After wading through the shortstop market and watching three of the “Big Four” disappear from the board since the start of the Winter Meetings, the Cubs ultimately made sure Dansby Swanson will play his home games at Wrigley Field for years to come.
According to multiple reports, the Cubs and Swanson agreed to a seven-year deal worth $177 million Saturday afternoon. NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan was first to report the agreement, while Bally Sports’ Russell Dorsey was first with the terms of the deal, which also reportedly includes a full no-trade clause.
The signing thus ends the “will they, won’t they?” shortstop saga that has dominated the Cubs’ offseason storylines.
While Nico Hoerner impressed at short all season, restrictions on the ability to use defensive shifts coming in 2023 meant there would be a premium placed on middle-infield defense. So, it made all the sense in the world for the Cubs to be players in the shortstop market once free agency began.
“I’ve been pretty open about that,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said at the Winter Meetings in San Diego earlier this month. “There are certain baseball truisms that I think are true. Being strong up the middle really helps, especially with the new rules. I think it’s really important to have really good defense up the middle. A middle-of-the-infield player, you can’t hide in the shift anymore, so I think that’s going to expose those guys even more, and it makes athleticism and defense in the middle of the infield that much more important.”
Still, questions regarding how the front office would approach the market remained. Would they be willing to pay the price needed to bring one of the four shortstops in? And once Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Correa agreed to contracts with other teams, would the Cubs end up missing out on all four?
“I think we’re actively involved in the market,” general manager Carter Hawkins said. “Whether or not we’re going to get one of those shortstops, TBD, but certainly actively involved, and we’ll see where everything lands.”
In the end, Hoyer was able to bring Swanson into the fold. He ponied up and got Swanson to agree to the kind of contract that doesn’t quite match what the other three received but still represents the willingness to invest in a very good player long term. Cubs fans have made their disappointment in not getting Correa, Bogaerts or Turner known, but this signing is one they should be happy about.
So, what are the Cubs getting in Swanson?
The 2022 season was a breakout season for the seven-year veteran and former No. 1 overall pick.
Swanson put up career highs in wRC+ (116) and fWAR (6.4), and he cracked 25 home runs while playing in all 162 regular-season games (his second straight season hitting at least 25 homers and appearing in at least 160 contests). Defensively, he graded out among the best shortstops in all of Major League Baseball in different advanced statistics, which earned him his first Gold Glove Award. His performance on both sides of the ball also sent him to Los Angeles as an All-Star reserve for the National League.
As great as his season was, Swanson is not without his faults. His strikeout rate has sat at 25 percent or more in each of the last three seasons. That 116 wRC+ in 2022 (which, as previously stated, was his career best) doesn’t scream “impact bat” as much as the other elite shortstops who were on the market. And while he rightfully was included in that “Big Four” of elite shortstops, there’s a reason he was generally considered to be No. 4 on the list.
So, like with any big-money, long-term deal, this one has its risks. But the Cubs identified an area of need this offseason, and they made the offer necessary to lock Swanson in.
It remains to be seen whether this deal will ultimately validate Hoyer’s idea of “intelligent spending,” but this is a move that should help with Hoyer’s stated commitment to “absolutely” compete in 2023 without sacrificing the long-term financial future of the organization.