The Atlanta Braves are working to lock up another member of their core. The defending World Series champions have opened contract extension talks with shortstop Dansby Swanson, reports the New York Post. Swanson, a first-time All-Star this season, grew up outside Atlanta and is scheduled to become a free agent after this season.
The No. 1 pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, Swanson was sent to his hometown Braves in the Shelby Miller less than six months after the Arizona Diamondbacks selected him with that top pick. It has proven to be one of the most lopsided trades in recent memory. Miller immediately flamed out with Arizona while Swanson has been a reliably solid and occasionally spectacular shortstop.
Swanson, 28, enters Friday with a .292/.347/.455 batting line and 16 home runs in 120 games. He started the season very slowly, striking out 36 times in his first 25 games, but he's rebounded to hit .309/.361/.478 with 15 home runs in his last 94 games. Add in splendid defense and Swanson has been a 4.6 WAR player in 2022, a top 20 mark in MLB.
Here is what you need to know about the Braves, Swanson, and a potential extension as he approaches free agency.
Atlanta has aggressively locked up its core
Earlier this week the Braves signed rookie center fielder Michael Harris II to an . He is the third Braves player to sign a long-term contract this year, joining Matt Olson ( ) and Austin Riley ( ). Riley's contract is the largest in franchise history.
With Harris locked up, Atlanta now has five players signed through at least 2025, with several signed well beyond that. This is what the Braves have done under GM Alex Anthopoulos. They sign their best players long-term and Swanson is next on the list. Here are those five players and their contract extension details:
|Date signed||Contract terms||Years covered|
April 2, 2019
8 years, $100 million
2019-26 plus club options for 2027-28
2B Ozzie Albies
April 11, 2019
7 years, $35 million
2019-25 plus club options for 2026-27
1B Matt Olson
March 14, 2022
8 years, $168 million
2022-29 plus club option for 2030
3B Austin Riley
Aug. 1, 2022
10 years, $212 million
2023-32 plus club option for 2033
OF Michael Harris II
Aug. 16, 2022
8 years, $72 million
2023-30 plus club options for 2031-32
Acuña and Harris have the second and third largest contracts ever given to a player with less than one year of service time, behind only Wander Franco's 11-year, $182 million deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. Atlanta's commitments to those five players will max out in 2025, when they'll earn a combined $76 million. That looks to be a massive bargain for the club given their current production.
It should be noted that, if the Braves do manage to sign Swanson to an extension, they will have their entire infield locked up long-term. Shortstop and top prospect Vaughn Grissom, who was recently called up to fill in at second base while Albies is injured, could become trade bait in that case, or he could move into a Ben Zobrist-esque super utility role. Grissom would be a candidate to step in at shortstop should Swanson sign elsewhere as a free agent.
What will it take to lock up Swanson?
Last offseason's free agent shortstop class was the best ever in terms of projected future WAR and those contracts all serve as a possible framework for a Swanson extension. Here are last winter's notable shortstop contracts:
|Contract||Average annual value|
10 years, $325 million
Marcus Semien, Rangers
7 years, $175 million
6 years, $140 million
6 years, $140 million
3 years, $105.3 million
Ironically, the youngest and best all-around player in that group received the smallest contract. That said, Correa's contract with the Twins includes opt-outs after each year,. The structure of the contract means it is essentially a one-year, $35.1 million deal with a two-year, $70.2 million insurance policy in case of injury or poor performance.
It seems unlikely Swanson would go the Correa route with a one-year contract only because most players seek the largest contract when they reach free agency. Correa is an outlier. Swanson is having a career year and this offseason figures to be his best chance at a massive long-term deal. He's unlikely to get Seager money. Swanson's great but he's not a $300 million player. It's more likely his next deal falls in the Báez and Story range, or maybe Semien.
Of course, those contracts offer several cautionary tales. Báez has been a disaster with Detroit, slashing .227/.269/.378 with 1.2 WAR. Semien has been better of late but is still hitting .234/.294/.398 with 2.5 WAR overall,. Story owns a .221/.289/.423 line and 2.2 WAR around injuries. Correa (.272/.354/.436 and 3.2 WAR) and Seager (.252/.329/.470 and 3.8 WAR) have been worth the money this year.
Would Swanson take a hometown discount? That is unclear. Generally speaking, when a player gets this close to free agency, they test the market just to see what's out there. And once the player is out in free agency, bidding wars happen, and the price goes up. As we saw last offseason with Freddie Freeman, the Braves are willing to make generous offers to core players, but they won't go beyond what they consider reasonable.
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Swanson can receive the qualifying offer
Swanson is eligible to receive -- and almost certainly will receive -- the qualifying offer after the season., and, as a result, the qualifying offer and free agent compensation systems will remain in place through the life of the new collective bargaining agreement (until 2026).
The qualifying offer is a one-year contract at the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, which figures to be in the $20 million range this offseason. If Swanson rejects the qualifying offer, which he would likely do in search of a larger contract, Atlanta would receive a compensation draft pick after the first round if he signs elsewhere. The team that signs Swanson would forfeit draft picks and international bonus money, with the exact penalty determined by their revenue sharing and competitive balance tax status.
It's important to note receiving and rejecting the qualifying offer would not necessarily close the door on Swanson's tenure with the Braves. He could still re-sign with them, though the Braves would neither receive a compensation draft pick nor forfeit draft picks and international bonus money to re-sign their own player. Some players, most notably Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel in 2019, had their markets hurt by the qualifying offer and draft pick compensation in recent years.
This winter's free agent shortstop class is loaded
Arguably even more loaded than last offseason. In addition to Swanson, Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner will be a free agent this coming offseason, and Correa is expected to opt out of his contract with the Twins. Also, Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts seems likely to opt out as well. He'd leave three years and $60 million on the table. Bogaerts shouldn't have much trouble beating that in free agency. All four are $100 million players. Correa and Turner are likely $200 million players.
The question is which teams will need a shortstop this winter and will be willing to spend at the level required to land one of these guys? The Braves are trying to lock up Swanson. We know that. But the Dodgers could put Gavin Lux at shortstop and the Twins could hand the reins to a hopefully healthy Royce Lewis. Will the Red Sox pay big to re-sign or replace Bogaerts? It seems more likely they focus their efforts on locking up Rafael Devers long-term.
The Cubs and Yankees stand out as clubs that could enter the big-name shortstop market this offseason. I wouldn't sleep on the Mariners either. What about the Phillies or the ascendant Orioles? Point is, another game of shortstop musical chairs is coming, and it's possible no team will offer Swanson more this offseason than what the Braves are willing to pay him right now.