CHICAGO (AP) — Growing up in Georgia, Dansby Swanson used to go over to his grandfather’s house right after school. He would barge in and ask Herb Swanson to hit him some grounders.
Whenever Dansby came over, Herb was watching a Chicago Cubs game on WGN. Dansby then would tease his pops about being Atlanta Braves fans.
“He loved baseball so much and all he ever wanted me to be is what I am doing now,” Dansby Swanson said.
What Swanson is doing now is playing shortstop for the Cubs, after he finalized a $177 million, seven-year contract on Wednesday. He began his career with his hometown Braves, helping his grandfather’s favorite team win the 2021 World Series.
Swanson married Chicago Red Stars forward Mallory Pugh on Dec. 10, and Herb, 88, died the next day. Ten days later, Swanson had his grandfather on his mind as he pulled a No. 7 Cubs jersey over his shoulders, ready to begin the next part of his big league career.
“To be able to play for my grandfather’s two favorite teams, it means literally like the world to me,” Swanson said.
It’s an important moment for the Cubs, too. The addition of Swanson is the biggest of three major moves by the team since the end of its second straight losing season. Right-hander Jameson Taillon signed a $68 million, four-year contract, and 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger got a $17.5 million, one-year deal.
With Swanson in the fold, Nico Hoerner moves from shortstop to second base. Coupled with Bellinger in center, the Cubs should be one of the majors’ best teams when it comes to up-the-middle defense.
“We kind of say like it’s a race to 27 outs and whoever can get them the fastest usually wins the game,” Swanson said. “So putting together the defense that we currently have is pretty, pretty special.”
The 28-year-old is coming off perhaps his best season, hitting .277 with 25 homers and a career-best 96 RBIs in 162 games for Atlanta. He made the NL All-Star team for the first time and won his first Gold Glove.
Swanson’s deal includes a $7 million signing bonus, full no-trade clause and a hotel suite on road trips. He will make $13 million next year and $25 million in 2024. After making $27 million for three straight seasons, he will have a $26 million salary in 2028 and make $25 million in 2029.
Swanson was part of a stellar group of free agent shortstops that also included Trea Turner, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts. All four have found a new home.
“It was an odd process. It was odd not knowing truly where you would end up,” Swanson said.
“Just so thankful that things worked out as smoothly as they did.”
The connection between the Cubs and Swanson was cemented by two key moments: a meeting in Atlanta when Swanson asked as many or possibly more questions than the Cubs, and a winter meetings phone call between Swanson and Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins, who played baseball with Swanson’s brother when they were kids, and also is from Atlanta and played college ball at Vanderbilt.
When it comes to the Atlanta meeting, President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer said it felt like Swanson was interviewing the team.
“It was very clear winning was the priority,” Hoyer said. “How are you going to build a team around me?”
Chicago went 74-88 this year and finished third in the NL Central. But it went 40-31 in its last 71 games, and Hoyer and Hawkins sold Swanson on the organization’s strong finish, its pitching and hitting infrastructure and its future — both in the minors and what it plans to spend on future additions.
“The important goal is winning. That’s the only stat that matters,” Swanson said. “And bringing that sort of philosophy is really, really important.”
Swanson was selected by Arizona with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 amateur draft, but he was traded to Atlanta in a multiplayer deal that December.
With the Braves, Swanson became part of a young core that led the franchise back to the top of the NL East. He batted .248 with 27 homers and 88 RBIs in 2021, helping Atlanta to its first World Series championship since 1995.
While Atlanta managed to sign a couple of its young stars to team-friendly, long-term deals, it was unable to do the same with Swanson. After the team was eliminated by Philadelphia in the NL Division Series, the Braves gave Swanson a $19.65 million qualifying offer. But the Kennesaw, Georgia, native declined the proposal.
That move put him on the road to Chicago.
“Just excited to get going, and for what’s ahead,” Swanson said.
The Cubs finalized their deal with Taillon on Monday. He will make $14 million next year and $18 million in each of the following three seasons. He can block trades to 10 teams and gets a hotel suite on road.
The team can defer $10 million of Taillon’s 2026 salary if he has an elbow injury at the end of the 2025 season.
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.
Follow Jay Cohen at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports