Braves look for a shortstop, but not to replace Swanson

2:36 p.m Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 Atlanta Braves
Braves infielder Johan Camargo was having a breakout rookie season before being sidelined for one month with knee injury. (AP Photo)

The Braves seek to add a shortstop this offseason, but not to give Dansby Swanson more development time as some have speculated.

Rather, they’re looking for a proven shortstop who can back up several positions around the infield, a need because Johan Camargo could end up playing an everyday role at third base instead of serving as a utility man.

That need grew more pressing after versatile veteran Danny Santana and former second baseman-turned-utility player Jace Peterson both became non-tendered free agents Friday when the Braves didn’t offer them arbitration. 

Santana and Peterson each was expected to make just over $1 million through arbitration and the Braves sought upgrades in production.

The Braves appear set at three infield spots with cornerstone Freddie Freeman at first base and youngsters Ozzie Albies at second and Swanson at shortstop. While new general manager Alex Anthopoulos isn’t married to any previous plan the Braves had, he made it clear in his first day on the job last month that he didn’t plan to blow in and make abrupt, sweeping changes.

According to a person close to the situation, Anthopoulos won’t guarantee a spot for any young player just because of current or former prospect status, but the Braves have some players that Anthopoulos and the team are counting on to be everyday players including Albies and Swanson.

After totaling fewer than 500 at-bats in 127 minor league games, Swanson made a big splash as a rookie in 2016, hitting .302 with 11 extra-base hits (three homers) and an .803 OPS in 38 games after his August call-up. 

But he faltered in his first full season in 2017, batting .237 with a .636 OPS in 144 games (488 at-bats) and spending a couple of weeks at Triple-A after a July demotion.

The Braves and their revamped front office remain optimistic about Swanson’s long-term future and he’s penciled in as the regular shortstop for 2018, though Anthopoulos will reserve the right to make changes at any position if he thinks a change is needed.

Third base is the biggest lineup question after a committee of Braves played there in 2017 and finished with the second-lowest OPS (.655) in the majors and more home runs (16) than only three major league teams at the position.

Given the progress of Austin Riley, the best power-hitting prospect in the team’s farm system, the Braves aren’t expected to splurge on a long-term commitment for a free-agent third baseman; they don’t want to block Riley, who could be ready within a couple of years and perhaps as soon as some point during the 2018 season, though the Braves also intend not to rush him.

Camargo, who’ll turn 24 on Dec. 13, impressed in regular stints at third base and shortstop as a rookie in 2017 before a freak knee injury sidelined him for most of August and the first week of September, the reason for Swanson’s sooner-than-expected return from Triple-A. 

In 82 games including 60 starts, Camargo hit .299 with 27 extra-base hits (four homers) and a .783 OPS in 256 plate appearances, while playing mostly solid defense. 

The Braves would be comfortable using Camargo in the regular lineup to start the 2018 season, the thinking being that it’s easier to find a proven infielder who can back up at shortstop and other positions than to add a third baseman who might block Riley if he’s ready sooner rather than later.

Once Riley is ready, Camargo could move to a super-utility role if other lineup spots are solidified at that point.

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