The news came out Thursday that the Atlanta Braves and Dansby Swanson are currently engaged in extension talks. The Georgia-native is on track to become a free agent at the end of the season but there’s mutual interest in keeping him off the market and in Atlanta for the long term.
The Braves have made a concerted effort to lock up their top players, extending Austin Riley and Michael Harris in the last month after doing the same with Matt Olson before the season. Swanson would be one of the top free agents if he chose that route, so what will it take to keep him off the open market?
Looking at an extension for Dansby Swanson with the Atlanta Braves
Swanson has a lot of things going for him, he’s one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, he’s incredibly durable and the last three seasons have been his best offensive years in the majors. On top of that, he made his first All-Star team this season and played a critical role in Atlanta’s championship run in 2021.
Entering Wednesday’s game, Swanson is a .256/.323/.415 hitter over his career, good for a 94 OPS+, with 93 homers and 56 stolen bases across six-plus seasons. Since 2020, however, those numbers have improved to .269/.329/.451 (107 OPS+) and he has a good shot at producing his first 20-20 season this year. In the last three seasons, he has missed only one game and is one of the highest-rated defenders in baseball.
According to Baseball Savant, Swanson leads all shortstops in outs above average this season, with 14, and he rates fifth in that category since 2020. There’s a good chance he could add a Gold Glove to his resume this season.
Star shortstops Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, and Carlos Correa are all likely to be free agents this offseason. While Dansby is an excellent shortstop and great defender, the others have a much longer track record of success and greater offensive production and should get massive contracts.
Last offseason, three shortstops received guarantees over $100 million, Corey Seager (10 years, $325 million), Javier Baez and Trevor Story (both receiving 6 years, $140 million). Swanson isn’t going to get Corey Seager money and he’s not likely to command a salary in the Baez/Story range but their contracts could act as an upper limit for Swanson.
Baez and Story both received their contracts entering their age-29 season, the same age Swanson will be next year, and both had better career numbers and more accolades than Swanson. Entering free agency Baez had 149 homers, 81 stolen bases, 104 OPS+, and 23.4 bWAR while Story had 158 homers, 100 stolen bases, a 112 OPS+, and a 26.8 bWAR. Baez had two All-Star appearances, a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger and MVP runner-up on his resume, and Story had two All-Star teams and two Silver Sluggers.
Unlike those two, Swanson is having his best season right before he enters free agency which should provide a boost for his future salary. He has 13.3 bWAR in his career and if he keeps up his current rate of play, he’ll end up around 15 by the season’s end. Even with all that he still isn’t close enough to command their salaries.
So he’s not getting a contract in the range of six years and $140 million but he’s still worthy of a sizable guarantee. What’s the floor for a Dansby Swanson contract with the Atlanta Braves? Chris Taylor’s contract last year might be a good baseline.
Taylor entered free agency last year before his age-31 season, two years older than Swanson will be next year. The utilityman was capable of playing shortstop but was best known for his versatility. Like Swanson, he was coming off his first All-Star appearance and his 79 homers and 58 stolen bases are comparable while his 109 OPS+ was better than Swanson’s. Taylor had 15.1 career bWAR as he entered free agency with most of his value coming at the plate. He ended up signing a four-year, $60 million contract with the Dodgers. Swanson’s elite defense, upward trajectory, and age should lead to a bigger guarantee than Taylor received.
The best comp for Swanson might just be the extension Ketel Marte signed with the Diamondbacks before this season. Marte was already under contract through the 2022 season and his extension technically begins in 2023. At the time of his extension, Marte had a career 112 OPS+ with 70 homers and 43 stolen bases and had produced 18 bWAR while playing second, short and center field. Marte is better offensively than Swanson but not as good a defender. His extension was for five years and $75 million.
Marte was a year away from free agency and, with a history of injuries, gave up some earning potential for future security. Had he waited a year and entered free agency, there’s a good chance he could have commanded a more significant contract. Swanson, on the other hand, is less than two months away from free agency and there’s less risk that an injury or poor production would greatly change his next contract.
The final factor in a potential extension for Dansby Swanson is that he’s from Georgia and could be willing to take a little less money to stay close to home. Any sort of hometown discount is likely to be relatively minimal. My guess is that if Swanson signs an extension with the Atlanta Braves it will match Marte’s, five-year, $75 million pact. If he makes it to free agency, he might be able to command a sixth year and get close to $90 million guaranteed.