Can the Atlanta Braves still afford Dansby Swanson?

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 14: Dansby Swanson #7 of the Atlanta Braves warms up on deck against the Philadelphia Phillies during the sixth inning in game three of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park on October 14, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 14: Dansby Swanson #7 of the Atlanta Braves warms up on deck against the Philadelphia Phillies during the sixth inning in game three of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park on October 14, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Over the last few weeks, the Atlanta Braves and Dansby Swanson have sat idly by, awaiting the decisions of some of the other premier shortstops to officially set the market price. This decision, in hindsight, may have been the best of Swanson’s career.

With that said, it might also mean bad news for the Braves. Since free agency opened, we’ve seen three of the four elite shortstops come off the board: Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, and just recently, Carlos Correa.

However, the inherent problem for the Braves is not in the fact that they signed elsewhere, but rather what their deals spell for Swanson’s market price. Turner, who signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, will see $300 million dollars over 11 years. Bogaerts, the newest San Diego Padre, received a similar 11-year deal worth $280 million. Correa, the last of the bunch to sign, saw the biggest of the three deals at $350 million over 13 years with the San Francisco Giants.

With an average annual value (AAV) among the group sitting around $27 million per year, a very clear financial metric has been set in terms of what Swanson and his agent should expect. Even on a simply non-financial basis, Swanson, who is set to be 29 years old just like Trea Turner, should expect something in the range of 10 years under contract – a truly baffling figure.

Swanson won’t be devoid of his fair share of suitors, either, so his decision to wait out the signing of the other three shortstops was clearly an intelligent one. Among the interested teams such as the Chicago Cubs, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, and of course, the Atlanta Braves, there is plenty of money willing to be spent and an inevitable bidding war to be had.

Unfortunately, as we all know too well, the terms “bidding war” and Atlanta Braves go together about as well as Spencer Strider and a clean shave. In no uncertain terms, the Braves, who were reported to have not been keen – according to Jon Heyman of the NY Post – on Swanson’s five or six-year, $140 million dollar counteroffer, are not likely to bid against some of baseball’s top spenders for his services.

Frankly, I don’t figure the Braves as likely to approach a career 94 wRC+, 24.2% strikeout rate, and projected 3.2 fWAR player with an eight or nine-year deal, either. And at this rate, that’s exactly what it’s going to take to acquire him.

What figure exactly is the former Atlanta Braves shortstop likely to command in the coming days?

We’ve already established that the perfect conditions have been met to see Dansby Swanson inherit a monster deal in the open market. With Swanson being newlywed as of last weekend and this likely to be his only major free agency stint, he is certain to have securing generational wealth on his mind.

With all things considered, I expect Swanson’s deal to be somewhere in the range of 8 years, $200 million. This deal, which would put Swanson at a $25 million AAV and see him under contract until at least the 2030 season in which he would be 37, is the perfect balance of assessing his risk alongside his production.

Swanson isn’t likely to maintain his 116 wRC+, 6.4 fWAR, .337 wOBA production from 2022. Even with the tremendous year he had, he still only mustered a .776 OPS, which isn’t all too impressive for a potential $25 million dollar-per-year man. Thus, much of the cash that is injected into Swanson’s wallet will be for his glove, which has slowly been improving even further to the tune of a Gold Glove Award last season.

With much of his offensive production relying on his newfound power stroke – 27 home runs in 2021 and 25 in 2022 making up 51% of his career total – teams will not be anxious to throw him a deal that sees him to his age-41 season. Long before then, Swanson will have limited mobility, and in all likelihood, power as well.

However, teams will be paying the World Champion Dansby Swanson to lead their squads in the immediate three or four-year future. He’s certainly still likely to provide a roughly 100 wRC+ season with decent pop and elite defense. The reality of today’s market is simply that deferred payments over many years are the way to acquire the stars of the game.

Why might the Atlanta Braves be passing the opportunity for Dansby Swanson’s signature?

To wrap this all up, I do sincerely doubt that the Atlanta Braves will approach anything around an eight year, $200 million dollar deal for Swanson. If anything, the news that they offered him a $100 million deal during the season and potentially even declined a $140 million counteroffer is proof of their trepidation with signing him at anywhere near the $25 million annual figure.

Atlanta’s current highest earners per annum are Austin Riley and Matt Olson at $21 million, who are set to see it increase to $22 million in future years. Riley’s 10-year, $212 million and Olson’s eight year, $168 million extensions reflect the organization’s confidence that their abilities as hitters, and in some respect, corner infielders, will translate even into their later age.

Unfortunately, it appears that such confidence does not exist in the case of Dansby Swanson.

Additionally, signing him to a massive extension – even despite statements signaling the Braves’ desire for an eventual top-five payroll – would handicap a team that still desperately needs to re-sign Max Fried (or his replacement), Sean Murphy, and eventually Kyle Wright, too.

The Atlanta Braves are both a team that will spend money when needed, but also a team who do not have an owner like Steve Cohen and David Dombrowski of the Mets and Phillies who seem to enjoy lighting cash on fire for the thrill. Spending smart money is always the goal. Alex Anthopoulos will not let emotions get in the way of his decisions.

To answer the premise of the article, the Braves can still sign Dansby Swanson in the literal sense. Whether they can in the practical sense is what brings about the seeds of doubt.

For now, it seems to me that the Braves have their eyes on other targets, whether that be veteran Elvis Andrus, a major trade, or the in-house options, Vaughn Grissom and Orlando Arcia.

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Of course, I, as well as the other pundits and writers who seem to have the same sentiments regarding Dansby Swanson, could be wrong. The Atlanta Braves could still break character and sign him to a team-leading deal to secure the infield and embrace loyalty above all. I just wouldn’t hold my breath.