The Atlanta Braves have tried for the last 13 months to get better. They’ve made a record-setting number of trades, really too many to count. And they’ve accumulated a large number of pitchers.
But the one thing they were missing was a cornerstone player. They were lacking that person who could be the face of the franchise. The Braves have had a few players like that over the last 50 years, from Hank Aaron to Dale Murphy to David Justice to Chipper Jones. There was also Andruw Jones, Brian McCann and Jason Heyward.
Freddie Freeman is still around, contrary to the belief that this front office is trading everybody. While Freeman is under contract for six more years, he’s looked at as more of a complimentary player – albeit a very good one – compared to the player to build a team around.
Wednesday the Braves got their man. They said they didn’t want to trade right-hander Shelby Miller, but when the Diamondbacks got so desperate they included the first overall pick from the draft six months ago, the Braves couldn’t say no.
Dansby Swanson is his name. It’s unusual, but it’s a name that sounds special. He’s a prospect, but he’s a great one. He’s a Georgia kid, and the Braves love that. He’s smart – went to Vanderbilt. And young man is one very good baseball player.
Swanson was the centerpiece of the deal with Arizona. The Braves also got Ender Inciarte, a very good outfielder who likely takes over in center, along with Aaron Blair, a pitcher who might be a younger version of Miller.
And to think that this move was simply an extension of the Heyward trade with St. Louis from a year ago. Heyward, who agreed to an eight-year, $184 million contract with the Cubs Friday, was traded with reliever Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for Miller and pitching prospect Tyrell Jenkins.
So with Miller in Arizona, and with Heyward spending only one year in St. Louis, that’s a win-win deal for the Braves. They knew they couldn’t re-sign Heyward. So now they’ve spun Miller into three players that can be huge pieces for the future, and they still have Jenkins.
Swanson is the key. He’s a shortstop, which means he is the eventual replacement to Andrelton Simmons, who was traded away last month. Veteran Erick Aybar, who was part of the package from the Angels for Simmons, can play there this season. Swanson has a great glove and they say he’s a hitter – a pure hitter. The comparisons range from Troy Tulowitzki to Alan Trammell and to even Derek Jeter.
Yes, that Derek Jeter.
Those who have watched him regularly describe Swanson as being a great leader, a charismatic player who loves to play the game. His coach at Vanderbilt, Tim Corbin, talked this week about how Swanson was a leader the moment he got to Nashville as a freshman player from Marietta High School.
Swanson’s a good looking, All-American kid, which means he’s marketable. He’s still just 21 years old, but to think when Sun Trust Park opens up in 2017 in Cobb County that a kid from the same area could be taking over at shortstop… well, that’s just too good to be true.
This is the player that could be the next Chipper Jones, a player the Braves can plaster all over the new stadium. If this kid pans out, Swanson jerseys will be big sellers, and like with Chipper, kids will want to emulate him.
Remember, Jones was also the number one player picked in his draft in 1990.
Atlanta did not have that great position player prospect in the farm system. They have Ozzie Albies, who could be moved to second base with Swanson around. Albies may be ready in 2017. Austin Riley might take while longer, but the third baseman could speed up the ladder if he continues to hit like he did in his first pro baseball season.
There are plenty of pitchers, but the Braves needed that one player that could be the difference-maker. Swanson will likely start the 2016 season in Double-A Mississippi, but it might be long before he’s making that difference in Atlanta, in his own backyard.
And that’s just the type of player the Braves needed in this new chapter of their history.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.