Apologies if these free-agent profiles blend together, but it’s hard to find different ways to write “Sure, the Giants should sign this very good player for a lot of money if they want to. Go for it.” If the Giants want to build this lineup for Opening Day …
1. Trea Turner — 2B
2. Brandon Nimmo — CF
3. Aaron Judge — RF
4. Carlos Correa — SS
5. Xander Bogaerts — 3B
6. José Abreu — 1B
7. Masataka Yoshida — LF
8. Willson Contreras — C
9. Joc Pederson — DH
… and spark a healthy debate over whether Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom should make Logan Webb the third starter, they have my permission. I, for one, think they should go ahead and do it. In fact, I dare them to do it. In a breach of etiquette, I’ll even skip over double-dog dare and go right to triple-dog dare. If you want to help, you can make bock bock bock sounds and flap your elbows like they’re little wings.
This will probably not be the Opening Day lineup, but the common thread of everyone in there (with the exception of Pederson) is they are all free agents who would improve the Giants. Each of them should interest the front office, to varying degrees, even if some of them might not especially interested in the Giants. One of the top eight players in that imaginary lineup should be wearing the ol’ French vanilla next year, and it’s just a matter of how much and how long. There are arguments — very good ones — for all of them.
You might notice that the subject of this profile is not among them.
Why the Giants would want to sign Dansby Swanson
Dansby Swanson would make the 2023 Giants better. He was excellent last season, with major contributions as a hitter and defender, and he should be quite good next season. Probably the season after that. Probably the season after that, too. As always, don’t overthink it.
You can use the Carlos Correa profile as a crib sheet, at least for the part about the defense and how he fits on the Giants’ roster. Swanson just won the National League Gold Glove, and he’s the kind of defender you don’t move off the shortstop position, which means that Brandon Crawford would have a new role as a second-slash-third baseman. That happens to fit well with the right-handers the Giants can offer at both positions.
Swanson can hit dingers. He’s hit 52 over the last two seasons combined, and only two shortstops hit more.
He can steal bases. His 72 percent success rate leaves something to be desired, but with the new rules in place for 2023, he should help any plans the Giants might have about running wild.
Swanson is relatively young (29 in February) and he’s also remarkably durable. He’s missed just two games over the last three seasons, which means the Giants would get the everyday player they’re looking for. There’s no mixing and matching with him. Plug him into the lineup and have fun. A lineup filled with players like Swanson would win 110 games, and he should receive a smaller contract than Correa or Turner.
If you’re looking for a comparison, well, I’ve got a pretty good one for you: Brandon Crawford. There might be more predictable power (and there’s definitely more speed) with Swanson, but when it comes to a plus-plus defender at short who can do very good things for his team every single day, Giants fans have a template already in their mind.
Do you, Giants-obsessed reader, understand how a player like Swanson can help a team win if he might be a faster, more dingery Crawford? You certainly do.
After this section, you have your checkbook out. Put that away. Not because Swanson is bad, but because you’re not actually the person who needs to write a check.
There are caveats for the people who do have to write the checks, though.
Where do you predict Dansby Swanson to sign this offseason? pic.twitter.com/Q3K8Zfwwge
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) November 22, 2022
Why the Giants might not want to sign Dansby Swanson
A list of Swanson’s OBPs in his full seasons:
FanGraphs’ crowdsourcing model projects him to get a $141 million contract. Those are not $141 million OBPs. He also has a ton of swing-and-miss in his game, with 182 strikeouts last season and a strikeout rate that’s almost 4 percent higher than the league average. His walk rate has decreased in each of the last four seasons, and he has that Kris Bryant thing going, where his chase rate is actually good, but his contact on pitches in the strike zone isn’t the best.
If you’re willing to ignore below-average OBPs because Swanson does everything else quite well, that’s reasonable. Good GMs and baseball teams look at what players can do, not what they can’t. But if that’s the case, you might as well ask the Tigers if they’re having second thoughts about Javier Báez, because I’ll bet they are. And if they sent a chunk of money over with him, he’d probably be much more affordable than Swanson.
