The Rundown: Cubs Get Their Shortstop, Smyly Returning, MLB Unlikely to Save Struggling RSNs
The Cubs finally signed a shortstop and it wasn’t a bad deal given the current marketplace. Dansby Swanson agreed to a seven-year, $177 million contract over the weekend, so fans of Chicago’s North Side baseballers finally get to sleep with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. Swanson’s addition will move Nico Hoerner to second base, with the fate of Nick Madrigal yet to be determined.
Swanson and Hoerner give the Cubs the best up-the-middle infield defense in the National League, if not all of baseball. José Altuve and Jeremy Peña make a fine pair in Houston and it will be interesting to see how the Giants deploy Carlos Correa and Brandon Crawford. Swanson also had the best year offensively of all of the free-agent shortstops this winter.
Chicago’s new shortstop was the top pick of the 2015 draft out of Vanderbilt by the Diamondbacks, then he was traded to the Braves a few months later. His clout has always been palpable, but he was rushed to the bigs and struggled initially. In fact, Swanson’s career trajectory reminds me a little of Ryne Sandberg. Both had a tough time finding their footing before finally settling in. Like Sandberg, Swanson focused on mechanics on both sides of the ball before breaking out.
Sandberg won the NL MVP in 1984, his third season with the Cubs, largely because he erupted offensively. His ISO jumped from .090 to .206 and his SLG jumped from .351 to .520. Swanson showed a marginal increase in his year-three SLG, but his expected slug jumped a whopping 114 points and his exit velocity improved by 2 mph. Virtually every Statcast power metric screams continual improvement. Swanson has sustained the same level of performance (or better) from 2018 onward and his Statcast chart shows most of his expected stats are in the same range.
Those metrics make Swanson’s 2022 career year a little more palatable. He strikes out a lot, but his hard-hit percentage has improved every year and he has shown continual improvement against breaking balls. A massive jump in slider run value in 2022 catapulted Swanson into the upper percentile for run value on those pitches.
If you are noticing a trend here, it is that Swanson dedicates himself to improving all aspects of his game each season. The best may be yet to come, which, again, seems more than a little Sandberg-esque. If Swanson can trim 3-4 percentage points off of his 24.2% strikeout rate he should have a few 30+ home run seasons in Chicago and he’ll win a Silver Slugger award or two. He’s not as good as Sandberg, but it’s not a stretch to say he could be.
Cubs News &amp; Notes
- Swanson’s contract is the second-biggest in team history, right behind the $184 million deal Jason Heyward signed in 2016. His $25.3 million AAV is second to Jon Lester ($25.8 million).
- The Cubs are building an all-world defense ($) according to Keith Law of The Athletic. Cody Bellinger is a great defensive center fielder and Pete Crow-Armstrong, who should arrive in 2024, is even better.
- Swanson has openly admitted to having a professional help him with his anxiety issues.
- The Cubs will lose their second-round draft pick because Swanson was attached to a qualifying offer. Atlanta will get an extra pick after Competitive Balance Round B.
- Madrigal could be a DH option with Hoerner taking over second base. He doesn’t have a prototypical DH skillset, but is a high-contact bat who can get on base and help set the tone if the Cubs utilize him in the leadoff spot.
- The Cubs are working to bring back starter Drew Smyly.
- Smyly could be a starter or a swingman, as could Keegan Thompson. One path to upgrading the bullpen could come through lengthening the rotation.
- Chicago has also been connected to free agents Michael Conforto and Trey Mancini. Signing Conforto might make Ian Happ expendable.
- If the Cubs decide to extend Happ, the contract that Andrew Benintendi signed with the White Sox could serve as a starting point in negotiations.
- By my math, the Cubs and Marlins are probably the only suitors for Conforto.
- It’s fair to wonder if Happ could be traded as part of a package to Miami in an attempt to acquire starter Pablo López. Happ would be a great flip candidate for the Marlins.
- The Red Sox DFA’d first baseman Eric Hosmer over the weekend and he will get some mentions as a potential DH candidate with the Cubs, who could sign him for the league minimum. He’d be a great tutor for Matt Mervis, though they hit from the same side of the plate. Hosmer has been better than league average for most of his career and the Red Sox still owe him $39 million over the next three seasons.
- The Cubs were interested in Hosmer earlier this year, though presumably with a prospect attached to the remainder of the first baseman’s contract.
- The Cubs need a backup for catcher Yan Gomes, and Tucker Barnhart could be that guy.
Odds & Sods
Heck of a week for Dansby, am I right?
MLB, along with the NHL and NBA, are unlikely to save struggling RSNs.
Michael Brantley has reportedly agreed to a one-year deal to rejoin the Astros.
The Red Sox agreed to a two-year deal with former Dodgers slugger Justin Turner.
The Dodgers signed former Red Sox slugger J.D. Martinez to a one-year, $10 million contract.
The Orioles are interested in 42-year-old starter Rich Hill.
Craig Kimbrel is still available to teams searching for a closer.
Seth Lugo is making it clear that he wants to sign with a team that will allow him to work as a full-time starter.
The Yankees’ retooled rotation should be among the best in baseball in 2023.
The Twins missed out on all the shortstops, but they did sign outfielder/DH Joey Gallo to a one-year deal.
Monday Morning Six-Pack
- The Bears lost 25-20 to the Eagles on Sunday their seventh straight defeat since beating the Patriots in Week 7. Justin Fields eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards on the season, becoming the first QB in team history to reach that mark.
- Chicago’s loss put them back in the driver’s seat for the No. 2 overall pick in next April’s draft.
- Argentina defeated France on penalties in one of the greatest, most controversial World Cup Finals ever.
- The Vikings staged the biggest comeback in NFL history on Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts. But even that game may have been overshadowed by how the Patriots lost to the Raiders on Sunday.
- A giant, half-pound Fruit Loop is this year’s hottest Christmas gift.
- Millions of Alzheimer’s patients were given hope this year after a new drug was shown to slow memory decline by 27% over 18 months. It’s the biggest breakthrough in a generation, offering real optimism that dementia can be beaten and one day, perhaps even cured.
They Said It
- “In a perfect world, as we add starters, we’re pushing someone really good that could potentially be a multi-inning weapon or whatever. I loved those games last year when Keegan [Thompson] goes six, seven, eight and you can turn it over for one inning. That’s a great way to go. And especially now within the world of pitcher limits and things, it’s really hard, when you have a bullpen of four or five one-inning guys, it’s hard not to overuse those guys. It’s hard not to get banged up during the course of the summer.” – Hoyer
- “I hope I’m a starter next year. I think everyone in the starting rotation would rather be a starter than in the bullpen. But I don’t know what the role is going to be, so I’m just going to prepare for being a starter, and hopefully, that’s what it is.” – Thompson
Monday Walk-Up Song
I went to a Haunted Holiday party at the Rave on Saturday night, that included zombie caroling and a cool version of this Meat Loaf song by a group of undead individuals.