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Dansby Swanson agrees to seven-year Cubs deal, Braves tenure ends

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Swanson agreed to a seven-year, $177 contract with the Chicago Cubs, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The deal, which has an average annual value of about $25.3 million, includes a no-trade clause.

For the first time in his career, Swanson, a Marietta High graduate who has been the Braves’ shortstop since debuting in 2016, will wear a different uniform. He will not enter the clubhouse spring training facility in North Port, Florida. He will not wear a cap with the “A” on it. You won’t see him at shortstop or in the Braves batter’s box.

Instead, the Braves will move forward with another shortstop — be it Vaughn Grissom, Orlando Arcia or an outside prospect — as they continue to pursue their goals. Swanson, on the other hand, will be part of the Cubs’ rebuilding effort, that organization’s offseason prize, a potential beacon of hope for fans at Wrigley Field.

For the second time in as many years, the Braves will go forward without a franchise icon, as Freddie Freeman and Swanson – who were as synonymous with the Braves as anyone for the past decade – departed Atlanta. Fans (some more than others) will no doubt feel the pain, even if they understand this is a business. President of Baseball Operations Alex Anthopoulos has built a winner here, but some fans may suffer from it for a period of time.

To exploreReaction to Dansby Swanson’s departure from the Braves

Both Swanson and the Braves have publicly stated their desire to continue their relationship. Swanson hails from greater Atlanta, someone who helped push the Braves’ culture in the same way Freeman did. The Braves valued him as a player and leader.

“He’s grown into an incredible player,” Anthopoulos said at general manager meetings in November, also calling Swanson “arguably the best defensive shortstop in the game.”

In an interview with AJC in August, Swanson said, “I’m an Atlanta kid. This is my house. This will always be my home. After I’m done playing Mallory (Pugh, now his wife) I’ll be in Atlanta, and our kids will be growing up in Atlanta too. This is home and (the Braves) know it. Let’s see where things go.”

Based on it all, Swanson looked set to continue his run as one of Atlanta’s most recognized athletes. But it looked like the Braves weren’t willing to step out of their comfort zone and Swanson didn’t want to accept less money.

During the second half of the season, the Braves and Swanson camp discussed a potential contract extension. The Braves, according to someone with knowledge of the situation, offered Swanson six years and $100 million at the time. Swanson’s team hit at six years and $140 million.

The Braves rarely, if ever, overpay. Anthopoulos is adept at understanding his comfort level with anything relating to his short-term and long-term vision for his club. He’ll take risks, but he won’t do something he feels he can’t do.

In 2022, Anthopoulos gave contract extensions to Matt Olson, Austin Riley, Michael Harris and Spencer Strider. These joined the extensions previously handed to Ronald Acuña and Ozzie Albies. No one on the Braves roster will earn more than $22 million in a season under their current contract. The Braves would have gone over the luxury tax threshold had they re-signed Swanson, though they said they were willing to do that and accept penalties for the right player and deal.

To exploreMore AJC coverage of the Braves

Swanson, who never played for another team, played in 827 games in seven seasons for Atlanta. He made an All-Star appearance and won a Gold Glove, both captured last season. He became one of the best shortstops in the game, evidenced by the deal Chicago made him. Swanson, who was part of a group of four shortstops on the market this winter, was the last one standing until he signed with the Cubs.

Asked about Swanson’s future after the Phillies eliminated the Braves from the postseason in October, Braves manager Brian Snitker said: “I love this guy, exactly what he brings, consistency. I’ve never seen a player who wants to win more than him. And like I said, I hope I can get together with him again. …But I can’t say enough good things about that kid and his makeup and drive and determination and the person he is. And I think his world. I have a lot of respect for him, how he does it. It’s cool too, because I’ve seen the first day he joined here so far and how he’s grown and matured and the player he’s become.”

That same day, third baseman Austin Riley said, “He’s such a genuine guy. He loves the game of baseball, he wants to win more than anyone else, and the important thing is that he is very selfless. He wants the best for everyone else.”

Swanson’s teammates and coaches say he has the “it” factor. It may be a sporting cliché, but they often swear by it. With Freeman gone, Swanson became the undisputed leader of the Braves at the clubhouse. In that sense, the Saturday news is a coup.

Over his career, Swanson hit . 255 with . 738 OPS. He accumulated 102 home runs and 411 RBIs. He is best known for his defense and has fantastic instincts. In “late and close” game situations – a category used by Baseball Reference to provide a player’s stats in clutch moments – Swanson posted an OPS of 0.777. With two outs and runners in scoring position, he has 0.802 OPS.

It might be fair to say that Swanson has benefited from high free agent prices this winter. Fans and pundits alike will debate whether the Braves were smart to not pay him what the Cubs did. However, as Anthopoulos publicly said this winter, Swanson has earned the right to test the open market.

Excluding the condensed 2020 season, Swanson has never finished a full season with an OPS greater than 0.776. He hit 27 home runs in 2021 and 25 more last season, showing off his power, but he lacks the bat of many of the game’s top shortstops. But he is usually great in big situations, plays incredible defense, impacts games with his speed and is a positive for any club.

Swanson could be the type of player that can help the Cubs start to accelerate their rebuilding bid. He’s seemingly improved each season, and that may continue as he progresses into his prime.

But it never looked like the Braves were willing to come close to what the Cubs offered Swanson, whose wife plays for the US Women’s National Soccer Team and the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League.

The question now: where do the Braves go from here?

Swanson leaves a sizable void on a 101-win team. The Braves have won five straight National League East titles, and their decision on the starting shortstop will be a factor in whether they can clinch their sixth.

Grissom is talented. The Braves believe his bat is real, and in-house guru Ron Washington believes in his defense. But he didn’t play much major league baseball. Arcia is an established big league shortstop. The free agent market may not yield anyone better than Grissom or Arcia. The Braves may try to trade an early shortstop.

Swanson is not one of the game’s superstars, but he is a proven great player with talent and experience. It won’t be easy to replace.

About 20 minutes after the Braves’ season ended in Philadelphia, Swanson walked into the clubhouse, sweat on his face, head down, and tears in his eyes. In that moment, he understandably dealt with the emotions of losing the game, even though everyone seemed focused on something else.

“It’s the last thing on my mind right now,” Swanson said of her future.

Ultimately, this would be the last time he wore a Braves uniform. Another franchise icon is gone, and both sides are moving on without the other.