Swanson has agreed to a seven-year, $177 million contract with the Chicago Cubs, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The deal, which has an average annual value of about $25.3 million, includes a no-trade clause.
For the first time in his career, Swanson, a Marietta High graduate who has been the Braves’ shortstop since his debut in 2016, will wear a different uniform. He won’t be in the clubhouse during spring training in North Port, Florida. He won’t wear a hat that says “A” on it. You won’t see him at shortstop or in the box for the Braves.
Instead, the Braves will pursue another shortstop, whether it’s Von Grissom, Orlando Arcia or an outside candidate, as they continue to pursue their goals. Swanson, on the other hand, will be part of the Cubs’ rebuilding effort, that organization’s offseason prize, a potential beacon of hope for fans at Wrigley Field.
For the second time in as many years, the Braves will continue without a franchise icon as Freddie Freeman and Swanson, who were as synonymous with the Braves as anyone in the previous decade, left Atlanta. Fans (some more than others) will no doubt feel the sting, even if they realize this is a business. President of Baseball Operations Alex Anthopoulos has created a winner here, but some fans may be hurting for a while.
Both Swanson and the Braves have publicly stated their desire to continue their relationship. Swanson is from metro Atlanta, someone who has helped drive the culture of the Braves just like Freeman. The Braves valued him as a player and leader.
“He’s become an amazing player,” Antoopoulos said during the general manager’s meetings in November, also calling Swanson “the best defensive stud in the game.”
In an August interview with the AJC, Swanson said: “I’m an Atlanta kid. This is my house. This will always be my home. When I’m done playing Mallory (Pugh, now his wife), I and I will be in Atlanta, and our kids will be growing up in Atlanta, too. This is home and (the Braves) know it. We’ll just see where things go.”
By all accounts, Swanson seemed destined to continue his run as one of Atlanta’s most recognizable athletes. But the Braves didn’t seem willing to step out of their comfort zone, and Swanson didn’t want to take less money.
During the second half of the season, the Cavs and Swanson’s camp discussed a possible contract extension. The Braves offered Swanson six years and $100 million at the time, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Swanson countered with six years and $140 million.
Braves rarely, if ever, overpay. Anthopoulos is adept at understanding his comfort level with something as it relates to his short-term and long-term vision for his club. He will take risks, but he won’t do something he feels he can’t do.
In 2022, Antoopoulos extended the contract with Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Michael Harris and Spencer Strider. These joined the extensions previously handed out to Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies. No one on the Braves’ roster will make more than $22 million per season on their current deal. The Braves would cross the luxury tax threshold if they re-signed Swanson, though they have said they would be willing to do so and accept the penalties for the right player and deal.
Swanson, who never played for another team, played in 827 games over seven seasons with Atlanta. He made one All-Star appearance and won one Gold Glove, both earned last season. He has developed into one of the better shortstops in the game, as evidenced by the deal Chicago gave him. Swanson, who was part of a group of four top shortstops on the market this winter, was the last one standing before signing with the Cubs.
Asked about Swanson’s future after the Phillies eliminated the Braves from the postseason in October, Braves manager Brian Snitker said: “I love the guy, just what he brings, consistency. I’ve never seen a player who wants to win more than he does. And as I say, I hope I meet him again. …But I can’t say enough good things about that kid and his makeup and drive and determination and the person he is. And I think the world is about him. I have so much respect for how he goes about it. It’s also great because I’ve seen him get here on the first day and how he’s grown and matured and the player he’s become.”
That same day, third baseman Austin Riley said: “He’s such a genuine guy. He loves the game of baseball, he wants to win more than anyone, and most importantly, he is very selfless. He wants the best for everyone.”
Swanson’s teammates and coaches say he has the “It” factor. It may be a sports cliché, but they often swear by it. After Freeman’s departure, Swanson became the Braves’ undisputed leader in the clubhouse. In that way, Saturday’s news is a blow.
For his career, Swanson hit .255 with a .738 OPS. He collected 102 home runs and 411 RBI. He is known more for his defense and has terrible instincts. In “late and close” game situations, a category used by Baseball Reference to provide a player’s stats in clutch moments, Swanson posted a .777 OPS. With two outs and runners in scoring position, he has an .802 OPS.
It might be fair to say Swanson benefited from high free agent prices this winter. Fans and pundits will debate whether the Braves were smart to pay him what the Cubs did. However, as Anthopoulos said publicly this winter, Swanson has earned the right to test the open market.
Barring a condensed 2020 season, Swanson has never finished a full season with an OPS above .776. He hit 27 homers in 2021 and another 25 last season, showing off his power, but he doesn’t feature the bat of many of the game’s most famous. But he is often excellent in big spots, he plays incredible defense, affects games with his speed and is a positive for any club.
Swanson could be the type of player who can help the Cubs begin to accelerate their rebuilding attempt. He has seemingly improved each season, and that could continue as he progresses through his prime.
But it never seemed like the Braves were willing to come close to what the Cubs offered Swanson, whose wife plays for the United States Women’s National Soccer Team and the Chicago Red Stars of the Women’s National Soccer League.
The question now is where do the Braves go from here?
Swanson leaves a significant void on a 101-win team. The Braves have won five straight National League East titles, and their decision at starting shortstop will be a factor in whether they can capture a sixth.
Grissom is talented. The Braves believe his bat is for real, and pitching guru Ron Washington believes in his defense. But he hasn’t played a ton of baseball at the major league level. Arcia is an accomplished big league shortstop. The free agent market may attract no one better than Grissom or Arcia. The Braves could be looking to trade for starters.
Swanson isn’t one of the game’s superstars, but he’s a proven big leaguer with talent and experience. Replacing him will not be easy.
About 20 minutes after the Braves’ season ended in Philadelphia, Swanson walked into the clubhouse with sweat on his face, his head down, tears in his eyes. In that moment, he was understandably overcome by the emotions of losing the game, even if everyone else seemed to be focused on something else.
“That’s the last thing on my mind right now,” Swanson said of his future.
As it turned out, that would be the last time he would wear a Braves uniform. There is no other privilege icon and both sides are left without the other moving forward.