Are the Braves willing to move on from Dansby Swanson?
Probably not, but they are doing their due diligence according to a report from ESPN’s Buster Olney. Such news is certainly shocking considering how the Braves seemed set to open 2018 with Ozzie Albies and Swanson beginning, what was assumed to be, the first of many full seasons together up the middle. Has General Manager Alex Anthopoulos already decided that the Braves don’t really have their shortstop-of-the-future with Dansby? Will the Atlanta Braves marketing department have to make more GIFs of Lane Adams rather than a million with Swanson’s face and hair?
First off, I love that last idea. Second, let’s slow this thing down a tad. The report by Olney is behind a paywall (ESPN Insiders only), but there are some valid reasons to do some window shopping at shortstops this offseason and it might have little to do with replacing Swanson. First, and this may seem backward, but the Braves might be trying to help Swanson. Note to teams: just because you draft an SEC-tested and mature shortstop first overall doesn’t necessarily mean he’s ready for prime time. Swanson has received 614 minor league plate appearances since he was picked in 2015. That includes 84 games at Double-A and eleven games at Triple-A last year. Perhaps Swanson could use some time to, I don’t know, develop? Like most young players? Maybe?
Another thing – just because the Braves are looking at shortstops doesn’t mean they want them to play shortstop. Insert GIF of the guy pointing to his head. In our rundown of possible third basemen, we suggested Zach Cozart as an option. It’s a pipedream, I admit. I doubt Cozart, coming off an All-Star appearance and a .933 OPS, is willing to move to third base right now. But might another shortstop be willing to consider a move?
The free agent market for shortstops isn’t that interesting, but we already know Anthopoulos believes that himself and might be more willing to try a trade. A small free agent market means most teams are flush with options. With prospects rising and other financial considerations, a team might be willing to trade a shortstop now to upgrade another position. Perhaps the Orioles, who need pitching, would be willing to trade Tim Beckham? The Mariners are nutty – maybe they consider dealing Jean Segura? Maybe you can get Ketel Marte from the Diamondbacks. My point is that checking in on the shortstop market could be less about replacing Swanson and more about helping out at third base.
To completely go the other way, perhaps Atlanta will replace Swanson and there might be a reason to consider this. Our own Stephen Tolbert has written a few articles about Swanson, including one about a month ago where he looked at the poor results Swanson had with flyballs. I recommend reading the article, but one of the immediate takeaways is that Swanson’s wOBA on flyballs was roughly 250 points below the league-average last season. That’s shockingly bad. It’s also, perhaps, a sign of things to come if Swanson doesn’t hit the ball harder with potentially a lower launch angle.
It’s worth mentioning that Anthopoulos didn’t trade for Swanson. He doesn’t feel some kind of loyalty to give Swanson a long look to make a trade look better. One of the things that both worries and excites Braves fans about Anthopoulos is that he’s an outsider. He wasn’t here for the rebuild and may see prospects differently. At the same time, he wasn’t here for a rebuild and might be more willing to cut the cord on some underperforming players who need to get the boot. That includes Jace Peterson no matter how well liked he was by the Braves’ faithful. It’s a double-edged sword that could lead to guys like Adonis Garcia or Matt Wisler getting the heave-ho, but it could also give uberly-hyped prospects like Swanson a short leash to figure it out.
I don’t believe Anthopoulos is giving up on Swanson, though. On one side, Anthopoulos wants to compete. He’s not here to keep rebuilding. He wants to produce a winner. At the same time, Anthopoulos has suggested that the Braves might be a little tentative to make big moves. As an outsider, he wants to get an up close and personal look at what he has. He doesn’t want to rely solely on what the reports say. The most trusted voice in the front office for Anthopoulos is probably Perry Minasian, who he worked with in Toronto. Minasian has been on the job for a couple of months, though. Anthopoulos doesn’t want to trade an underperforming prospect unless he knows it’ll make the team better in the long run. The scout in him wants to see the players in person first before making that determination.
Listen, there are serious concerns with Swanson’s game right now. It would be foolish to suggest otherwise. But the Braves also know that Swanson is a hard worker who desperately wants to improve. He’s a team player who everyone seems to be impressed with as a person. Two years ago, the whole baseball world was convinced he was headed to big things. Swanson can improve and the smart money is that he will. Anthopoulos is too smart to give up on a 23-year-old potential All-Star.
But bringing in some talent and competition never hurt anyone.