Ben Lindbergh has written something at Grantland that’s likely to get Chicago Cubs fans – and excitable fans of American League teams – talking. The premise of Lindbergh’s article, which you’ll want to read to get the full flavor, is that Schwarber clearly has a big league bat, but it might come without the defensive chops to play anywhere in the National League leaving the Cubs some unpalatable options going forward. While I’d agree that, at times, Schwarber looked like a designated hitter this year, I’d also rapidly point out that we’re talking about a 22-year-old player, little more than a year out of college. Any belief out there that unequivocally rules out a future ability to passably catch in the big leagues, let alone play a corner outfield spot, is foolhardy and arrogant.
Which is not to say that Lindbergh, himself, is either foolhardy or arrogant, as the article very much contemplates that Schwarber could become passable defensively. Instead, Lindbergh spoke with scouts who evaluated Schwarber’s ability and projection defensively, and the reviews were mixed, leaning negative in both left field and behind the plate. (One thing that fairness requires pointing out: the article notes that Schwarber rated as an average receiver in framing this year, which, you may recall, he was … for the pitchers he was permitted to catch. Framing huge velocity and nasty movement is a much more challenging (and necessary) exercise for a full-time catcher, and Schwarber generally did not catch those guys.)
If playing regular, decent defense in the NL is not going to be Schwarber’s future, Lindbergh opines, the Cubs may have to try and trade him to an AL team looking for a DH. This is, perhaps, the real meat of the article, and what will surely generate the most discussion. Lindbergh points to the Rays and Indians as the most clear fits, and, indeed, each team has some mighty attractive young pitching.
But the price on Schwarber, given the extreme upside in the bat, and the remaining possibility that he can catch, would seem to make a trade implausible. I’m not saying there isn’t some return out there for which you’d have to bite the bullet and make a deal, but that level – two quality, young, high-upside, cost-controlled, established big league starters? one elite starter of the same description? – probably doesn’t make sense for the other team.
I don’t see the Cubs dealing, or even seriously considering dealing, Schwarber any time too soon.
And, indeed, Theo Epstein was sure to point out at the season end press conference that the Cubs remain committed to seeing what Schwarber can do as he’s given more time behind the plate (CSN). Preparing him at both catcher and outfield in the offseason, and then continuing to play him at both positions heading into 2016 is not ideal from a developmental standpoint, but it’s pretty excellent from a player value perspective. Also, Schwarber strikes you as the kind of young player, in terms of makeup, who can handle that tall task.
As we sit here today, I saw nothing in Schwarber’s big league debuts at catcher or in left field that told me he absolutely cannot become a passable catcher or an average left fielder. Given that, given the huge bat, given the cost-control, and given the Cubs’ ability to utilize his positional flexibility in a way that maximizes value to the 2016 team, I don’t really see too much need to discuss trading Schwarber right now.
Sure, perhaps specific rumors will come up in the offseason and we’ll go from there. But, right now, he won’t be on my list of guys who could most plausibly be moved for pitching. I just don’t see it.