Kyle Schwarber has been one of the most popular Cubs in recent years. His rehab from a serious knee injury in April 2016 to becoming a star in that year’s World Series is a story Hollywood producers would throw into the trash, but it really happened.
Schwarber has also been a favorite of the Cubs front office ever since they drafted him a dozen or so spots above where he was rated in 2014, fourth overall.
He had an outstanding season in 2019, hitting .250/.339/.531 (132-for-529) with 38 home runs, seemingly on the cusp of becoming one of the better power hitters in the game.
Then he seriously regressed in 2020, hitting just .188/.308/.393 (36-for-191) and striking out 66 times in 224 plate appearances.
Schwarber made $7.01 million in 2020 (or would have, in a full 162-game season), his second year of eligibility for arbitration, after being paid $3.39 million in 2019. Arbitration raises typically pay less attention to performance and more to the number of years the player has played. Schwarber’s probably on target for a raise to around $8 million for 2021, despite his poor performance in 2020. By bWAR he was worth less than a replacement player this year, with that number being negative (-0.2).
The Cubs, whether you agree with this or not, are likely going to cut payroll for 2021, as noted here earlier this week.
As I see it, the Cubs have three choices:
- Go to arbitration with Schwarber and offer him around $5.6 million, which would be the maximum cut allowed (20 percent) and hope the arbitrator sides with them
- Non-tender Schwarber and offer him a two-year deal for around $11-12 million
- Non-tender Schwarber, cut ties and let him become a free agent
Of those three choices, the two-year offer might be the best idea. The Cubs don’t have an obvious replacement for Schwarber, unless they move Ian Happ to left field and go find a center fielder by trade or on the free-agent market. Arbitration carries a risk; Schwarber’s likely to ask for a raise and the arbitrator can’t split the difference. Arbitrators must choose either the player’s request or the team’s offer. Of course, players and teams can settle before arbitration hearings, and perhaps the Cubs and Schwarber can come to an agreement on a lower salary before they get to that stage of the process.
Kyle Schwarber is a useful player. He’ll never be a great left fielder, but he does have a strong and usually accurate arm (seven outfield assists in 2019, three in 2020) and there is, of course, the possibility of the National League having the DH in 2021. While Schwarber was terrible in that role in 2020 (2-for-29, 15 strikeouts), maybe he’d be better at it in a full season.
Besides, the front office loves him. That’s not generally the best reason to keep a player, but Theo & Co. might weigh this along with other factors.
Two other Cubs will almost certainly be non-tendered: Albert Almora Jr. and Jose Martinez. I could see the Cubs non-tendering Almora and bringing him back on a minor-league deal. Martinez is likely gone for good.
What would you do with Kyle Schwarber?
Here’s what the Cubs should do with Kyle Schwarber this offseason...
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Go to arbitration with him and offer him around $5.6 million, which would be the maximum cut allowed (20 percent) and hope the arbitrator sides with them
Non-tender him and offer him a two-year deal for around $11-12 million
Non-tender him, cut ties and let him become a free agent
Something else (leave in comments)