Discover more from Pointless Exercise
The Cubs signed a good player
And paid him nearly as much as the much better ones they deemed too pricey
If you don’t have the Substack app, you should get it. It’s actually good. And then maybe we can do some of the chat things they are always prattling on about.
Well, he did it. Jed Hoyer finally got his man and made a big, expensive signing that surely will quiet his critics and have everyone excited about the upcoming Cubs season. I hope the Cubs had the sense to send in reinforcements for the season ticket phone bank to handle the increased volume now that the Cubs have signed…
That’s fine. He’s a solid player. He can play short and move Nico Hoerner over to second where Nico’s an elite defender, and that means the Cubs can mail Nick Madrigal to his next destination (in a standard letter sized envelope.)
The Cubs eschewed signing better shortstops like Trea Turner, Xander Boegaerts and especially Carlos Correa because they didn’t want to pay that kind of money to fill a hole in their lineup with a star player.
Correa’s huge 13-year, $350 million contract has an average annual value (the important number since that’s how the Competitive Balance Tax and all of its overrated penalties are calculated) of $26.9 million. The Cubs found that to be prohibitive.
So what did Swanson get? Six years, $120 million? No?
Wait, he got seven years, $177 million? Why, that’s an AAV of $25.2 million.
So the Cubs are paying a much less talented, much less productive shortstop just $1.7 million less on average per season than the Giants are paying Correa.
Excuse me while I go outside and scream into the void.
Sure, the Giants are going to be paying Correa for six more years than the Cubs are going to be paying Swanson. That’s a lot. But Correa’s a lot better. That’s why that’s a thing.
I have no problem with the Cubs paying Swanson $177 million. It’s not my money.
But the total amount of these deals aren’t the issues. The Cubs aren’t going to run out of money in seven or thirteen years. They just did what we figured they would do. They half-assed it, again.
The AAV was the important issue in these big deals, not the total. Baseball teams are going to pay that money to somebody. Gaming the AAV by spreading contracts out over more years than normal is how you are able to add better players year after year without paying a tax on them. You’d think, given that one of the Garbage Family That Owns The Cubs’™ main hobbies is a little light tax evasion, that they’d have been all for this.
Dansby had a really good year last year. He slashed .277/.329/.447 with 25 homers, 32 doubles, 96 RBI and won a Gold Glove.
But, in seven big league seasons, it’s the only time he’s posted above league average offensive numbers in a full season.
His career OPS+ is 95.
That’s probably just a little less than Correa, Turner and Bogaerts, right?
Correa - 129
Turner - 122
Bogaerts - 117
And, Swanson’s defense hadn’t rated as anything special until last year. But, it’s never been bad.
His biggest issue is a lack of arm strength. Statcast clocked him at an average of 79.2 MPH on his throws, which ranked 48th…out of 50 among shortstops. In comparison, for all of the people who worried that Nico had a second baseman’s arm at short, he was at 85.3, which ranked 15th. (Oneil Cruz clocked a ludicrous 93.9, and Javy Baez was fifth at 88.7).
On the Cubs, Swanson’s 79.2 would have ranked him 12th, just ahead of Madrigal at 78.9. Yikes.
But you know what, Dansby? Arm strength’s not everything. Most ladies say they’d rather just have a guy who knows what to do with it.
Here’s a fun fact. Christopher Morel’s 96.1 ranked fifth in MLB overall, at any position last year, behind Nate Eaton (98.1), Ronald Acuna Jr. (97.9), Aristedes Aquino (96.3) and Oscar Gonzalez (96.2).
There are many reasons why the Barves locked up basically all of their young stars, except Swanson. And, having Vaughn Grissom ready to take over next year didn’t hurt. Grissom hit .291/.353/.440 filling in at second base for Ozzie Albies, and Vaughn is a career .315/.402/.465 in the minors. And he’s 21.
Anyway, this is not a case of worrying that the Cubs signed a bad player. They didn’t. But they didn’t sign a great player. They probably didn’t even sign a really good player. They got a good player. They don’t have enough of those. So it’s progress. Just not as much as they want you to believe.
In the offseason between 2015 and 2016 the Cubs signed a player to the biggest contract in franchise history. On the surface, it made a lot of sense. The player was only 26, he’d just had his best offensive season since his rookie year and he played gold glove defense at an important position. But the problem with it was that they paid him like he was great, when he was only pretty good. And for many reasons (several of them the Cubs’ own fault) it ended up being a terrible signing. Jason Heyward’s first six seasons in the big leagues were much better offensively than Swanson’s. He came to the Cubs with a career slash of .268/.353/.431 and an OPS+ of 114.
And with the Cubs he was a disastrous .245/.323/.377 with an 86 OPS+.
The bigger issue was that the Cubs didn’t do the one thing that gives big market, big revenue teams like them the biggest advantage. They refused to paper over his deal. They made Theo Epstein (and then eventually Jed) eat it. Heyward’s deal was a huge anchor weighing down the other spending they could do. They didn’t need to let it do that, but they did. And it clearly scared them off of offering more deals like that. Because in the seven seasons since, even though for the first five of those the Cubs had actual championship aspirations, only two players got deals of five more years from them. Yu Darvish (six years, $126 million) and Swanson (seven years, $177 million.)
If Swanson struggles, or maybe even if he just plays like he did the first six years of his career, GarFam will use that as a reason to pull back again. “Well Jed, we let you spend money on that Swanson boy, and look how that turned out.”
A lot was made when the signing was announced about Dansby being a “winner.” In his seven seasons in the big leagues his teams have been to the playoffs four times. He’s played in two NLCS’ and was on a World Series winner in 2021. And he’s been…fine.
His career postseason numbers slash line is .248/.297/.423. He’s struck out 45 times in 137 at bats. He was four-for-twenty in the 2021 World Series, but two of those were homers.
The strikeouts and lack of walks are his biggest offensive problem. And he’ll fit right in on this Cubs team. For his career he’s struck out in nearly a quarter of his at bats (24.2%) while walking just seven percent of the time. And, as his power ticked up the last three seasons, his strikeout percentage has, too, to over 26%.
MLB Advanced Stats calculates that his 25 homers last year would have been 33 if he had played his home games in Wrigley Fields instead of whatever that white flight stadium in Cobb County, Georgia is called.
That’s neat. It’s also not a thing.
His new wife, Mallory Pugh plays forward for the Chicago Red Stars, so that’s cool for them. They’ll be in the same town during the summer both playing professional sports. And, when we get tired of booing him at Cubs games we can buy a cheaper ticket, go to Bridgeview and boo him there.
I’m kidding. We won’t do that. Because the Cubs are going to have a lot worse players than him for us to boo.
Have you seen the rest of this bunch?
Did they dare show him a roster before he signed?
Does he know the rest of the infield after him and Nico is currently, Madrigal, Miles Mastrobuoni, Zach McKinstry, Alfonso Rivas (still?) and Patrick Wisdom?
You know what? I’m sure they gave him a list of all the great prospects that are coming up in the next one to fourteen seasons.
It’s not a problem. He’s a winner. Just one who’s accustomed to playing with several better players. He won’t have to worry about that on his new team.
The last time the Cubs signed an All-Star Barves shortstop coming off of a career year it didn’t work out so well. We remember the 1998 Cubs for a lot of fun things, like Sammy hitting homers every day, Rod Beck and Terry Mulholland pitching daily, fat faced youngster Kerry Wood striking out a bunch of Astros (somebody ask Pat Hughes how many), etc. What we don’t remember it so fondly for is that the big free agent addition that year hit .219/.340/.299 in 119 games.
Jeff Blauser was coming off a season with Atlanta where he hit .308/.405/.482 (that’s a cool .886 OPS), and for his career he had killed the Cubs to the tune of .351/.413/.611/1.024 with 15 homers and 48 RBI in 78 games. The Cubs didn’t sign the 30 year old Blauser to a seven year deal, they only gave him two years, $8.2 million. But he didn’t earn any of it.
At least one thing remained consistent. He was a Cubs killer both before and after he signed with them.
Pointless Exercise is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.