It’s also notable that this would be an extreme case of buying high. It doesn’t matter if you prefer FanGraphs or Baseball Reference for your WAR calculations; Swanson’s awesome 2022 total was more than twice as high as any other season in his career. This is where the comparison to Crawford gets a little shaky — Crawford had consistently higher WAR totals over his first few seasons. Swanson’s 2022 looks like an extreme outlier compared to the rest of his career. He wouldn’t be the first player to reach a new level of success and production in his late-20s, and he wouldn’t be the last. It’s hard to take that risk if it comes with a five-, six- or even seven-year contract, though.
There’s a decent chance that Swanson hits something like .240/.310/.430 next season, and he’ll do it with excellent defense that’s not quite Gold Glove-worthy.
There’s a decent chance that Crawford does the exact same thing.
The Giants already have Crawford. They might not want to give out a multiyear, nine-figure contract to a player who doesn’t come with a relative guarantee to improve on his production, especially if they’re going to move the homegrown hero off the position to do it. There’s a reason why Swanson is the lowest-ranked of the Big Four shortstops on FanGraphs’ 2023 WAR projections. If you look three spots below Swanson on that list, you have double-swatting legend Jean Segura, who is projected to get a contract that’s $114 million and four years shy of Swanson’s.
Here’s something I wrote last year about the high-strikeout, low-walk profile of Nick Castellanos:
… this approach will stop working for Castellanos at some point this decade. Maybe it’s 2023. Maybe it’s 2029. It will stop working, though, and it won’t be pretty.
Maybe Castellanos will bounce back from last season, but he sure looks like a dodged bullet from here. Players with below-average OBPs scare me on long-term contracts. There’s no other way to put it. While a team can reasonably expect Swanson to give them positive value over the life of his contract — his defense is that good — he doesn’t have to make an All-Star team a second time. And in a free-agent market that has a couple of players who play the same position and have finished top-five in at least one recent MVP vote, it seems preferable to pay a premium for one of them.
The Giants need a middle-of-the-order talent, and Swanson just might be that. But he comes with fewer guarantees than some of the other players the Giants can pursue, and that should scare them, even if he comes with a relative discount.
All of that is probably harsher than I intended it to be. Swanson will make his next team better. He’ll do it for a while. If the Giants were to sign him, it would be silly to predict immediate doom. He’d help. He’d have a chance to help a lot. This isn’t like Castellanos, whose offensive profile reminded me of Aaron Rowand to an uncomfortable degree. Swanson has plenty going for him.
Swanson also applies to my pet theory about ultra-brilliant defensive shortstops:
… shortstops like Crawford, Mike Bordick, Omar Vizquel and Ozzie Smith, all of whom were known as all-glove shortstops for most of their 20s … became much stronger hitters in their 30s. We know they probably didn’t become better athletes in their 30s because that’s not how the human body works. But they were already elite because of their hand-eye coordination and ability to repeat their fielding mechanics, over and over and over again, and that happens to be what hitters need to be good at, too. So once the mechanics and muscle memory combine with the experience that comes with 3,000 career at-bats or so, you get a surprisingly effective hitter.
So this newfound ceiling for Swanson might be the new normal. He’s hitting the ball harder than ever, and he’s better at getting the ball in the air. There’s a decent chance that Swanson isn’t mirroring a typical Crawford season, but a typical Correa one, and for half the price. Seems good.
It’s the OBPs for me, though. Can’t go to nine figures for a .321 career OBP, sorry. Doesn’t matter if it’s a Gold Glove shortstop or 50-homer slugger, that’s a flag that’s too bright-red to ignore. It’s rational to think Swanson will have a better season than the Giants’ incumbent shortstop, but it’s not irrational to think the difference won’t be nearly as great as it was this season.
If the Giants get Swanson, they’ll be better. It just feels like there’s a way for them to get even better than that, however.
Index of San Francisco Giants free-agent profiles
(File photo: Greg Fiume / Getty Images)