We can’t yet know how long Brian Snitker’s plan to “look for matchups” when deciding whether to start Dansby Swanson will last. One cold week by Johan Camargo, and we might forget ever having this discussion. As it stands, the Atlanta Braves’ manager has told us he believes his team is better without Swanson on the field, which is a fairly massive admission.
Swanson bats right-handed. The Cubs’ starter Monday night was Jon Lester, a left-hander. Swanson sat behind Camargo, who as a switch-hitter has done massively better against lefties. We know from Rio Ruiz’s truncated stay in the majors that Snitker isn’t fond of platoons, save the ongoing one at catcher. If you’re going on “matchups” and you’re not playing a righty against a lefty, when will you play him?
This isn’t to rip Snitker. His team has a chance to put itself in position to play for something. He’s trying to win. With a Baseball-Reference WAR value of 0.0, Swanson isn’t helping that cause. (Camargo’s is 0.7 over 44 games, which is quite good.) Swanson and Camargo are both 23, the latter being 60 days older. With the return of Sean Rodriguez and the continuing presence of Brandon Phillips and the ongoing experiment of Freddie Freeman at third, the Braves’ infield has become a crowded place.
The question, then: Would Swanson, who at 23 has nearly as many major-league plate appearances (488) than minor-league ones (569) and has been a professional for 25 months, be better served playing in Triple-A — he skipped that level — than pinch-running in the bigs?
Argument against: He won’t learn to hit the sliders he’s not hitting up here down there because Triple-A pitchers don’t throw such sliders. (If they did, they’d be in the majors.)
Argument for: He gets to play, as opposed to sit. When you’re 23 with barely 1,000 plate appearances as a pro, you need to play.
Argument against: After being hyped to the heavens, he’d be so embarrassed by the demotion that he loses faith in himself.
Argument for: He gets a break from being the Face of the Franchise in the county where he grew up. (Although playing in Gwinnett wouldn’t be the same as playing, say, for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes.)
Argument against: Phillips is apt to be traded in the next 13 days, easing the infield crunch.
Argument for: Matt Adams doesn’t get traded and Freeman keeps shuttling between first and third and Rodriguez and Camargo get most of the starts up the middle, thereby leaving Swanson where he is now, which is kind of nowhere.
Conclusion: It’s a tough call — the Braves really don’t want to send Swanson down — but I’d err on the side of playing time, meaning demotion. He’s a level-headed guy. He’ll know that, as Snitker said Monday, temporary demotion “isn’t the end of the world.”
The Braves didn’t draft Swanson, but they have a ton invested in him. He’s the biggest name and one of the biggest talents among this young group they’ve lovingly assembled. They absolutely do not want him to fail, and there’s no reason (yet) to believe he will. But he needs to play.
You’ll remember that the Braves sent hometown hero Jeff Francoeur, who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated not three years earlier, to Double-A on July 4, 2008. Francoeur said he felt “betrayed” by the demotion. (Frank Wren, the GM at the time, wasn’t much of a people person.) I don’t think Swanson would take it the same way — he might even see it as a bit of a relief — and I know Snitker, John Coppolella and John Hart would make every effort to smooth any ego-chafing.
You’ll also recall that the Braves actually gave Jose Constanza some starts in right field ahead of Jason Heyward when the latter struggled in 2011, his second big-league season. (They did not demote Heyward.) Some folks cheered that odd move — Constanza was something of a fan favorite — but nobody in his/her right mind rated him the bigger talent.
Bottom line: Heyward is playing right field for the defending champs; Constanza hasn’t worked in the majors since 2014. I have a suspicion that, a few years on, Swanson will be a fixture here and Camargo will be somebody’s utility infielder. But if this is how the Braves want to play it — and apparently they do — Swanson should be playing every day in Triple-A.
From earlier today: Cubs win. But the Braves nearly gave us another finish.
Further reading: Big game, Cubs in town. Dansby Swanson isn’t in the Braves’ lineup.