THERE IT IS. The Chicago Cubs ARE going get one of the top four shortstops after all that obsessing!
Dave Kaplan reports that it’s happening as we speak:
And Michael hears it, too:
I will reserve SOME of my reaction for the actual deal, but I can’t deny I’m pumped right now.
My main reaction is happiness, which surprises me. I thought it would be something closer to relief. Swanson was not my preferred free agent in this class – I think I was NOT subtle about my strong preference for Carlos Correa – but I really do like the idea of his and Nico Hoerner’s gloves up the middle infield. That could be outstanding. I have questions about the bat and about the offense overall, but I think the Cubs are adding a good player, and that’s what they need.
I think a lot about how Cubs GM Carter Hawkins correctly said at the Winter Meetings that, at some point, you just have to add good players. Maybe it’s not perfect. Maybe there are other things you wish you could do. Maybe you wish you could time and coordinate everything perfectly.
But the starting point is just adding good players.
I’ve been asked more than once this offseason what I thought of Dansby Swanson for the Cubs. What I thought about his place among shortstops in baseball. About his impact. His star power. What his addition would mean for the Cubs.
My first instinct on all of those questions, every time: I think Swanson really suffers for the free agent class he happened to be a part of.
It was impossible not to do it, since he was a “top” shortstop in a free agent class that had four of them. Swanson got lumped in with Correa, Turner, and Bogaerts, but however you aligned those three, Swanson was always going to rank fourth. Which sounds like he’s quite the afterthought, and a mere consolation prize.
But I do wonder as a follow-up thought, every time this comes up: had Swanson been the singular top free agent shortstop in some other hypothetical free agent class, would the perception of a signing like this be different? Very different?
Ultimately none of that will matter, but I wonder what of it is fair to Swanson, who, for all his not-Correa, not-Turner, and not-Bogaerts-ness, is himself a very good player. A very good shortstop. Arguably the best defensive shortstop among the four.
That is where the Cubs are betting on the highest value, by the way. I’m still pissed that they missed on Christian Vazquez, but it’s clear that there was a concerted effort this offseason to dramatically upgrade the defense up the middle: you add a fantastic glove at shortstop in Swanson, and move a fantastic glove in Nico Hoerner to second base. You add a fantastic glove in center field in Cody Bellinger. And you add a fantastic glove to pair with Yan Gomes behind the plate. That last one is still TBD.
Will that kind of pitching-and-defense-heavy approach create a winner? Don’t the Cubs still NEED at least one big bat? Or two? Can Swanson be the next piece in what we will look back on and ultimately say was a successful offseason?
That all remains to be seen.
But for tonight, I just want to feel POSITIVE about something. The Cubs did sign one of those top four shortstops, even if Swanson comes in a very different flavor from the others. He’s a good player. His addition makes the Cubs better. That’s the baseline above which you have to judge every move, after all: does the dude make the team better? Swanson does. Clearly. So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that my first reaction tonight was happiness.
A little housekeeping on the deal:
- Because Swanson was attached to a Qualifying Offer, the signing will cost the Cubs their second highest draft pick (second rounder) and $500K in IFA space. They do have the compensatory pick for Willson Contreras, so it’s KIND OF like they still have a second rounder, albeit much later. And they COULD recoup the IFA bonus pool money in trade. In theory.
- Steamer projects Swanson at .247/.309/.413/104 wRC+, good defense, 3.2 WAR. A good player. A player you would want on your team. Not a player who would typically get a MONSTER contract, but I’m pretty sure that’s what he’ll be getting when it comes out. So the Cubs are betting that Swanson’s offense took a real step forward last year (not sure I see it in the numbers under the hood), and his defense is now closer to elite than merely strong. Well, and also, we have to recalibrate what we even think “a MONSTER contract” even means. To that point, Michael recently gave some additional financial context on this type of deal and the Cubs.
UPDATE: If you wanted more confirmation that this is expected to happen, here’s Jeff Passan:
UPDATE 2: Russell Dorsey has the terms:
Compared to what we would’ve been thinking at the start of the offseason, that is enormous. Compared to what we were thinking in the last week? Not so bad! The seven years are obviously, well, a lot. But the $25.3M AAV is pretty modest in light of the increased luxury tax limit.
The deal is almost exactly half that of Carlos Correa’s deal with the Giants, in length and guarantee.
The full no-trade clause is never ideal, but that is just kinda the cost of doing business in this tier anymore. By rule, Swanson would’ve had 10-5 no-trade rights in years six and seven of the deal anyway, by the way, which is when maybe you would’ve wanted to dump him. So maybe it’s not even a big deal?
You’ll notice the similarity there with the Marcus Semien deal, who was a couple years older than Swanson, but who had two of three seasons over 6 WAR heading into his deal with the Rangers. Of course, outside of those two years, Semien had been a solid (not great) defensive shortstop with a wRC+ pretty consistently in the 95-ish range. You can definitely see some reasons for the comp here, as there could be years where Swanson dramatically overperforms his deal, and years where he dramatically underperforms it.
UPDATE 3: Just noting that the urgency to add a big bat just went up considerably in my estimation. And the Cubs should have PLENTY of room with which to do it: