What pressure? Swanson shrugs off magnitude of Cubs deal


Whether Dansby Swanson knows what he's getting into as a megabucks Cubs free agent, he does know Jason Heyward very well and knows Jon Lester at least peripherally — through some movie binge-watching, actually.

What remains to be seen is which direction Swanson’s newly inked $177 million deal will take the All-Star shortstop over the next seven years with a club trying to recreate the results of its last tank-job rebuild, for a restless fan base that also could go either way at this point.

Lester’s franchise-record $25.8-million-a-year deal he signed eight years ago might have been the best long-term deal in team history. Heyward’s deal a year later for a franchise-record total value of $184 million might have been the worst.

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Swanson shows up with at least as much pomp and ceremony as each of those — with big ideas for the Cubs every bit as oversized as back then — and arguably not as much big-league achievement and prospect promise in the organization around him.

Talk about scrutiny. Talk about major expectations in a major market.

Talk about pressure.

Just don’t talk about any of that stuff with Swanson if you expect much reaction.

“I mean, if you guys would have seen the pressure that was put on me to perform in my hometown over the last six years,” he said Wednesday as he met Chicago media for the first time during a media conference at Wrigley Field.

“In a way, this is just another kind of step in that challenge,” added the former No. 1 overall pick who was traded by Arizona to his hometown Atlanta Braves as a minor-leaguer. “I’ve never been one to back away from challenges. I always feel like you should just face them head on. I’ll do the same thing with this.”

Damn, this guy is a special kind of confident.

Or delusional.

Either way, it’s only December, and no amount of holiday-season faith or pre-spring optimism can provide assurances that the foundation for Jed Hoyer’s Next Great Cubs team has been locked into place with even a signing of this magnitude.

“I don’t think you ever truly know until a guy gets here,” Hoyer, the team president, said Wednesday. “We’ve seen that in many different markets.

“But given his makeup and given what he’s been through already — he’s played in plenty of very big games through the years and performed at an exceptional, high level — and the fact that he really does want to lead, that’s a part of his game. And sort of the next steps [in his career] that really mean a lot to him.”

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What’s certain is this: Swanson’s signing comes at a designed inflection point in a rebuilding process that looks a lot like the point at which Lester signed in 2014 — right down to  a recruitment video the Cubs produced with Lester and sent to Swanson trading on that similarity.

What also seems certain is that this might be only the beginning of the Cubs’ big spending toward the vision they sold Swanson that involves another run of high-caliber, high-priced Octobers like the stretch that produced the 2016 championship.

“I can’t go into detail about that; that’s not my job,” Swanson said. “But they definitely have a clear plan for what they want to do, the types of people, the types of players that they want to bring on board.

“I feel like the first step is fully building a winning culture,” he added. “You’ve got to show everybody that you want to win and that you’re going to win, and then people really start to buy into that vision. … There’s definitely a vision to spend money.”

Vision? The outside credibility and buy-in created with that first, major, long-term free agent?

Whether Swanson becomes the next Lester in that regard, he plans to reach out to the former Cubs ace, three-time champion and fellow Atlanta-area resident since getting familiar through the video that helped sway Swanson.

In the video, Lester explained his own decision-making process in 2014.

“And how at that time they were in the same spot they kind of are now and that leap of faith he took to come here,” Swanson said. “He said it was the hardest decision that he ever made, but looking back on it now it would have been the easiest one.

“It meant a lot to me because I’ve always appreciated competing against him and his competitive spirit and what he brought to the field each and every day.”

Lester, of course, followed an All-Star career in Boston with an almost identical second act in Chicago that figures to put him in serious Hall of Fame conversation when he becomes eligible.

As for the other side of the outcome coin when it comes to franchise-record contracts, Swanson already talked with Heyward, a fellow Georgia native and good pal, to get a scouting report on the Cubs.

He said the part about big contracts in big markets and pressure can wait for their next conversation.

“That’s definitely someone I’m going to lean on,” Swanson said. “He’s just one of the better human beings in this game, just a phenomenal person who’s always looking out for everybody else and always has everyone’s best interest in mind.

“I’ll definitely be talking to him about a lot of those things,” he said. “But at the end of the day, how I look at it for Jason is he did what he wanted to do, and that was win a World Series. And he was able to accomplish that here. At the end of the day, most people would say that was probably well worth it.”


Some people, for sure.

On the other hand, if Heyward wins a World Series in 2023, it’ll be for the Dodgers, on the Cubs’ dime, because they released him with a year left on the contract.

Listening to Swanson on Wednesday, it didn’t sound like any conversations with anybody were necessary.

It’s still December, with Christmas snow on the way to Chicago.

And visions Jameson Taillon, Marcus Stroman, Cody Bellinger, Seiya Suzuki, Nico Hoerner, Justin Steele, Ian Happ and Ian Swanson exhaling the cold air of next October might as well be visions of sugar plums for how clear they dance in Cubs’ heads.

“At the end of the day, the vision and goal is to win,” Swanson said. “Winning is the priority, and when that is the vision and that’s what you want to do, you make everything about winning. So it’s never about one guy. It’s about everybody.

“I walked down on the field today,” he said, “and just looked at my wife and said, ‘This is where we’re supposed to be.’

"I’m just so excited for this unique journey ahead.”

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