Atlanta Braves must trade to replace for Dansby Swanson

The Atlanta Braves need a shortstop, and Willy Adames is one of the best. Syndication: The Enquirer
The Atlanta Braves need a shortstop, and Willy Adames is one of the best. Syndication: The Enquirer /

Atlanta Braves longest-tenured player and de facto team captain became a free agent Sunday morning, and replacing him isn’t easy.

The Atlanta Braves promoted Dansby Swanson too early, and as a result, he struggled at the plate. However, he always offered dependable defense and improved on both sides of the ball each year.

The Braves face the task of replacing the best defensive shortstop in baseball and a team leader on and off the field. The job requires a veteran who can, at least, approximate Swanson’s production and defense. Three free agents check those boxes, Xander Bogaerts, Trea Turner, and Carlos Correa, but all will cost more and have their own issues.

Pondering the free agents

Bogaerts plays at 30 years old in 2023 and will carry the penalty of a lowered draft pick because the Red Sox will give him a qualifying offer. He’s a better hitter, but he’s never been a great defender.

Turner turns 30 next August and will decline the Dodgers’ $19.65M qualifying offer. He’s provided better offense than Swanson so far but hasn’t been a top defensive SS since 2018.

Correa’s the youngest of this year’s free-agent shortstops, playing at 28 years old in 2023, and won’t carry the burden of a qualifying offer. Correa provides more offense than Swanson and comparable defense when he’s on the field, but staying on the field is a problem.

Correa hasn’t played a full season since he was 21 years old in 2016. He peaked at 148 games in 2021, his first season of more than 110 since 2018, but 48 of those games were at second base. He slipped to 136 games for the Twins this year.

Related Story. But why??. light

The Atlanta Braves will have to trade

Why would the Atlanta Braves pay nearly $30M a season for any of them and offer a deal longer than five years to a player 30 or older when they’ve refused to do it in the past?

Other sites suggested the Braves might try Jose Iglesias. I almost choked reading that bright idea. Last season for the Rockies, Iglesias batted .282/.316/.406/.722 and hit three homers, two at home and one on the road. Yes, he played 81 games at Coors Field and hit two homers . . . two.

He hit better on the road, so optimistically, it’s possible to project better work away from Denver, but DRS gave him –4 DRS, and Statcast gave him 0 (none, zero) outs above average. He’ll play at 33 next year, and I can’t imagine a lot of improvement happening on either side of the ball.

The free agent market holds no viable options for a team looking for another title, so the Braves will have to fill the vacancy via trade. The trade market is thin as well. The only shortstop I see as a comparable replacement I see is Willy Adames.

Adames fits Atlanta

Willy Adames always played well for the Rays, but he blossomed into one of the game’s top ten shortstops in Milwaukee. In two seasons with The Crew, Adames’ batted .256/.325/.483/.808, hit 51 homers and 57 doubles. His 2022 line dropped slightly because he was looking for more power in a run-starved lineup and gave up some on-base time in the process.

Statcast ranks his 13% barrels/BBE and 8.4% barrels/PA rates number one among shortstops with at least 250 BBE, ahead of Correa, Seager, and Swanson in that order.

Defensively, Adames 10 OAA ties him for sixth among qualified shortstops. Bogaerts (5) ranks 11th, Turner (0) 20th, and Correa’s –3 OOA drops him to a tie at number 26 with the Reds’ Kyle Farmer.

What’s the Cost

Adames is 27, comes with a projected $9.2M salary in 2023, and isn’t a free agent until 2025. So, why would the Brewers trade him? In short, they have to. Maybe not now, but they’re rapidly running out of time to get a good return for their player, and the new schedule hurts their chances of winning this year quite a bit.

Aside from Burnes, Woodruff, and Yelich, the Brewers roster is a group of questions without easy answers and a limited payroll. They have a shortstop prospect that looks ready to go (Brice Turang), but they don’t know who’ll play second base or center field.

Hunter Renfroe is getting expensive at $11M and may not receive a contract offer. Adames will earn a lot more than that in 2024, which is also the last year for Burnes and Woodruff. The club needs to retool and add an everyday catcher and a prospect or two; the Braves need to help.

Atlanta Braves plan B

The next-best options won’t provide the same kind of offense as Swanson or Adames, and the teams involved may simply say no.

The Cubs Nico Hoerner is 25 years old and still a pre-arb player. Over the last two seasons, Hoerner’ batted .286/.341/.400/.741 with 10 homers, a .322 wOBA, and 106 wRC+. That looks weak until we add his 5.5 fWAR, 4.0 of it coming this season.

Hoerner tied with Lindor for second in baseball with 13 OAA. Fangraphs gives him only 0.3 UZR, the Fielding Bible says he was worth 11 DRS, and Baseball Prospectus (subscription required) says he was worth 5.5 fielding runs above average (FRAA).

There’s plenty to like about Hoerner, which is exactly why the Cubs might laugh and hang up. Even if they do, Hoerner’s worth the call; they might say yes.

Plans C

The story is much the same with Ha-Seong Kim, who stepped in when the Padres prima donna superstar let the team down with a thump. Statcast has Kim with 8 OOA and Baseball Prospectus five him 3.3 FRAA.

Kim’s .251/.325 /.383 /.708 line is up from 2021, but there’s probably not much more to get there. I don’t expect the Padres to move him, but stranger things have happened.

That’s a Wrap

The Atlanta Braves are in a tough position. Every shortstop they’d like wants a lot of money and a contract longer than the team likes to hand out.

Fangraphs have the Braves’ 2023 player payroll at an estimated $187.4M with a CBT payroll of $417.3M. Adding a contract worth $30M AAV on top of that makes them a CBT payer, and they still need to extend Fried and sign a left fielder.

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The CBT is more complicated than money; it can screw up draft picks and make rebuilding a farm system ten times harder than it was five years ago. Watching the Braves negotiate this maze would be a calming experience, but it will be interesting.