The Chicago Cubs landed their new shortstop.
Dansby Swanson and the Cubs on Saturday agreed to a seven-year, $177 million deal, a source confirmed.
The addition gives the Cubs one of if not the best middle-infield defenses in the majors with Swanson at shortstop and Nico Hoerner shifting back to second base, where he was a Gold Glove Award finalist in 2020. Swanson’s 21 Outs Above Average (OAA) ranked second most in Major League Baseball while Hoerner’s 13 OAA tied for 11th. During the 2022 season, only the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets had two infielders rate in the top 25 of OAA.
While the Cubs still should look to bring in more offensively, specifically a power hitter, acquiring Swanson adds the type of all-around player they needed to find this offseason.
Swanson’s contract is the second-largest in Cubs history behind the signing of outfielder Jason Heyward for eight years and $184 million in December 2015. That pairing ended in November when the Cubs released Heyward with $22 million left for 2023.
Swanson joins left-hander Jon Lester as the only players the Cubs signed to contracts with an average annual value of at least $25 million. Swanson also becomes the third player to receive at least a seven-year contract, along with Heyward and Alfonso Soriano, who received an eight-year, $136 million deal in 2006.
Swanson, who turns 29 in February, won his first National League Gold Glove Award in 2022. He recently married Chicago Red Stars standout Mallory Pugh.
Getting the power production he showed for stretches over the last three years through the length of the deal will be important for the Cubs and Swanson, the 2015 No. 1 pick, to complement his batted-ball profile.
Swanson posted a career-high 115 OPS+ while appearing in all 162 games for the Braves in 2022. It marked the second time in six full seasons in which he exceeded the major-league average in OPS+.
He hit a career-high 27 home runs and drove in 88 runs during the Braves’ championship season in 2021 and followed with a 25-home run, 96-RBI season in 2022, when he was named an All-Star for the first time.
Of the four big-name free-agent shortstops this offseason, Swanson was the last available. Trea Turner joined the Philadelphia Phillies on a 13-year, $300 million deal, Xander Bogaerts signed an 11-year, $280 million contract with the San Diego Padres and Carlos Correa agreed to a 13-year, $350 million deal with the San Francisco Giants. The Cubs ultimately committed to fewer years but a comparable AAV between Swanson and the other shortstops.
“You always have to run your own race,” team President Jed Hoyer said Dec. 5 during the winter meetings. “I learned pretty early on you can’t react to what’s happening. You have to make the right decisions. We all prepare for a bunch of different possibilities all the time.”
Even with the Swanson signing, the Cubs need to find more power for the lineup. It was a specific area of focus coming into the offseason. Swanson and center fielder Cody Bellinger — who on Dec. 6 agreed to a one-year, $17.5 million deal — are not enough to improve the Cubs’ ability to score runs in bunches, especially with the organization needing to replace catcher Willson Contreras’ production. Contreras last week signed a free-agent deal with the rival St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cubs clearly are optimizing for defense in key areas. Pitchers should benefit from their starting outfielders with Bellinger, one of the league’s best defensive outfielders, roaming center next to Ian Happ, who is coming off a Gold Glove season in left and Seiya Suzuki, a winner of five Golden Glove awards in Nippon Professional Baseball. The organization ideally wants to bring in another catcher to pair with Yan Gomes, which could further solidify their team defense through the middle of the field.
“Being strong in the middle really helps, especially with the new rules,” Hoyer said Dec. 5. “A middle-of-the-infield player, you can’t hide in the shift anymore. So that’s going to expose those guys even more and makes athleticism and defense in the middle of infield that much more important.”
The Cubs aren’t poised to be an offensive juggernaut in 2023 as currently constructed, but signing Swanson further forces opposing lineups to work hard to score runs.
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