Should The Atlanta Braves Consider An Upgrade At Shortstop?

Dansby Swanson and the Atlanta Braves are World Champions and no one can take that away from them

The Atlanta Braves are reigning champions and they have a target on their back. They also want to continue to fight the narrative:

In the last 21 years, there have been 16 different champions, and none of them have repeated.

It would be wise of the Atlanta Braves to improve if they want to be the first team since the 1998-2000 New York Yankees to win more than 1 World Series in a row. After all, every other competitive team will be doing all they can to improve too.

Of course, the main priority is to bring back Freddie Freeman. However, that should not be the only transaction that should be considered. If Freddie is all they focus on, all the other teams will sweep the other potential transactions out from under them.

With that being said, there are some other areas that should be considered. When a team wins a World Series, they are typically a strong team, meaning there are not as many glaring holes as a team that did not come close to winning.

The idea of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is flawed logic in the world of MLB.  A team can always improve, especially if they just brought in a large sum of money from winning a World Series.

Should the Atlanta Braves upgrade a player who was a starter?

The true answer to if the Braves should consider upgrading a player who started last year is a resounding “depends”. The Braves obviously had a strong roster last year, but there are some areas that can be improved upon.

For his role, Dansby Swanson has done his job. This is in no way a knock on him. He has been about a league-average Shortstop, which is all the Braves needed of him. It would be a luxury to upgrade Dansby Swanson — not a priority — but when you win a World Series, you can sometimes afford luxuries.

After all, Swanson is under (a tendered/arbitration-fed) contract this year, and it would be an upgrade, not a replacement. So, if the Braves do not find an upgrade in a situation they like, then “no harm, no foul”.

The market drives decisions

The 2021-2022 Shortstop free-agent class is one of the strongest in years with some serious talent available. Before Texas and Detroit made their moves, Marcus Semien (Shortstop by trade), Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, and Javier Baez were all available. All 5 of these players have received MVP votes in their career.

Next year, there is only 1 available Shortstop with MVP votes, and truly only one who is better than Dansby Swanson, in Trea Turner. Of course, there is a chance Tim Anderson’s option gets declined or Xander Bogaerts opts out, but neither of those are certain.

With the supply of elite-level talent at the Shortstop position being so high this year, and with it being so slim next year, the Atlanta Braves should at least consider capitalizing on this higher-than-normal supply.

Could Trevor Story be an option for the Atlanta Braves?

Again, if the Atlanta Braves end up rolling with Dansby Swanson, it definitely would not be the end of the world. But, if they do find an upgrade, Swanson could potentially be flipped to help fill another hole. With the salary he will be tendered, it will not be for a bench player.

Trevor Story has been one of the top Shortstops in the league for years, and with there being more intriguing options out there, it could result in him being somewhat affordable. MLB Trade Rumors predicts Story to sign a 6 year, $126-million-dollar deal.

This deal is not necessarily the type of deal that Alex Anthopoulos typically makes, but the situation where you can get an elite level Shortstop at $21 million a year does not happen very often.

Trevor Story has been a force to reckon with since he joined the league. In 2021 he accumulated 4.2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with a slash-line of .251/.329/.471 and a 103 OPS+ (3% above average, adjusted across the league). Defensively, he continued his excellence with a SABR Defensive Index (SDI) of 6.0 which was 3rd best for NL Shortstops and 11th overall in the NL.

All of these impressive numbers, and it was a “down year” by his standards (mostly due to the lowest BABIP of his career). His career numbers are even more impressive. He averages 5.8 WAR per 162 games played, a slash-line of .272/.340/.523 and a 112 OPS+. Defensively, he averages a 5.06 SDI per 162 games.

How does Dansby Swanson stack up?

Dansby Swanson is no scrub. However, he is quite possibly not as good as many fans believe he is. It’s true, he did have a career-high in home runs with 27 in 2021, and did have his second-best slash-line of his career with a .248/.311/.449 with a 97 OPS+ (3% below average).

Defensively he had a down year. He made some fantastic and clutch defensive plays, but so did many MLB Shortstops. SDI compares players against their peers. Swanson had an SDI of -3.1. That was 3rd worst in the NL for Shortstops. He ended the year with a WAR of 1.9.

For his career, Dansby averages 2.1 WAR per 162 games played with a slash-line of .249/.319/.409 with an OPS+ of 89 (11% below average),and averages an SDI of -0.72 per 162 games played.

If we compare head-to-head, we can see a clear advantage for Story. Both have played 6 seasons:

  • Career OPS+ – Story 112, Swanson 89
  • SDI per 162 – Story 5.06, Swanson -0.72
  • WAR per 162 – Story 5.8, Swanson 2.1

There has also been this narrative of Swanson being extremely clutch. He did have a very key home run in the World Series. However, it arguably has not been the case lately.

If we look at his clutch stats, Swanson had a 93 OPS+ in high leverage situations in 2021, which is 7% below league average, and in late and close situations he had a terrible OPS+ of 33. Now, his career numbers are much better at 124 and 123 respectively.

In 2021, Story had a 130 OPS+ in high leverage situations and 127 OPS in late and close situations. For his career, he has a 91 OPS+ and 78 OPS+ respectively.

So, Swanson has arguably been more clutch in his career, but Story has been more clutch as of late.

An upgrade at Shortstop is not a must, but it would help

Again, if the Atlanta Braves default to Dansby Swanson, this is not a bad thing. However, they have not extended him yet, which could mean that he may not be the intended long-term answer.

With an upgrade like Story being available in this high supply market environment, and the Braves not having a ton of options after the 2022 season is over, it makes sense to at least consider the notion of signing an elite Shortstop now if the price tag is right. Even with Swanson having a year left on his contract, he is good enough that another team would take on his salary.

Are the odds high that this scenario happens? Probably not. Is it something to consider? Absolutely.