Kyle Schwarber authored one of the best Cubs stories of the last decade or longer in 2016, coming back from a catastrophic knee injury suffered in the team’s third game of the season to play the role of World Series hero. His return even prompted conspiracy theories that he wasn’t really hurt and that it was all part of a plot by MLB to hand the Cubs a title.
Seriously, that was a thing.
But now it’s starting to feel like he hired Stephen King to ghostwrite his story, since all the speculation about being non-tendered would make for a really crappy ending. Most of this is being driven by the narrative that the Cubs are looking to dramatically reduce payroll following 2020’s revenue shortfall, but Schwarber’s performance hasn’t lived up to expectations.
There will be many players nontendered tomorrow, and big names. But Kris Bryant will not be one of them. Chance longtime teammates Kyle Schwarber and/or Albert Almora are among many MLB nontenders, but Cubs see KB’s .889 career OPS. They will consider trades for KB though.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 1, 2020
While his offensive production has been above-average in each season other than 2016 and 2020, his hit tool has been disappointing and he needs to display prodigious power to make up for it. Given their need to diversify offensively while remaining cost-conscious, the Cubs might see Schwarber and his $8 million salary as expendable.
Excuse me for a moment, I just threw up in my mouth a little after typing that.
There’s also the idea that Schwarber represents exactly the kind of hard decision Theo Epstein avoided by stepping away a year early. Along with potentially trading Kris Bryant and/or other core players, several of whom this front office drafted, the stark reality of the situation is that the Cubs’ roster will look different in 2021. Jed Hoyer was obviously part of that process, but Epstein always seemed like the one with stronger emotional ties to “his guys.”
Even if Schwarber being non-tendered isn’t very likely, the fact that it can even be discussed as a reasonable possibility on the eve of the December 2 deadline is jarring. I’m not sure whether that’s more a matter of having grown too comfortable with the same group or several years or believing that the Cubs should never have to cut a player loose in a budget crunch. Actually, it’s both.
But if I allow myself to step back from my dedicated role as a Schwarber honk, the truth of the matter is that he may be one of the easier everyday players to replace at a lower cost. Going with a platoon combo of Hunter Renfroe and Brian O’Grady — or choose your own pair of similar players — would improve the Cubs’ outfield defense while at the same time giving the offense a little more depth.
And before you go fussing about batting averages, take the time to peruse the linked piece above and dig through more applicable stats.
Look, I’m a sentimental guy and can totally commiserate with Epstein because I’d never be able to make the tough calls on players I really loved. Other than the lack of an Ivy League degree, the right connections, or any semblance of experience, my soft heart is probably the biggest thing keeping from being mentioned in connection with front office openings. That said, this gig has forced me to be more objective than my fandom would typically allow.
I won’t be surprised either way by what the Cubs decide with Schwarber, though I think tendering him a deal is the most likely outcome. From that point, I’m 50/50 on whether he’s traded. Wednesday is the first step in the process, after which we may need to wait a few weeks for things to really gain steam.