Update: Just after this was initially published, Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago tweeted the Cubs may still be open to an extension with Schwarber. Stay tuned.
Cubs not ruling out possibility of bringing back Schwarber on extension (discussions ongoing). https://t.co/cBcD8QkrLy
— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) December 3, 2020
It came a little later than expected, but the season of reckoning on the North Side has finally claimed its first big victim. Kyle Schwarber is now a free agent after the Cubs opted not to tender the slugging left fielder a contract for the 2021 season, ostensibly because they didn’t want to pay him an estimated $8 million and felt they couldn’t get any value in a trade.
The Cubs haven't announced it officially yet, but per a source, Kyle Schwarber has been informed he won't be tendered a contract for 2021. He's a free agent after 6 years with the team. Was set to make in the neighborhood of 8+ mil in arb.
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) December 3, 2020
With all due — or undue — respect for the ramifications of biblical losses on the baseball payroll, this is really difficult move for me to wrap my head around. Even with a subpar 2020, Schwarber has a career 113 wRC+ and has provided positive WAR value in every season other than 2016. His prodigious power is almost impossible to replace at equal or lesser cost and he’s gotten good enough in the field that he’s not a liability out there.
At the same time, however, his hit tool hasn’t developed as expected and he continues to look at strike three with the kind of wistful gaze typically reserved for teenage rom-coms. His boom-or-bust tendencies were symptomatic of the entire lineup’s chronic illness and Jed Hoyer may believe the cure lies in replacing Schwarber with a more contact-heavy player or platoon.
This is certainly one of those difficult decisions Theo Epstein spoke in his farewell letter about not wanting to have to make. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say Epstein couldn’t have made such a move, since it was evident from his previous I’ll-turn-this-car-around warnings about accountability and edge that he would not, in fact, turn the car around. Epstein has always been fiercely loyal to his guys and Schwarbs was definitely among that group.
Hoyer no doubt has an affinity for Epstein’s large adult son, but he’s also more pragmatic and has accepted the role of axe man. Regardless of how you view Schwarber as an individual or a ballplayer, I think we can all agree that letting him go for nothing rather than paying a reasonable salary is disappointing at the very least.
A good chunk of that disappointment comes from the organization’s shortcomings in player development, whether it’s pitching or non-first-round draft picks or even big league bats. Schwarber is far from alone when it comes to young Cubs hitters either stagnating or regressing at the plate over the last few seasons. Albert Almora Jr. is another and he reportedly likewise finds himself looking for a new job as of Wednesday evening.
Whatever happens from here, we’ll always have the Wild Card blast into the river against Gerrit Cole and the Schwarboard bomb in the NLDS against Kevin Siegrist and the Cardinals. Fare thee well, War Bear, and thanks for the memories.