The Hard Conversations: What Would It Look Like If the Cubs Traded Kyle Schwarber?

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The Hard Conversations: What Would It Look Like If the Cubs Traded Kyle Schwarber?

Chicago Cubs

Now that the World Series is over and the full force of the offseason is nearly upon us – remember, free agents are eligible to sign with new teams beginning this Friday at 4:00 p.m. CT – we need to confront a few potential offseason realities.

It’s very easy, at the end of a disappointing couple months, to talk about changing the urgency and improving the production. It’s another thing entirely to actually have the hard conversations about what that change and improvement might look like.

Like, for example, the Cubs potentially trading Kyle Schwarber.

Now, of course, the Cubs don’t *have* to trade Kyle Schwarber – even if they did, it wouldn’t be about giving up on him or his potential, so much as it would be about extracting his maximum potential value while restructuring the roster to improve the overall results. Indeed, when you consider the likelihood of the Cubs pursuing Bryce Harper – another left-handed, power-hitting, walking machine who thrives best in an outfield corner – and the whole mentality shift Theo Epstein espoused at his end-of-season press conference (namely: measuring success by production, not just talent), it feels all the more plausible.

Schwarber’s name was just brought up by MLB.com’s Mike Petriello in a post about players potentially on the trading block this winter (and Mark Gonzales did the same thing for the Chicago Tribune earlier this month). For what it’s worth, both guys seem to think that American League teams would be the most interested in the Cubs left fielder, but I think Schwarber proved himself as a more than capable defender this season. AL teams might ultimately still be the most interested in his services, because they have one more positional roster spot to fill than their NL peers, but I believe Schwarber’s 2018 season expanded his market deep into the National League, as well.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, because, again, the Cubs don’t have to trade Schwarber. This is not one of those situations. It is simply one of many plausible changes this offseason.

Let’s consider what this team looks like without Kyle Schwarber. But let’s also ignore, for a moment, whom the Cubs might get in return for their slugger and even whom they might sign in free agency after making room. Both of those facts matter enormously, but I want to zero in on Schwarber’s place on this roster.

So here are four names:

  • Ben Zobrist
  • Ian Happ
  • Jason Heyward
  • Albert Almora

Even before bringing in someone like Harper, the Cubs have four legitimate outfielders, who all deserve time next season. Ben Zobrist might be the oldest, but he was the best of the bunch offensively this season and did not appear to be slowing down. Ian Happ is the youngest, the fastest, a switch-hitter, and has the most power. Albert Almora is a lefty-killer who can play center field quite well, and Jason Heyward is … well, I’m not really sure what he is anymore. A league-average bat with Gold Glove defense in right field, and very good defense in center? I guess? Point being, if those were your four outfielders, you wouldn’t have to squint too hard to see the potential for a solid, if unspectacular, group.

(Of course, if the Cubs’ return for Schwarber or a signing thereafter includes someone for the infield – which it very well could – we might even see Kris Bryant added to that outfield rotation, and suddenly the picture becomes MUCH brighter.)

Point here being: even without Schwarber in the picture, the Cubs outfield has platoon-ability, plenty of youth, plenty of power, and plenty of defense. Trading him would not decimate that – and that’s an important place to land, because it hedges the risk of any potential deal quite a bit.

We also have to concede that moving Schwarber might make the Cubs that much more likely to land that big offseason bat, regardless of which guy it ends up being. And remember, this is one of the perks of being a big market team: Even if you’re *super* high on Schwarber’s bat for next season and think Bryce Harper, for example, will only be a slight improvement at the plate, the Cubs can capture that marginal improvement with their checkbook and spin the much cheaper Schwarber off for more improvements elsewhere to a less financially strong team. A small market club would not be able to pull that off; the Cubs could.

And this all trickles down to another fundamental question in this kind of discussion: what is Schwarber’s actual trade value?

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Well, I think it’s actually quite high, no matter what you think of his (in my opinion) massive future potential. So let’s first look at the most realistic, surface-level facts of his trade value. Kyle Schwarber is still only 25 years old and will only be first-time arbitration eligible this season (projected salary: $3.1 million). That means he comes with three seasons of team control, all at potentially reasonable rates.

From there, just consider his actually quite successful 2018 season, which may have gotten overlooked.

In 137 games (510 PAs) this season, Schwarber slashed .238/.356/.467 (115 wRC+) with 26 homers, a huge walk rate (15.6%, 6th in MLB), and a strikeout rate finally down at (a reasonable for his level of production) 27.5%. Moreover, thanks, in part, to his offseason transformation, Schwarber’s base running and defense both took big steps forward this year, and he was a 3.2 WAR player (just barely outside MLB’s top 50 this season).

To put that into a sentence: Kyle Schwarber is a young, cost-controlled power bat, whose power, patience, and defensive improvements propped him up as one of the top 50 or so position players in baseball. That is a valuable guy, even if that’s all he is. But it’s also only half his story.

For part of the season, Schwarber flashed the potential we all know lingers in his bat, and although he hasn’t yet shown the consistency (against fellow lefties or in his batting average) necessary to make him an elite hitter, it is firmly a part of his story. Not every player has the potential to be one of the game’s best hitters, but Schwarber does. That’s not to say he’ll reach it, but any interested party would have to concede at least as much to pry him away from this Cubs front office, who have long believed that.

So where does that leave us in this discussion? Well, not far from where we started. I still don’t want the Cubs to trade Kyle Schwarber for all the reasons I just pointed out in favor of his trade value. He’s already good right now, has the potential to be much better, is young, is cost-controlled, and is famous for his work ethic. Also – and we can’t act like this isn’t part of the calculus from a fan perspective – he’s a good dude who is easy to root for.

At the same time, I could be convinced that a trade is in the Cubs’ best interests, because the outfield already boasts a crowd of at-least-complementarily talented players, and it’s a group that could see a notable addition before the offseason is up. And if that addition does wind up being Harper – a player with a similar skillset – moving Schwarber becomes all the more reasonable. And finally, if the return for Schwarber is sufficiently high and paired with a free agent addition, the Cubs might just be taking full advantage of their financial might, something they’re entitled (and encouraged by us!) to do.

At a gut level, I don’t want to see the Cubs trade Kyle Schwarber. But if the organization is going to consider significant changes to the roster, then no conversation can be set aside without some serious exploration. Painful though it may be, this is one of those explorations.

Brett Taylor contributed to this post.



Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami