The sample size is about as small as can be, but the Cubs and their fanbase are already pleased with their $177 million man. James Dansby Swanson was brought in to flash his good leather, provide an offensive spark, and to mentor the younger players on a team that has considerable higher aspirations.
Swanson began his 2023 season with a record-breaking 7-for-12 run and (xxx numbers through Wednesday) and has made about a dozen spectacular plays. None of this is new to Swanson or anyone who followed his career with the Atlanta Braves, where he was a key member of a World Championship squad.
The 29-year-old Swanson has grown into home run power just as the Cubs hope Nico Hoerner does, having clobbered 52 home runs in the last two seasons, after 10 in the abbreviated 2020 campaign. In 2022 Swanson clouted 25 long flies while batting .271 and driving in 96 runs, which earned him 12th place in MVP voting, an All-Star appearance, and a Gold Glove.
That also earned Vanderbilt alum Swanson a ticket out of Atlanta, his boyhood local team. The Braves have players waiting in the wings, ready to go, and have been extending their good younger players to long-term deals.
Dansby Swanson was seen as the least of the Big Four shortstops who were free agents following the 2022 season, and might be altering the very fabric of the game (The Athletic subscription required). Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Trea Turner were all seen as superior hitters and many Cubs fans wanted one of those three... however, Swanson fell to the club, and it seems as if fortune was smiling.
Not that there weren’t reservations on both sides:
“Basically [he] said, ‘To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure this was the right place for me,’” MLB reporter Jon Heyman said on 670 the Score with Mully & Haugh. “But he became convinced. And when I saw him, he was happy that he made that decision.”
It’s well-known that Swanson’s wife, professional soccer player Mallory Pugh Swanson, plays for the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women’s Soccer League, and that’s a Chicago connection. She has also played for the Washington Spirit — athletes come and go from town to town these days with greater frequency than they once did.
But Swanson’s grandfather was a Cubs fan, in the days when WGN ruled the airwaves, and he’s quite familiar with the team and with their mystique.
“Being a Cub means more to me than people would realize,” Swanson said.
Chicago has a way of getting beneath one’s skin, though, and we fans can help Swanson feel at home while he works to grow into the player he wants to be, and we want him to be, hitting behind his keystone partner and rounding the bases with aplomb as the Cubs 3-4-5 hitters barrel the ball.
And he can continue in his family tradition. Swanson comes from a family of athletes. None of them have reached the heights he has, but they have all helped him on his way.
All Swanson wants is to win. This was probably his reservation about the Cubs’ organization, who were in the middle of an ugly rebuild at the time. But now he’s part of the solution, one can hope, and all he wants, is to win.
“In everything I do — it doesn’t matter what it is — I win,” he says. “That’s my separating factor. Everything I do is to win, and that’s as simple as it gets.”
That philosophy also pairs well with his partner Hoerner, and together they set the tone for the lineup and the locker room. In the meantime, Vaughn Grissom hasn’t quite filled his shoes, in Atlanta.
We’ll see how we feel at the end of the season, and Swanson will probably play every minute of it, but the Cubs might have gotten the best of their critics.
At the very least, they’ve acquired a dynamic player and personality to add to their mix as they strive to be a competitive team in Major League Baseball.