So, it’s been a few days now since Dansby Swanson made his decision and got a lucrative payday from the Chicago Cubs. As far as the Cubs are concerned, I’d say that they’re going to get a helluva shortstop from a defensive standpoint. While there are questions about Dansby’s bat from a consistency standpoint, there’s no question about what he can do with his glove. He’s a bonafide stud out there at the keystone corner and between him and Nico Hoerner, the Cubs have got to be feeling pretty lovely about what they’ve got going on up the middle of the infield.
Also from a personal standpoint, Dansby will now be playing in the same city as his newly-wed wife, Mallory Pugh. Mallory plays for the Chicago Red Stars of the NWSL (and if you happened to catch the soccer bug following the World Cup and you’re still into it by the time 2023 rolls around, I highly recommend checking out the NWSL when it kicks off in late-March next year), so that means that they’ll be building a life together in Chicago. Just from that perspective alone, it seems like Dansby Swanson made the right choice and I’m sure I’m not the only one who will be wishing him all the luck in the world — as long as he gets plenty of bad luck while playing our Braves, of course.
Speaking of the Braves, where does that currently leave them? They’ve gone this far into the offseason without addressing their shortstop situation either via free agency or trade and only just now added an outfielder with the signing of Jordan Luplow. With that being said, Luplow is probably going to be battling for a position out of spring training and figures to be a platooon bat, at best. It’s a fine move on its own that title contenders make to round teams out but it’s definitely not the type of move that’s going to really move the needle. Still, we’re going to need some type of clear idea as to what the Braves are going to be doing at shortstop going forward.
With that being said, I think we all had an inkling of what was going to happen when it became apparent that the Braves weren’t going to be going for a splash signing when it came to the big free agent shortstops who were available. While there’s still a lot of time for the Braves to potentially pull off a trade or another acquisition, it appears that they’re heading towards the good ol’ “Next Man Up” approach. Which means Vaughn Grissom, come on down!
I’m going to be completely honest with y’all: Grissom was not initially going to be my first choice for 2023 Opening Day shortstop starter for the Braves. He also wasn’t my second choice! My first one would’ve been seeing the Braves bring home one of the top free agent shortstops on the board (my conspiracy theory connecting the Braves to Carlos Correa turned out to be a flash in the pan) and the second choice would’ve been to bring back Dansby Swanson if it came down to it. I don’t think anybody here would’ve strongly objected to Swanson staying in Atlanta for a few more years, right? Either way, I’m not going to lie to y’all: I was pretty concerned about the Braves potentially heading into next season by throwing Vaughn Grissom into the fire like that.
However, my opinion went from “Oh no” to “Well hold on a second, now; maybe they should give this a whirl” when I saw a couple of things over this offseason. The first thing was the preliminary ZiPS projections that Dan Szymborski runs over at FanGraphs. While we haven’t seen the individual numbers yet, the Braves are still projected to be a very good team on paper (a division-winning team, in fact) and that was assuming that Dansby Swanson would, in fact, be dipping on out of town. That’s because Szymborski had this very interesting nugget to say about the current situation in Atlanta:
Here we see the results of Alex Anthopoulos ruthlessly ensuring that Atlanta’s entire core stays put for a very long time. Dansby Swanson is a big loss, but when you see the projection for Vaughn Grissom, you’ll understand why the Braves dominate this very preliminary run of the NL East standings.
Well that’s certainly intriguing! Granted, I can understand if people are a little wary of ZiPS since it’s one of those newfangled projections that only us nerds really buy into with regularity, but that definitely caught my attention in a positive way. Another thing was seeing these comments from Ron Washington, who has been working hard with Vaughn Grissom so far during the offseason:
Last month, after Vaughn Grissom had gone to work out with Ron Washington, the coach called Alex Anthopoulos to rave about Grissom. Anthopoulos said Washington seems to really believe in Grissom.— Justin Toscano (@JustinCToscano) December 12, 2022
"I was surprised, because Wash isn't the type to rave," Anthopoulos said.
So the analytics are saying that Vaughn Grissom could be in line to be a very capable replacement for Dansby Swanson and Grissom is also passing Ron Washington’s discerning eye test. While Alex Anthopoulos’s comments could always be interpreted as GM-speak, that’s still enough information to conclude that maybe there’s something there with Vaughn Grissom as the Braves head into 2023. While he kicked open the doors to the majors in memorable fashion, it would be understandable to be a little skeptical of whether or not he’ll be able to keep it up for a full campaign going forward.
That’s why I figure that they Braves should still add at the shortstop position before the offseason is over. While it would be lovely if Grissom just hit the ground running and became the everyday shortstop right out of the gate with Orlando Arcia filling in every now and then, it would be nice to not just foist all the pressure on him during his first full season.
One thing I don’t see happening is another trade. While I’m still pretty confident in the Braves when it comes to player evaluation and development, I think we’ve finally reached the end of an era when it comes to Atlanta’s system being chockful of prospects. All of the potential impact prospects have either graduated, been traded, or are still years away from being big-league ready. That means that the pickings will be pretty slim when it comes to shipping off farmhands for big league talent and that’s why I figure a splash trade probably won’t be imminent any time soon.
That leaves the free agency option and the obvious two answers here are Elvis Andrus and José Iglesias. Both of them are basically tied for being the best available shortstops left on the free agency market and they’re absolutely a couple of tiers below the marquee signings. Also, no matter who you get when it comes to these two, it’s pretty clear that you’re signing them for their glove and not their bat — Andrus has only had two full seasons where he cleared the league average mark of 100 wRC+ (109 in 2016 and 105 in 2017) and Iglesias has only done it once in a season where he played more than 100 games (102 wRC+ in 2013).
Elvis Andrus can still play defense at a very solid level (3 OAA last season put him in the 84th percentile of all qualified defenders) and José Iglesias can get it done with the glove as well. I’d imagine that either one of them would serve as a defensive upgrade over Grissom, whose defensive capabilities are the main reason as to why he’s not really being projected to become elite at the position. He can definitely rake but he’s still going to need plenty of work at defense, which is why he’s been with Ron Washington all offseason and why fans are looking at the two aforementioned free agents as potential options to come in.
Either way, I’m really hoping that the Braves do address their situation at shortstop. I honestly think they might stand pat at DH and see what they’ve got with simply utilizing their current internal options for that spot and I’m also going to reiterate that while the Jordan Luplow signing is nice, some more help would be even nicer. It’s clear that the Braves still have a very good team that is already primed to be in the postseason conversation for a long time but it still would be good to see the team splash a decent amount of money to improve one of those other sports.
If they don’t fortify things at shortstop, then Vaughn Grissom’s going to have a ton of responsibility on his plate for his first full season in the majors. This team has a good track record of throwing their kids to the fire and watching them come out unscathed and it seems like they’re on track to do it once again as they head into this upcoming season.