The Atlanta Braves pulled off the biggest trade thus far this offseason on Monday, obtaining Gold Glove catcher Sean Murphy from the Oakland Athletics as part of a three-team swap that also included the Milwaukee Brewers. The Braves, in their efforts to keep pace with the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, will now employ one of the game's top backstops.
Even with Murphy in tow, general manager Alex Anthopoulos has more work to do this winter. His next order of business, in magnitude if not in sequence, is finding a shortstop. Dansby Swanson, who has manned the position for Atlanta since 2016, remains on the free-agent market. The other big-name shortstops have since signed elsewhere, suggesting Swanson's number will be up soon. The Braves could bring him back, or they could look elsewhere -- be it on the free-agent or trade markets, or perhaps even within the organization.
Who are those options and what do they bring to the table? Let's break it down using a handy-dandy subhead format.
1. Free-agent options
As noted in the introduction, Swanson is the top remaining free-agent option. The Braves reportedly remain involved in the sweepstakes for his services, according to Russell Dorsey of Bally Sports, but MLB.com's Mark Bowman recently noted that the two sides haven't had "legit negotiations" since the start of the offseason. Now, these things can change in a hurry, especially in cases like this one, where the Braves presumably know Swanson's terms.
Whether or not the Braves are willing to meet said terms is another matter. It's probably fair to assert that Swanson was often lumped in with the three top-tier shortstops (Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, and Xander Bogaerts) for the sake of convenience. To his credit, he's certainly improved his stock during the Pandemic Era. To wit, he's launched the third-most home runs among everyday shortstops since the start of 2020, and his defensive metrics last season sparkled. But there is reason to have reservations, about the reliability of said defensive metrics, and about his offensive profile moving forward.
Contracts handed out to top shortstops this offseason
|Player||'23 seasonal age||'20-22 WAR||Years||AAV|
As CBS Sports detailed when ranking Swanson as the ninth best free agent available this winter, he ranked 120th out of 130 qualified batters last season in contact rate. Interested parties have to ask themselves: what will his statline look like as he ages into his 30s, causing his bat speed and hand-eye coordination to slip? Of course, a reasonable response might be: we don't care; let's just add his power and his glove and win as many games as we can now.
The Braves might give that answer, or they might not. If they don't, there are precious few alternatives available on the open market.
The top option in our estimation is Elvis Andrus. He just had his best offensive season since 2017, and his glovework continues to grade well when judged by Statcast. As an added bonus (albeit one that nobody in the free world will care about), Andrus would be rejoining his original club, more than 15 years after they traded him to the Texas Rangers as part of the Mark Teixiera deal.
Beyond that? There's the likes of José Iglesias and Alcides Escobar. The former has had some solid years offensively, but should probably be on the other side of the bag. The latter … well, he'll be doing well just to make another MLB roster.
2. Trade market
Should the Braves find none of the above free agents to their liking, they could always turn back to the trade market. The catch is that Anthopoulos has by and large exhausted his farm system through trades and promotions the last few years. That's fine; the only actual value a farm system has to a team is producing talent, be it through developmental means or trades. The Braves' weakened system does, however, rule out their chances of obtaining a pie-in-the-sky type, like, say, the Milwaukee Brewers' Willy Adames.
One popular piece of rosterbation had the Braves dangling veteran catcher Travis d'Arnaud as part of a package to send to the Cleveland Guardians in exchange for Amed Rosario. That hypothetical, if it ever had any real-world potential, may have gone out the window when the Guardians signed Mike Zunino. Maybe the Braves could convince the Guardians to part with one of their younger middle infielders who haven't yet established themselves in the majors, be it Gabriel Arias, Tyler Freeman, or someone else?
The Braves could also hit up the Tampa Bay Rays about moving Taylor Walls, or the San Diego Padres about Ha-Seong Kim. Walls hasn't even sort of hit in nearly 200 big-league games, but he's almost certainly available given that the Rays have Wander Franco at shortstop and a collection of potential second-base contributors who would paper over his absence from the roster. Kim, a sure-handed defender who had a better second season in the majors, would still seem to be part of the Padres' plans despite them signing Bogaerts.
If the Braves feel like salvaging a bad situation, they could buzz the New York Yankees to see if they're ready to part with Isiah Kiner-Falefa, or the St. Louis Cardinals about Paul DeJong. The former had a disappointing 2022 and should be replaced sooner than later by youngsters Oswald Peraza and/or Anthony Volpe; the latter hasn't been even an average hitter since 2019, and he's owed more than $11 million through the end of next season when the buyout on his club option is included. On the bright side, he'd probably come cheap.
We'll close out by noting that the Braves do have some internal candidates they could turn to should they dislike the options available to them through other means. The two most notable being Vaughn Grissom and Orlando Arcia.
A reminder that Vaughn Grissom began this year with High A Rome pic.twitter.com/mhP3p8Q15p— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) September 21, 2022
With due respect to Arcia, a former starting shortstop with the Brewers who is fresh off the best offensive season of his career, him becoming Plan A is probably the worst-case outcome for the Braves. Grissom, conversely, is far more intriguing. He's a 21-year-old who batted .291/.353/.440 (121 OPS+) with five home runs and five stolen bases last season in 41 big-league games.
Grissom may not continue to hit at quite those levels, though he's viewed by scouts as a potentially average or better contributor at the plate. In the field, rival evaluators have dinged Grissom for his range, suggesting he doesn't cover enough ground to play a tolerable shortstop on a full-time basis. The Braves have Grissom working with renowned infield coach Ron Washington this offseason, and Washington seems pleased with how things are going.
"He's just got to learn how to play it," Washington told The Athletic's David O'Brien. "And that's what I'm doing right now, teaching him how to play it. A lot of guys go out there and play defense, but they don't know how. So I'm taking this opportunity to teach him how."
Should Grissom become the latest youngsters to benefit from Washington's instruction -- joining a long list that includes Austin Riley and Marcus Semien -- then perhaps the Braves won't have to look far and wide for their shortstop.