Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts shared at the Cubs Convention that, when he was told some of what the front office was thinking about the free agent shortstop class, the Cubs felt Dansby Swanson was the one of the four most likely to stick at shortstop the longest. It wasn’t a stunning reveal, as I think many outside observers would’ve come to the same conclusion (even before Carlos Correa’s ankle issue came to light). But it does speak to part of the Cubs’ interest, together with the hoped-for power and instant leadership.
I had that stuff on the brain recently. The idea that, while Swanson may not have been the Cubs’ top choice in the shortstop class *if they all were interested and came at the exact same price*, there were aspects of his game where the Cubs did see him as the best of the four.
I think part of the reason I had it on the brain was because of something The Athletic wrote about Drew Smyly, the Cubs’ lefty who had experience playing with Swanson in Atlanta in 2021.
For Smyly, Swanson was the top overall choice.
“He really, really wants to win and help the guys around him because he doesn’t have a big ego at all,” Smyly told The Athletic. “I was saying that last year, ‘If the Cubs are trying to get a shortstop, we got to go get Dansby. That’s the guy I would get.’ He’s just a winner. He makes people better. He’s very positive. Especially with some of our younger players, they’ll see how he goes about his business and take to that ….
“You just have talks, especially at the end of the year, like, ‘OK, what are the Cubs going to do?’” Smyly said. “It was pretty obvious that they wanted to get one of those big shortstops. I was like, ‘I would rank Dansby at the top of that list.’ It’s just from being around him, and his defense is so good. He’s just a gamer, like Nico’s a gamer, too. It’s going to be fun watching them play together.”
That’s nice to hear, even if “nice” is as far as you can take it.
To be sure, a pitcher who is a former teammate of Swanson’s, and who stands to benefit from his defense, might have an idiosyncratic reason to want him most of all among the four shortstops. I don’t know that your takeaway from Smyly’s quote should necessarily be further evidence that Swanson *IS* the best of the four. We have a lot of ways of evaluating the players, and certainly the market wouldn’t agree.
Instead, I think the takeaway here is that a guy who has played with Swanson did not come away thinking he would prefer some other guy. As in, Swanson didn’t give Smyly any reasons not to love him as a shortstop and as a teammate. They played together, and Smyly was apparently convinced about just how valuable Swanson is. If there was some under-the-hood, behind-the-scenes reason for a pitcher to kinda hate pitching in front of Swanson, I’m thinking he wouldn’t be so effusive in his praise. He might just not say anything at all.
Circling back, I don’t expect that the Cubs would have pegged Swanson as the best of the four shortstops in free agency, if they could’ve had their pick of the litter at the same price tag. Maybe they would’ve taken any of the other three before Swanson. We might never know. But I do believe they really do think his leadership qualities are uniquely valuable, and they do believe he was the best long-term shortstop defender among the group. Smyly’s comments only reinforce that idea.
From there, what will elevate Dansby Swanson’s signing into a totally different tier of “great move” is if he keeps hitting like he did last year. The other stuff really does matter and is important and all that, but let’s not hide the ball. If Swanson ALSO is an above-average bat for most of the next seven years? We the fans, and his pitchers, will deeply appreciate that, too.