Dansby Swanson’s dream of a lifetime payday is about to come true. And when he signs on the dotted line, it will be something of a nightmare for fans of the teams that fail to land him.
Funny how this free agency thing goes sometimes. Swanson went from No. 4 of the “big four” shortstops available on the market to holding all the cards – the last Dans standing after Carlos Correa ($350 million, Giants), Trea Turner ($300 million, Phillies) and Xander Bogaerts ($280 million, Padres) all found new, sometimes shocking homes.
Now, Swanson won’t match those paydays. He lacks the Top 5 MVP finishes and some of the raw power and speed those other guys possess, although he produced a career-best 5.7 WAR last season and has hit 25 and 27 homers the past two seasons. Yet going last instead of first among those four will greatly benefit him – rather than setting the market, he can draft behind the other three and should land near a $200 million deal, a plateau that seemed lofty even two weeks ago.
And he’s also the last difference-making position player available – with three to five franchises badly needing enhancement.
Be it actual need or the perception of fans livid that their club has failed to improve during a winter in which nearly $3 billion in free agent dollars have been doled out, the Swanson runner-ups could be knee-deep in FOMO this holiday season. A look at the potential misery:
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Cubs: Cash cows, roster weaklings
Next season, DraftKings will open a three-story, 2,200-square foot sportsbook attached to Wrigley Field. The Cubs are receiving a reported $100 million over 10 years from DraftKings, in what may become the most blatant cash grab in a Wrigleyville that’s turned into the friendliest confine to capture your dollar, if not your heart.
Now, what about the team?
Willson Contreras, the last everyday link to the 2016 World Series champions, will now visit twice a year as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. The roster that remains is largely unrecognizable to a casual fan, though there were encouraging signs in a 74-win season and the pitching staff has been augmented the past two winters with the signings of Marcus Stroman and Jameson Taillon.
Yet Taillon and outfielder Seiya Suzuki are the only players under contract beyond 2024. Ian Happ, for now the No. 3 hitter, can himself be a free agent after 2023. Betting on a Cody Bellinger bounceback is a nice idea, albeit one more suited to a Twins-Rays-Orioles kind of operation.
The Cubs’ books are as clean as their revenues – ranked no lower than fourth in Major League Baseball by various sources – are overflowing. And much of the surrounding development spearheaded by owner Tom Ricketts is not part of that calculation.
Cubs fans are no fools; the “lovable losers” days ended long before Kris Bryant (remember him?) threw across the diamond to Anthony Rizzo (forgot about that guy!) to cinch the 2016 World Series. Attendance has dropped every year since, from 3.1 million in pre-pandemic 2019 to 2.6 million in restriction-free 2022.
Perhaps that’s the least of concerns. The modern Cubs are as much a real estate interest and a TV network as they are a day in the bleachers. A gleaming sportsbook and a hole in the lineup will only make that even more blatant.
Dodgers: All tapped out?
When baseball’s top revenue-generating team sees more than $120 million in contracts melt off the payroll, fireworks usually follow.
The Dodgers have responded to the loss of Turner, Bellinger, Justin Turner, Tyler Anderson and a gaggle of relievers by scooping up outfielder Jason Heyward and pitcher Shelby Miller, which would be quite a transaction log in, say, 2014. The cream of this class has passed them by, and there’s not much need for apology; with outlays for Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts sending them well over the luxury tax in recent seasons, the franchise has earned some benefit of the doubt.
Yet as it stands, the once-bursting Dodger cupboard is starting to feel a little bare. Prospects such as infielder Miguel Vargas and outfielder James Outman are, for now, penciled in as contributors, rather than hovering as top-shelf depth. Multi-positional stalwarts Chris Taylor and Max Muncy are both 32.
And while the Dodgers can, at shortstop, pivot from Trea Turner to Gavin Lux with a straight face, their overall talent level would be greatly enhanced by adding Swanson, allowing Lux to toggle where he’s most needed between second, third and the outfield and lessen the reliance on both the young and the old.
With the status of Trevor Bauer’s appeal of his domestic violence suspension still in doubt, up to $100 million in payroll remains in flux. But that shouldn’t deter a Swanson add. Even on the aggressive end of things, such as a nine-year, $200 million deal, that $22.2 million annual value would be less than they paid Craig Kimbrel and Anderson last season.
Red Sox: Aggressive, or aggregate?
The group least bothered by Bogaerts’ departure seems to be the Red Sox front office. Sure, it’s an emotional and tangible loss, but that the club didn’t come close in negotiations – their reported $160 million offer didn’t even make the medal stand – shows they were more than ready to move on.
Perhaps we should have listened closer when GM Chaim Bloom said at the start of the winter meetings that the club planned to add “seven, eight, nine or maybe more” players this offseason. That kind of plan usually doesn’t involve a nine-figure commitment.
And sometimes that works out. The 2021 Red Sox came within two games of the World Series after seven external regulars were infused into their lineup, rotation and bullpen. The 2023 version can slide Trevor Story from second base back to shortstop. There should be enough cash to bring back starter Nathan Eovaldi, and maybe one or two more.
Yet failing to land a top-shelf guy – at this point, be it Swanson or lefty starter Carlos Rodon – in this epic winter of spending will put the Red Sox on notice more than any other franchise in 2023. After two last-place finishes in three years, Bloom’s trust-me equity with fans is virtually exhausted.
If he floods the zone and replaces Bogaerts and others with a half-dozen talents that lift Boston atop the AL East, great. But another failure will bring an existential question to the forefront: What, exactly, is going on at Fenway Sports Group?
Braves: Sign now, or sign off?
Atlanta GM Alex Anthopoulos has been rightfully lauded for his penchant to secure young talent on long-term contracts. Heck, Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, Matt Olson and Spencer Strider would make a decent start to an NL All-Star team, let alone the core of a club signed through at least 2027.
Yet after Freddie Freeman’s confusing departure this year and Swanson’s dalliance with free agency, you wonder whether Atlanta has the check-writing muscle to retain one of its own on the open market.
Anthopoulos did not build a five-time NL East champion by overlooking anything, and if he believes first-year player Vaughn Grissom can ably take over for Swansby at shortstop, he’s probably right. But Swanson has been the quarterback of this dynasty at shortstop, an Atlanta-area guy coming into his own. There’s still plenty of stars for Braves fans to root for without him.
But that would mean Freeman’s out the door one year, Swanson the next. Anthopoulos excels at moving in silence, and a Grissom smokescreen followed by a last-minute bid for Swanson wouldn’t be shocking. At the same time, perhaps Atlanta has found a sustainable business model to lock them up, or else let them go.
Story Credit: usatoday.com