CHICAGO — Dansby Swanson’s first choice was Atlanta.
But the former Braves shortstop’s second choice was the sentimental one — as the newest member of the Chicago Cubs used to watch their games with his grandfather, who died just a week ago.
« Every time I walked in, he would have the Cubs game on, » a slightly teary-eyed Swanson said Wednesday during his introductory press conference at Wrigley Field. « He just loved baseball so much. … Being a Cub means more to me than people will realize. It’s no secret I left my hometown team to be here. »
Swanson, an Atlanta native, signed a seven-year, $177 million contract with the Cubs on Wednesday, the second-richest deal in franchise history. The Cubs « blew away » the Braves’ offer, according to a source, undoubtedly making the decision to leave Atlanta a little easier.
« I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope that I would be back home, » Swanson said. « Atlanta is where I always envisioned myself, especially after I got traded. I’m a homebody, my family is there. There’s deep roots there, but at the end of the day I reached out (to the Braves) plenty in the offseason …and got the pretty clear sense that they were going to move on.
« We were on our honeymoon, and we felt this is where we were supposed to be regardless. »
Just a day before the death of his grandfather, whose second-favorite team was the Cubs, Swanson married professional soccer player Mallory Pugh, who just happens to play for the Chicago Red Stars of the NWSL. Swanson said the two prayed on the decision to join the Cubs, who he sees as being on the upswing despite winning just 74 games last season.
« I’m obsessed with the journey of winning, » Swanson said. « It’s crazy how quickly the page can turn, but as quickly as that page turned it can turn back the other way. »
The Cubs made the postseason every year from 2015 to 2018 and again in 2020 but have been rebuilding over the last two years after saying good bye to stars Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and others.
In regards to joining the Cubs, Swanson’s free agent conversations with the team went both ways.
« The thing that stood out to me is it felt like he was interviewing us, » team President Jed Hoyer said. « ‘How are you guys going to win? What’s your plan? What’s your philosophy?’ It was very clear that winning was the priority. »
Going back to end of last season, Swanson was well aware of where the Cubs fit into the baseball landscape. They went 39-31 in the second half, relying on pitching to carry the day. With the addition of the seven-year veteran, they can claim an improved defense up the middle as the Cubs will employ a Gold Glove winner at shortstop, a former winner (Cody Bellinger) in center field and a former finalist (Nico Hoerner) at second base.
Hoerner played shortstop last season but has been informed he’ll be moving back to second.
« You have some good veteran talent, some young guys that are really starting to perform better and then you start mixing in some guys like Nico, myself, Cody Bellinger, Jameson Taillon and you say, ‘Wow, this is getting to be a pretty complete team with the ability to compete at a high level,' » Swanson said.
Swanson is also convinced he can find yet another level to his offensive game. He’s displayed more power over the last two seasons — 52 home runs in total — but at the cost of a high strikeout rate; he whiffed 182 times in 2022, fifth-most in baseball.
« I feel like over the last three to four years, I’ve had a track record of consistently getting better and feel like that trend is a long way from being over, » he said. « I started working with guys I really trust offensively. I feel like the sky is the limit and the potential is just now being tapped. »
That desire to improve wasn’t lost on Hoyer, who found Swanson’s questions about the admirable team and coaching staff.
« I can’t imagine two better attributes of a free agent than that: How are we going to win here and how are you going to make me better? » Hoyer said.
Swanson was the first pick in the 2015 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks before being traded to Atlanta the following year. He helped the Braves to a World Series title in 2021 and is the second high-profile player to leave Atlanta in two years, after Freddie Freeman returned to his home town to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.
Swanson is doing the opposite, leaving where he grew up, but comes to a team in need of leadership. And it’s one his grandfather would have been pleased to see him play for.
« I walked down to the field today and looked at my wife and said, ‘This is where we’re supposed to be,' » Swanson said.