It was early during last offseason when reports began to surface that the Atlanta Braves were not likely to re-sign free agent shortstop Dansby Swanson — a key player during his seven years with the team. Those reports were true as Swanson eventually signed a seven-year, $177 million deal with the Chicago Cubs in December.
It marked the second straight offseason in which an important Braves player was not retained by the organization. Prior to the 2022 season, Freddie Freeman, who will go down as one of the greatest players in the history of Braves baseball, signed a six-year, $162 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency.
Freeman was replaced by Matt Olson — acquired by Atlanta in a trade with the Oakland Athletics just days before Freeman signed with L.A.. That move has worked out quite nicely as Olson has a 133 OPS+ with 73 home runs through 271 games as a Brave.
So Atlanta had done this before — replace an important everyday player as they pursue another World Championship. But this time it would be a little different. Olson had a track record of being a good everyday first baseman before being acquired by Atlanta. The Braves didn’t bring in such a shortstop to replace Swanson. Instead, they seemed content with replacing him with one of their unproven, internal options.
Back in March, I broke down Atlanta’s shortstop situation after they sent both Vaughn Grissom and Braden Shewmake down to Triple-A Gwinnett. Many felt Grissom would win the shortstop job during spring training, but he did not perform well enough, especially in the field, to get the job. Shewmake was then looked at as the next man up, but he too was sent down to the minors.
That left Orlando Arcia, who has gone on to have the best year of his big league career.
From The Bench To All-Star Starter
Arcia was acquired by the Braves in April of 2021 in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. He appeared in 32 games for Atlanta that year, posting a 65 OPS+ at the dish while playing defensive innings at second base, third base, shortstop, and left field.
The now 29-year-old then played a more prominent role for the 2022 Braves. He was once again used as a utility player but saw most of his time at second base. While appearing in 67 games, Arcia’s offense was better — a 100 OPS+ — but his defense lacked with a combined minus three outs above average between four different positions.
So it’s safe to say Atlanta’s decision to start the year with Arcia as the team’s full-time shortstop was a gamble. He wasn’t all that great in a part-time role for the Braves. And the last time he was an everyday shortstop was back in 2019 with the Brewers — a rather subpar season for the middle infielder.
In 2019, Arcia had minus two defensive runs saved and minus six outs above average in the field for Milwaukee. He also hit just .223/.283/.350.
But despite that iffy past, Atlanta decided to role with Arcia. And he’s become one of the better players, on one of the better teams in baseball.
Through 109 games this year, the Braves (70-39) have eight qualified hitters with an OPS+ north of 100 — Arcia being one of them. His 113 OPS+ in 338 plate appearances is sixth on the team, while his .298 batting average is second and his .355 on-base percentage is fourth.
Arcia is also approaching his career-high of 15 home runs in a single season (2017 and 2019) as he currently has 11. The right-handed hitter also has 15 doubles — his career-high of 17 came in 2017. Overall, Arcia is hitting .298/.355/.453 on top of his 26 extra-base hits.
Even though he missed nearly a month’s worth of games early in the season due to a fractured left wrist, Arcia was named the National League’s starting shortstop for this year’s All-Star Game — adding to his already impressive 2023 resumé. It was the first time Arcia had been selected for the Midsummer Classic, too.
Clearly, the Braves saw something in him. And whatever it was, they were right. They even announced that they signed Arcia to a new, three-year, $7.3 million contract extension on Opening Day.
While some of his actual numbers slightly outperform his expected ones this season, Arcia’s numbers are rather similar this year when compared to last:
Not only are those numbers almost exactly the same but so are his Hard-Hit and Sweet-Spot percentages:
Arcia’s output at the plate has come a long way, and so has his glove work. After being a below-league-average defender both as a full-time shortstop and part-time bench player, he’s been an above-league-average one this year with four defensive runs saved and seven outs above average.
At first, it seemed like the Braves would miss Swanson. And even though he is putting together another strong year both at the plate (114 OPS+ through 98 games) and in the field (13 defensive runs saved and 13 outs above average), they actually aren’t missing him all that much thanks to Arcia’s breakout campaign.
Featured Photo: Twitter / @Braves