This Day in Transaction History: D-Backs draft Dansby Swanson first overall

Dansby Swanson
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
3 Comments

On this day five years ago, the Diamondbacks selected shortstop Dansby Swanson, from Vanderbilt University, first overall in the 2015 draft. The Diamondbacks won the NL West in 2011, but had two .500 finishes in the following two years and owned baseball’s worst record in 2014, granting them the privilege of having the first overall pick in the next draft. Swanson was supposed to be part of the Diamondbacks’ turnaround.

Needless to say, Swanson was a highly touted prospect. He helped Vanderbilt win the College World Series in 2014 as a sophomore. In his junior year at Vanderbilt, the 21-year-old hit .335/.423/.623 with 15 home runs, 64 RBI, 76 runs scored, and 16 stolen bases in 336 plate appearances. The D-Backs took him ahead of Alex Bregman, who went second overall to the Astros. This draft class also featured Andrew Benintendi, Walker Buehler, and Mike Soroka, among many others. (Brady Aiken!)

The D-Backs, at the time, were led by general manager Dave Stewart. Stewart’s tenure was defined by one trade which really set the organization back. On December 9, 2015, Stewart sent Swanson, pitching prospect Aaron Blair, and outfielder Ender Inciarte to the Braves in exchange for starter Shelby Miller and minor league pitcher Gabe Speier. Though Miller was, at the time, showing himself to be among baseball’s better starters, the trade was widely panned as an overpay by the Diamondbacks.

Swanson had not barely played professionally for the D-Backs before he was moved, racking up 99 plate appearances for Low-A Hillsboro in 2015. The Braves called up Swanson to make his major league debut in mid-August of 2016. Through the end of the regular season, he registered multiple hits in 12 of 38 games, finishing the year with a major league OPS of .803.

Miller, meanwhile, hit the skids hard. In his first year with Arizona in 2016, he went 3-12 with a 6.15 ERA over 101 innings. He dealt with a finger injury and was also optioned to the minors at the All-Star break. The Diamondbacks went 69-93. After the season, Stewart was fired along with manager Chip Hale. Things wouldn’t improve for Miller, however, as he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017. He made only four starts in 2017 and another four in 2018 before becoming a free agent. Miller’s three-year stint with the D-Backs spanned 139 innings and included a 6.35 ERA.

In an interview with MLB Network Radio following his firing, Stewart assigned blame elsewhere for the Swanson trade that went sideways. He said it is “hard to do your job” with “three people above me.” Stewart said his two-year stint as GM was too brief and wanted to “come back and see what would happen if we were healthy.” He said it wasn’t a “true opportunity to do the job.” Most strikingly, Stwart said, “My gut the whole time said I shouldn’t move Dansby Swanson.”

Stewart’s résumé with the D-Backs isn’t great even if you remove the Swanson trade. He signed outfielder Yasmany Tomás out of Cuba to a six-year deal worth $68.5 million. Tomás was 2.5 wins below replacement in his major league career, according to Baseball Reference. Stewart inked Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million contract, which ultimately resulted in the D-Backs pawning off most of his remaining salary on the Astros last summer. When the D-Backs got off to a hot start in 2017, Stewart tried to say it was proof positive he was a good GM. The D-Backs that year went 93-69. They defeated the Rockies in the NL Wild Card game but were swept out of the NLDS by the Dodgers.

In fairness, though, Swanson hasn’t become the star many expected him to be when he was taken first overall in 2015. Since 2017, Swanson has been worth a total of 3.6 WAR while hitting a light .240/.314/.380 in aggregate. He’s only 26 years old, so there’s still time for him to reach his full potential. However, he is only under the Braves’ control through 2022, so there’s no guarantee he does that in a Braves uniform. No matter what, though, the Braves absolutely fleeced the D-Backs in the Swanson trade.