Dansby Swanson To Red Sox? Case For (And Against) Underrated Shortstop

Swanson is a hard free agent to evaluate

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November 28, 2022

Will the Red Sox make waves this offseason? Boston has financial flexibility and a strong desire to bounce back from a disappointing 2022. As such, we’ll examine whether several notable free agents make sense (or don’t make sense) as the club looks to retool for 2023 and beyond.

Of the four high-profile shortstops available in free agency this Major League Baseball offseason, Dansby Swanson is the most difficult to evaluate.

Whereas Trea Turner, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts are legitimate stars, with extensive track records, Swanson has had numerous peaks and valleys throughout his MLB career that make it hard to project his future production.

Is Swanson, who spent the last seven seasons with the Atlanta Braves, a franchise cornerstone, with the ability to impact the game both offensively and defensively? Or is he in the next tier, merely a very good player who’s hitting the open market at the perfect time after a breakout 2022?

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom recently emphasized re-signing Bogaerts is Boston’s top priority this winter. But it’s worth wondering whether the Sox could shift gears and target Swanson — perhaps at a cheaper dollar amount — if Bogaerts signs elsewhere.

Info
Position: Shortstop
Age: 28 (Feb. 11, 1994)
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 190 pounds
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

2022 stats (with Atlanta Braves)
162 games (696 plate appearances)
25 HRs, 96 RBIs, 18 SBs
.277/.329/.447
115 OPS+, 6.4 fWAR

Career stats
827 games (3,387 plate appearances)
102 HRs, 411 RBIs, 58 SBs
.255/.321/.417
95 OPS+, 16.2 fWAR

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Why Swanson makes sense for Red Sox
Swanson ranked 11th among all MLB players in fWAR last season — ahead of Turner (12th), Bogaerts (15th) and Correa (30th). He was a stud, both at the plate and in the field, and it’s entirely possible he’s finally put everything together and will remain a force moving forward. After all, Swanson has the prospect pedigree — he was drafted No. 1 overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2015 before a trade to Atlanta — and is firmly in his prime, entering his age-29 campaign in 2023.

Swanson really improved offensively during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season — after some early-career struggles — and he’s largely carried over that success the last two years, with 2022 being his best season at the dish. He has some pop, evidenced by his back-to-back 25-homer seasons, and his Statcast numbers in 2022 (82nd percentile in hard-hit rate, 76th percentile in barrel rate and 73rd percentile in average exit velocity) reflect a strong ability to impact the baseball.

He’s an excellent defensive shortstop whose glove work actually improved in 2022. That, coupled with his baserunning, ensures he’ll maintain value even if he regresses offensively. As such, it’s hard to imagine him becoming a sunk cost, at least in the short term.

While the three other aforementioned shortstops carry more name recognition, Swanson clearly has a ton of upside, as well, and likely will come cheaper, with MLB Trade Rumors predicting a seven-year, $154 million contract ($22 million average annual value) and ESPN projecting a six-year, $150 million deal ($25 million AAV). The others could command paydays in excess of $200 million, with $300 million in reach for both Turner and Correa.

Why Swanson doesn’t make sense for Red Sox
Swanson’s 2022 production might be the new normal. But it’s important to note his 6.4 fWAR last season was a huge jump from the career-best 3.4 mark he posted in 2021. As FanGraphs notes, only four players (of the 83 position players with 500 plate appearances in both 2021 and 2021) improved their fWAR more. And there are enough red flags in Swanson’s offensive profile to cast doubt over whether he’ll ever replicate that success — or even come close.

Swanson, who was a below-average hitter before 2020, strikes out a lot. He also doesn’t walk much, contributing to his middling on-base percentages, and seemingly benefitted from good fortune in 2022. Swanson’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) normalized in the second half last season, and his overall numbers tailed off as a result. His 2021 production might be a more reasonable expectation. Good player? Sure. But not at the level of Turner, Correa or Bogaerts, who’ve consistently been among MLB’s best shortstops.

Whichever team signs Swanson also will need to surrender draft-pick compensation thanks to him rejecting Atlanta’s one-year, $19.65 million qualifying offer. The same applies to Turner and Bogaerts — not Correa because he was ineligible to receive a QO after rejecting one last offseason — and that’s no small footnote as Boston looks to replenish its farm system while also filling multiple holes at the major league level. (The Red Sox wouldn’t need to relinquish draft compensation for Bogaerts since they were the ones who extended him the qualifying offer.)

Verdict: A downgrade from Bogaerts. Too many offensive questions.

Prediction: Swanson re-signs with the Braves.

Thumbnail photo via Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports Images
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