If Dansby Swanson isn’t going to play here, he shouldn’t be here

Trade partners, though only one has an everyday position. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

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.

Still further: Serious (and shocking) question: Are the Braves a playoff team?

Reader Comments 0

22 comments
Biff_Pocoroba
Biff_Pocoroba

The one place I know he doesn't belong right now is in the starting lineup. He's an offensive and a defensive liability. 

DennisT39
DennisT39

Who is it doing the hyping besides AJC? We keep having "The Next Great Thing" show up and flail. (Wilson Betancourt, case in point.) Let's stop awarding a position until proven quantity and take the pressure off too.

JeffCriswell
JeffCriswell

Snit has no choice but to play Camargo, who's hitting 100 points higher than Swanson and not making errors. Swanson, though, is the longer term player, in my mind. Long term, you  move Camargo to second and Swanson stays at SS. Swanson has leadership skills that Atlanta desperately needs. Tough call right now. If demoted, Swanson is not going to "feel betrayed" like Frenchy was. If he's a pro he'll take the demotion and make the best of it. It may be that the other players resent all the attention Swanson's gotten. Something has changed in the Braves clubhouse between last year and now that threw this young player for a loop. If Atlanta gives up on him, already, some smart GM will welcome him with open arms, and he will blossom in another city. Re: Alex Wood, who was run out of town by Gonzalez and is now a Cy Young favorite in L.A. I remember a player named Ripken at Baltimore who did almost nothing to deserve the trust he got during his first year. 

mgunter
mgunter

Send him down and let him clear his head a bit. Heyward still has that big hitch in his swing and still struggles topping more balls than he squares up.

OedipusTax
OedipusTax

Dansby can't hit the pitch on the outside corner. A terrific weakness that's very hard to watch.

khd713
khd713

@oldernwiser @OedipusTax Uh, Matt Kemp is hitting .294 and had been well over .300 all season until he got hurt. What's your point?

colt07
colt07

You could probably put up with Swanson's no hit, but his defense has been horrid. I believe (and honestly I can't remember where I heard this) Swanson is the worst fielding SS in the NL. Send him down and at least let him learn how to catch routine grounders. He is hurting the team right now.

CheesesteakBob
CheesesteakBob

Snit needs to go down.  He is managing like a minor leaguer.  Can't handle a pitching staff worth a darn.  Send his butt down and let Eddie take over.

BlawgDawg
BlawgDawg

@CheesesteakBob And, what, exactly would you do with the pitching staff to win more games? And, don't even bring up anything about Colon. Those last 2-3 starts were not his decision.

Braves Fan1366
Braves Fan1366

There's always gonna be a difference of opinion but even tho the Braves have a lot invested in Dansby they have to be true to themselves and send him to minors to get more work and stay sharp just as they would do with Jace or Adonis. Soon as those players and others performance even slightly drops the Braves don't hesitate to send them to minors. Baseball is a business first and the Braves are showing this by not sending Dansby back down and finding every excuse to justify their decision because he's a fan favorite. Bottom line things should be about performance for every player not just for some. I would love to see Dansby excell at the major league level but fair is fair and right is right.

davidputty
davidputty

I agree that Swanson should play every day somewhere.  I also believe the manager has to put the lineup on the field every day that gives his team the best chance to win.  Given that, right now, Camargo has to play somewhere.  Expanding on the issue, I think the Braves (or Rodriguez himself) rushed the return of Sean Rodriguez to the lineup.  Last night he looked completely over matched at the plate and in the field.  Snitker made the correct choice to have Camargo in the lineup; but he sat Swanson and used Rodriguez, seemingly, because Rodriguez was newly available.  This isn't intended as a criticism of Sean Rodriguez; I think he eventually will be a valuable member of the team.  But he had major surgery, missed Spring Training, and had only three hits in his rehab assignment.  Someone should have realized he wan't game ready.  Sacrificing his spot in the lineup, both offensively and defensively, effectively killed all of the momentum the Braves built in their sweep of Arizona coming out of the break.

Dan_B
Dan_B

@davidputty Couldn't agree with you more....this is a manager issue plain and simple. 

khd713
khd713

@davidputty Agree. Rodriguez needed more time in Gwinnett to get back into baseball shape.

kindalazy
kindalazy

Camargo is the better defensive shortstop. Swanson is average at best. 


khd713
khd713

@CheesesteakBob @kindalazy This statement is really off-base. Not sure what you've been watching because I have no idea how you could possibly conclude that a) Dansby gets to more balls, and b) that Dansby has a better arm. It's really not even close in either department. Dansby's range is really bad for a major league shortstop. Routine grounders constantly roll right by him on their way to the outfield. Camargo is by no means a polished fielder, but he has a much wider range than Swanson. And have you even watched these guys throw? Dansby's arm is pretty average, but Camargo has a cannon. It's not even close. Try again.

BetterDog
BetterDog

Boy it sure is good that these AJC Sports writers never coached anyone.  They give up on players very fast.  Just as soon as the new kid in town arrives.  Maybe an Eagles song would be good about now.  Everybody loves you..............................

Sidslid
Sidslid

He hits like Rafael Belliard and fields like Brooks Conrad. On to the Rays.

PeteSnider
PeteSnider

Heyward has been a bust, so I am not sure what point you were trying to make there.