No “Legit Negotiations” Between Braves, Swanson

Carlos Correa and Dansby Swanson are the last of this offseason’s “big four” shortstops standing, and while many Braves fans may be holding out hope for a reunion with Swanson, Mark Bowman of reports that Swanson and the Braves “haven’t had any legit negotiations since the offseason began.” Atlanta’s most recent offer to Swanson was a six-year deal in the $16-17MM range annually, per Bowman, which aligns with last month’s reports that the Braves had offered Swanson a deal in the vicinity of $100MM.

An offer in that range always felt light, even before the recent explosion of megadeals at the top end of the free-agent market. Trevor Story and Javier Baez both landed six-year, $140MM deals last winter, and MLBTR predicted a $154MM guarantee for Swanson back on our Top 50 free agent rankings. With Trea Turner landing $300MM, Xander Bogaerts getting $280MM and most of the top free agents landing larger-than-expected guarantees this winter, Swanson could well outpace that number, too. Certainly, the reported $96-102MM range in which the Braves last sat now feels even less plausible than it did a month ago.

While it’s apparent that the 11-year lengths of both the Turner and Bogaerts deals were rooted in a desire for the Phillies and Padres to mitigate some luxury-tax concerns, there’s also little denying that the overall guarantee of each contract exceeded most expectations. Turner was at least thought to have a chance at $300MM, but Bogaerts utterly shattered even the most bullish predictions by pulling in that $280MM sum. Moreover, because Bogaerts landed with a team that wasn’t even thought to be involved in the shortstop market, he lowered the supply of available shortstops without necessarily suppressing the demand (at least not in the same manner as he would have by signing with the Giants, Twins or another club active in this market).

As such, Swanson is now one of two remaining high-end shortstops in a market that has at least three teams — not including the incumbent Braves — aggressively looking to add a shortstop. Each of the Giants, Twins and Cubs are known to be active in the shortstop market, and it stands to reason that others could be on the periphery.

For example, the Red Sox, having just been spurned by Bogaerts, may not want to pay Correa’s price but could view Swanson as someone they could lure for a contract closer to what they reportedly offered Bogaerts (six years, $162MM). The Orioles, meanwhile, have at least gauged the asking price on the available shortstops, though it’d still register as a shock to see Baltimore earnestly jump into the Swanson bidding. The Cardinals had interest in Swanson but are likely out after instead making their free-agent splash at the catcher position, signing Willson Contreras to a five-year deal.

Perhaps as notable as the lack of offseason communications is Bowman’s further reporting that Swanson has been “bothered by the absence of communication” and recently reached out directly to Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos. It’s hard to hear that and not think back to the free agency of Freddie Freeman last offseason, which obviously culminated in Freeman’s somewhat stunning departure from Atlanta and a six-year deal with the Dodgers.

To this point, there’s no indication that the Braves’ standing offer is their best and final offer. It’s possible that if Swanson comes to the Braves with serious offers from other suitors, Atlanta will commensurately up its offer to Swanson and his agents at Excel Sports Management (the same agency that represents Freeman).

That said, there have been hints since before the offseason even began that retaining Swanson is hardly a foregone conclusion. I broke down the Braves’ payroll and their proximity to the luxury tax months ago, and while both Braves CEO Terry McGuirk and Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei have offered optimistic comments about being willing to field a top-five payroll, neither pointed out the fact that the Braves are already fairly close to that level — particularly with regard to their ongoing luxury-tax ledger, which is currently the fifth-largest in baseball. Indications since have been that the Braves won’t pursue the non-Swanson shortstops and that they may not have much of an appetite for committing any salary that “takes up too high a percentage of their payroll” (as reported by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal in November).

As things stand, the Braves are just over $3MM shy of the $233MM luxury threshold, as projected by Roster Resource. Signing Swanson would likely take them in the range of $20MM over the tax, and any additional acquisitions (or a potential Max Fried extension) could push them well into the second tier and possibly to the precipice of the third tier. Crossing into that third tier would drop their pick in next year’s draft by 10 places. Braves brass has voiced a willingness to cross at least into that first luxury tier, but the fact that Atlanta acquired cash to help cover Joe Jimenez’s salary in their recent trade with the Tigers doesn’t necessarily portray a team that will cross that threshold with little concern.

Until he signs elsewhere, Swanson still has a chance to remain with his hometown Braves. However, a months-long lack of negotiations, a standing offer that’s likely well shy of his eventual price tag, and a market of at least two other motivated suitors casts plenty of doubt on whether Atlanta is the likeliest landing place for Swanson.

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