Where he made it to the 2020 Golden Gloves finalists – an overall internal upgrade that will become especially valuable next season as MLB’s ban on extreme change in the field comes in effective. The addition of missing Golden Glove player Dansby Swanson on a seven-year contract means plus defender Nico Hoerner is back at second base
Sources confirmed Swanson’s agreement for seven years, $177 million.
Despite the focus and importance of the Cubs landing one of four big-name All-Star freelance agents in that position. This move doesn’t make the Cubs a surprise NL pennant candidate
And Swanson’s bat doesn’t suggest the kind of high-impact, middle-of-the-order profile that the Cubs lost in multiple players the last two years via trades and free agency since they last fielded an impact offensive lineup.
But the club’s subpar fielding in the post-Anthony Rizzo, post-Javy Báez era the past season and a half has now been significantly improved this winter by Swanson as well as the addition on a one-year contract of center fielder Cody Bellinger, a former Gold Glove outfielder who joins a Cubs outfield that already included 2022 Gold Glove left fielder Ian Happ and right fielder Seiya Suzuki, who won multiple Golden Gloves in Japan’s NPB league.
Despite a below-league-average shortstop arm, Swanson and Hoerner look like the best defensive keystone combo at least this side of San Francisco (depending on whether Brandon Crawford lands at second base or third) or San Diego (Xander Bogaerts, Ha-Seong Kim) — or maybe the state of Texas (the Rangers’ Corey Seager and Marcus Semien; the Astros’ Jeremy Peña and José Altuve).
Run prevention has been a focus of team president Jed Hoyer and the front office as a way of improving the roster since the season ended, especially up the middle.
“Obviously, I’ve been pretty open about that,” he said during the recent Winter Meetings.
The fielding side of that run-prevention formula became even more important as it became clear that the Cubs were staying out of the deep end of the swing-and-miss starting pitching market (Carlos Rodón, Koudai Senga, et al) — adding more contact-centric right-hander Jameson Taillon to a starting staff that already includes contact-pitching veterans Marcus Stroman and Kyle Hendricks (pending his comeback from a shoulder injury).
Among a handful of new rules that go into effect next season is the ban on extreme infield shifts that requires two infielders to remain on each side of second base — and on the dirt — before the pitcher delivers the ball to the plate.
Swanson, who turns 29 before the season opener, ranked second in the majors, regardless of position, in outs above average (21), according to Statcast (Detroit second baseman Jonathan Schoop was first with 27).
How good on paper does that make the Cubs’ middle infield?
Among MLB shortstops, Hoerner was tied with the Mets’ Francisco Lindor for second to Swanson (at 13 each).
Swanson, whose career .738 OPS is roughly league average, was 15 percent above league this year.
That doesn’t fully replace outgoing All-Star catcher Willson Contreras’ impact bat. But one way to look at the right-handed-hitting shortstop’s addition to the lineup is that he at least approaches some of Contreras’ impact over the years, on paper, in backfilling that loss.
Both are among the league leaders in hard-hit rate, albeit Contreras with significantly higher numbers.
Among his more impressive achievements more recently in his career is the fact that he played in all but two of the Braves’ regular-season games the past three years with a higher home run rate in that stretch than earlier in his career (hitting .265 with a .451 slugging percentage and .775 OPS from 2020 through ’22).
But perhaps nothing more impressive than this for the former No. 1 overall draft pick: a 22-15 record in postseason games played, including the last five consecutive seasons playing in October with a 2021 World Series ring.