If the DH sticks in the NL, the Cubs seem far likelier to trade Kyle Schwarber.
We’re still awaiting any type of official word, but it looks like the National League will operate with the designated hitter again in 2021. Recent reports suggested as much – and if they prove to be true, it could go a long way in shaping how the Chicago Cubs approach the offseason.
We know about the core. Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber will all hit free agency at the end of next season. Chicago picked up Rizzo’s team option to keep him through 2021 – while the other three will go through arbitration one final time this winter.
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If we’re trying to rank these guys in terms of trade likelihood, I’d say that Bryant and Schwarber sit atop the list. For all intents and purposes, let’s focus on Schwarber, assuming the Cubs aren’t ready to sell low on their former NL MVP in Bryant.
Chicago can shop Schwarber as a slugger who has vastly improved his defensive work in left field. He’s put a lot of time and effort into improving with the glove – and it shows. Schwarber clocked in at -4 OAA in 2020, but that’s a vast improvement from the -10 and -8 we saw in recent years. What he lacks in instincts and foot speed, he usually makes up for with his arm.
But there are going to be teams that want no part of compromising their defensive makeup in the outfield with a guy who’s probably never going to win a Gold Glove. That being said, if he could slide into the DH role and only get spot starts in the outfield, Schwarber becomes an infinitely more enticing piece.
Like many guys across the league, Schwarber is coming off a subpar showing at the dish. This year, he batted .188/.308/.393 with 11 home runs and 34 RBI. But if the only way you evaluate his work in recent years is batting average, you’re missing the bigger picture.
From 2017 to 2019, the former Indiana University backstop ranked in the top four, eight and six percent of baseball, respectively, in terms of barrel percentage. In 2019, he clocked in among the top one percent of players in average exit velocity and followed it up by ranking in the top five percent again in 2020, despite the poor performance in terms of average.
Let’s chalk up 2020 to being what it was. An out-of-the-ordinary season where a good many guys were unable to settle into a routine. If you look at 2019, though, it’s pretty clear: Kyle Schwarber is capable of performing with the best hitters in the game. In fact, Statcast offers up player comparisons by year. Schwarber’s 2019 campaign earned him comparisons to Ronald Acuna Jr., Pete Alonso and Matt Olsen. Hardly poor company.
So let’s assume the reports are accurate and the designated hitter will return to the NL in 2021. If you’re Theo Epstein and you know you need to shake up the roster in a drastic move, this is it. Your pool of potential trade partners would expand in a big way, allowing the front office to (hopefully) pit suitors against one another to land a more impressive return.
If I’m Epstein, I’m picking up the phone and calling a team like the Braves, who are losing a huge bat in Marcell Ozuna, the Yankees, who have long maintained an interest in Schwarber and have been left high and dry multiple times with their big bats missing time with injury. There are plenty of other potential landing spots that make place, and if the Cubs can shop him throughout both leagues, I’d imagine there will be plenty of interest.