop in all of baseball, earning All-Star and Gold Glove honors. He was a stud, but if you had told me (or anyone) a year ago that he would sign a more lucrative contract than Freddie Freeman, nobody would have believed it.

Freeman was the face of the franchise and the best first baseman in baseball. The Braves pinching pennies with him was a horrific mistake. I’m not going to beat around the bush about that. It might be a bigger black eye on Alex Anthopoulos’ resumé than signing Marcel Ozuna. Freeman should have been a Brave for life, and the organization should have made sure that happened.

Swanson’s situation is much different. The market for shortstops this offseason was bizarre, and Dansby took full advantage. He will make north of $25 million each year over the next seven seasons. Is he worth that? I wouldn’t have been upset had the Braves opened up their checkbook, but I’m also perfectly fine that they didn’t.

Swanson has shown signs of breaking out for years now. He was very good in 2019 before he was injured. He was one of the best shortstops in the game in 2020, but because it was a shortened season, people seemingly forget it ever happened. 2021 started slow, but he ended with a career-high 27 homers and north of 3 fWAR, and then there was 2022, in which he absolutely blew by all expectations, posting the 12th most fWAR in the entire league.

But is he worth $177 million? I’m not sure. Regression could be in line, especially defensively, as he ages. He still strikes out too much, and his average on batted balls in play suggests his offensive output was not sustainable. I think he’ll be great for the duration of his next contract, but at $25+ million AAV, the Cubs are paying him to be a perennial All-Star. I’m not sure that’s who he is.

I, and most Braves fans, will be monitoring Swanson’s career in Chicago closely. But no matter what — this is at least a decision by Alex Anthopoulos that I understand. Even if you have the money, spending it frivolously is how to get yourself in trouble. The Braves will never have endless amounts of cash. Their payroll is already the highest it has ever been. Should Swanson have been taken care of sooner? Perhaps, but unlike Freeman last year, I’m perfectly at peace with the Braves decision to let Swanson find a new home in Chicago.

Photo: Austin McAfee/Icon Sportswire

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