Finding a new home with the Chicago Cubs carried deeper meaning for Dansby Swanson.
The organizational fit and contract terms had to align, of course, during the 28-year-old’s free-agent process. Swanson believes in the Cubs’ vision to build a winner, something the shortstop became synonymous with during his years at Vanderbilt and with the Atlanta Braves.
His connection to the Cubs felt more raw Wednesday, prompting Swanson to share a story during his introductory news conference after signing a seven-year, $177 million contract. Swanson, wearing his new blue-pinstriped No. 7 jersey, hoped to get through the memory without crying.
“So I can’t look at my parents while I say this story,” Swanson said as he glanced at mother Nancy and father Cooter, seated in front of him beside his wife, Chicago Red Stars forward Mallory Pugh.
When Swanson was growing up in the Atlanta area, his grandfather Herb lived across the yard from his childhood home. Every day after school Swanson stopped by his grandfather’s house to get him to come outside and hit ground balls.
And every day he walked inside, Herb had the TV tuned to WGN to watch the Cubs game. That would lead Swanson to regularly remind his grandfather that they were Braves fans.
Herb died last week, the day after Dansby’s and Mallory’s wedding.
“He loved baseball so much, and all he ever wanted me to be is doing what I’m doing now,” Swanson said. “Having won a championship in Atlanta for one of his favorite teams, we just felt that the Cubs, which were the second-favorite team, bringing a championship to the city was what we felt called to do. To be able to play for my grandfather’s two favorite teams means literally the world today.”
Swanson matches what the Cubs needed coming into the offseason. He raises their middle-infield defense to elite status alongside second baseman Nico Hoerner, and his Gold Glove pedigree strengthens the team’s emphasis on run prevention.
Swanson admitted he had hoped to re-sign with his hometown Braves. He reached out to Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk and president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos throughout the offseason and got a clear sense that they were moving on.
While on his honeymoon, the Cubs came into focus as his next destination.
“We just really felt like this was where we were supposed to be regardless,” Swanson said. “That feeling was starting to come about even before some of those conversations were had (with the Braves). I feel like that just kind of solidified it and brought as much clarity as there probably could be.”
Swanson, though, did not want to sign somewhere without an expectation the team would be competitive in 2023 and beyond. Conversely, the Cubs wanted to bring in someone with Swanson’s winning pedigree.
“Given his makeup, given what he’s been through already, he’s played in plenty of very big games over the years and obviously performed at an exceptionally high level,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said Wednesday. “And the fact that he really does want to win, that was really clear early on. That’s a part of the game, part of the next step that really means a lot to win. That’s really appealing.”
Swanson delved into his own research and was armed with plenty of questions for Hoyer and general manager Carter Hawkins as the sides got to know each other the last few weeks. Swanson wanted to know the Cubs’ organizational philosophy, whom they planned to surround him with and how they envisioning creating another World Series title team.
Leading up to the decision, Hoyer and Hawkins visited Swanson over lunch in Atlanta. During the winter meetings in early December, a phone conversation with Hawkins, which Swanson described as straightforward and honest, outlined the Cubs’ intent to win with him now.
“I left that conversation feeling better than going into it, honestly,” Swanson said. “They definitely have a clear plan for what they want to do, the types of people, the types of players that they want to bring on board. I feel like the first step is fully building a winning culture. You’ve got to show everybody that you want to win, that you’re going to win and then people really start to buy into that vision.
“But, yeah, there’s definitely a vision to spend money. It’s always so easy to (say) spend money, do this, do that, but there are a lot of really good players that will be here in the next couple of years in terms of minor-league guys and prospects.”
As part of the pitch to Swanson, former Cub Jon Lester sent him a video message that highlighted the left-hander’s own free-agent decision process that led him to the North Side in December 2014.
In the clip, Lester explained the parallels he sees between where the Cubs were then and their current position, noting the leap of faith he took: “It was the hardest decision I ever made, but looking back on it now, it would have been the easiest one.”
“It meant a lot to me,” Swanson said, “because I’ve always appreciated competing against him and his competitive spirit and what he brought to the field each and every day.”
Coming to Chicago brings an added bonus: Swanson finally will have a chance to watch Pugh play for the Red Stars in person after spending four seasons in different cities.
Swanson used to watch Pugh’s games on his iPad on the Braves plane with his teammates huddled around his seat. He’s looking forward to getting rowdy at Red Stars games.
“She just wanted me to go somewhere where we would win,” Swanson said. “It means the world to me to be able to be here with her. Being able to fully be in the same city and enjoy life together as a married couple and be able to serve our purpose together in God’s kingdom, it means a lot to each of us.”
The Cubs shouldn’t stop with the additions of Swanson, right-hander Jameson Taillon and center fielder Cody Bellinger. They remain in talks to bring back left-hander Drew Smyly. A few glaring weaknesses and positional question marks remain — namely first base, catcher and relievers — and they still lack an impact hitter, preferably a lefty slugger.
“I certainly feel like we’ve gotten better as a team,” Hoyer said. “That’s the most important focus. We’ve gotten better in a number of areas on this team. Certainly there is continued area for improvement. I don’t think we have a finished product, but we’re definitely a better team than when we started this offseason.”
Source: Berkshire mont