The Impact of the Loss of Kyle Schwarber, and What Comes Next
As you know by now – and have probably seen blasted at you by all corners of your Internet and TV and radio experience over the past 24 hours – Kyle Schwarber tore his ACL, LCL, and severely sprained his ankle on Thursday night, and his season is over.
Although the Chicago Cubs certainly have the kind of depth necessary to weather the injury, that does little to soften the blow of being without Schwarber, the young man, for the rest of this otherwise exciting season. It sucks for Schwarber most of all, but it also sucks for his teammates and for the fans, who’ll miss out for a year on the impressive things he can do.
The implications for the 2016 Cubs are varied and difficult to know with certainty at this point. But it’s obviously not good.
You can do some math with the projections and plausible replacements and convince yourself that the loss of Schwarber will cost the Cubs only about one win or maybe two over the course of the season, but I’m not entirely sure that captures what was lost when you factor in the depth hit, the versatility hit, and the exponential-nature-of-offense hit. Plus, there was always the chance that Schwarber, who was projected to be a 2 to 3-win player, was going to outperform those projections.
Furthermore, without a freebie third catcher on the roster in the form of Schwarber, Joe Maddon loses the ability to mix and match late in games with Miguel Montero and David Ross, knowing that he’s not risking being left without a catcher in extra innings. That was such a quiet luxury.
Relatedly, with Schwarber no longer taking one of five or so starts behind the plate, there will be more work for 32-year-old Miguel Montero (who seemed to be at his best last year when he was getting regular rest) and 39-year-old David Ross. Thank goodness the Cubs still have Willson Contreras, who, although he may not quite be ready for a leading role, is now more likely than ever to become necessary at some point this season.
All told, the hit to the Cubs here feels more on the order of two to three wins, rather than just one or two. That might not sound like much, especially for a team expected by many to win 95+ games, but almost every year several of the playoff races are determined by two or fewer games.If you’re feeling hopeful and optimistic today, you’re thinking that Jorge Soler just got his chance – a chance he wasn’t otherwise going to get this year – to really solidify himself as an everyday player or more. Like I’ve said for years now, I believe completely in Soler’s ability, offensively, to be that guy. I hope he gets a full and fair and lengthy chance to establish himself now. But I am not blind to the defensive limitations, and I have serious concerns that, right now, Soler could wind up costing the Cubs as much defensively as he adds offensively … unless he really erupts offensively. Frankly, even as I hope Soler gets the majority of starts now in left, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Matt Szczur and Kris Bryant, and eventually even Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist, worked into the mix in left going forward.
Speaking of Baez, he, too, may be a guy who gets more of a chance to establish himself because of the Schwarber injury, whether it’s in left field, or in the infield by way of someone else shifting around. Slowed by a pitch to the helmet, Baez is still going to need some extended Spring Training time and maybe even minor league rehab time to get ready to join the Cubs.
But back to Schwarber. The 23-year-old will have surgery once the swelling is down, and, because of the severity of the damage, the hope right now is that he’ll be back in time for Spring Training next year (Cubs.com, Tribune).
To that end, I’m reminded of how disappointed I am for Schwarber, himself, who’s got a tough road ahead of him, made all the more difficult because it will take place throughout the entirety of the 2016 season. Theo Epstein said that Schwarber immediately wanted to make sure he could stay connected with the team, which says a lot about him. Nobody expects that he’ll take on the rehab and return process with anything less than aggressive vigor, and that includes Schwarber, himself:
Thank you all for the encouragement. This is a test of character and plan to attack it head on. This team is special and fun to watch! #Cubs
— Kyle Schwarber (@kschwarb12) April 9, 2016
All the best to Schwarber in this process, and hopefully he returns to full health quickly, and far in advance of Spring Training 2017.
As for the Cubs, here’s hoping that the quality depth about which we all felt so good back in February and March does its thing now, and doesn’t get stretched by any other catastrophic injuries.