Right now, the Braves’ primary focus is on Freddie Freeman and the rest of the holes they must fill out before the start of the 2022 season. But soon enough, it will be time for others to be paid, and one critical piece is set to hit free agency next offseason — shortstop Dansby Swanson.
The former #1 overall pick didn’t hit the ground running in the majors as many expected, but it was overwhelmingly evident that the Braves rushed him to the majors — most likely for marketing purposes, as they were amid a rebuild. Swanson only played 116 games in the minors before making his MLB debut, and only 11 of those games came at the AAA level. Because of that, he struggled, and the pressure continued to rise.
It didn’t happen overnight, but by 2019, we started to see some significant strides at the plate from Swanson. During the shortened 2020 season, he led all shortstops in bWAR. Last season, he blasted a career-high 27 homers while playing fantastic defensive at arguably the most challenging position on the diamond. Swanson is now living up to the billing of a first overall pick, which is terrific, but it also means he will be paid handsomely come next offseason.
Of course, the Braves could choose to re-sign him at some point before then. That’s something I’ve advocated for already, and it’s not because there isn’t some risk, but because the other options at shortstop are either not very inspiring or extremely expensive. So, it could behoove the Braves to get out in front of the situation with Swanson; they don’t want to be sitting here next offseason playing hardball with him like they are currently with Freeman.
But if the Braves were intent on looking for another shortstop, where could they turn that makes sense?
The 2022 free-agent class features two primary options — Xander Bogaerts and Trea Turner. Both would undoubtedly be significant upgrades over Swanson, but I don’t see how the Braves could possibly have the pockets to afford either. Payroll should continue to rise in Atlanta, but not enough to sign Bogaerts or Turner, especially if the Braves make a splash in free agency once the lockout ends like I expect them to. Let’s say Alex Anthopoulos and Freeman finally stop playing paddy cake, and he re-signs long-term. The Braves won’t have any more money to make another splash like this; their roster will only get more expensive as the years go by.
But after those two, there aren’t many inspiring free-agent options. Tim Anderson is a stud, but the White Sox will surely pick up his club option. Plus, like Bogaerts and Turner, he would be far too expensive anyway. Another option would be a trade, but there aren’t too many guys out there better than Swanson that would be worth giving up top prospects for.
The next obvious alternative is the farm system, where the Braves essentially have nothing in the middle infield. Braden Shewmake is a promising prospect, but the 2019 first-round pick really took his lumps in AA last season and will most likely have to repeat the level in 2022. Expecting him to be ready by 2023 is a stretch, to say the least.
There is one wacky blockbuster situation I could see working out, though, but I still find it highly unlikely. It’s been reported that the Braves have been in contact with Carlos Correa, which is an exciting thought. However, I just can’t see them opening up their pockets and committing the necessary money needed to bring him to Atlanta. Not to mention, it would mean a new home for Freeman, the Braves would have to trade Dansby Swanson, and they would have to figure out what to do at first base. That’s quite a headache — one that could be avoided if the Braves just re-signed Freeman and extended Swanson.
Perhaps some new options will emerge in the near future. You never know how things are going to look a year from now. But as of today, re-signing Swanson — the hometown kid who looks to have his best baseball in front of him — seems like the obvious choice, which is why I hope the Braves try to get something done before he hits the open market next offseason.