The decision by Jed Hoyer to not tender Kyle Schwarber a contract for the 2021 season probably ends his Cubs career after six seasons, though I suppose it’s still possible for the club to re-sign him as a free agent. Hoyer, in fact, left the door open:
Jed Hoyer on Schwarber: "It was a hard conversation. I called Kyle. We'll definitely keep the door open. We'll continue to talk about ways to bring him back....We had a good conversation. He's a legend. No question about that."— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) December 3, 2020
Schwarber, along with the rest of the Cubs “core,” became beloved for all time by Cubs fans because they were able, at last, to break the team’s 108-year World Series drought. You didn’t really think the 2016 team would stay together forever, did you? That’s just not how baseball, or any professional sport, works. Players change, they develop further, or don’t. Other teams change, and winners like the 2016 Cubs have to adapt. The Cubs, so far, haven’t, or at least haven’t enough to win again. This, I think, sums up the failure to win another World Series with this core group:
The '16 Cubs brought lifetimes of joy to the fan base, and there will be many great reunions. But two questions will linger from this era:— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 3, 2020
1. Why did the organization struggle so much to develop pitching?
2. Why didn't the core group of young position players continue to improve?
Beyond all that, the non-tender of Schwarber got me to thinking — a lot of Cubs were important in winning in 2016, and I think it can be argued that the Cubs don’t win the World Series at all without Kyle Schwarber’s contributions.
You all know, of course, the inspirational story of how Schwarber worked his butt off throughout 2016 after the horrific knee injury he suffered in the season’s second game, to head to the Arizona Fall League for a few at-bats (going 1-for-6) before being activated for the World Series.
In Game 2, Schwarber’s RBI single in the third inning gave them a 2-0 lead, and another RBI hit in the fifth helped galvanize a three-run inning in the 5-1 win over the Indians.
And then, of course, Schwarber’s leadoff single in the 10th inning of Game 7 began what would become the most important game-winning rally in franchise history. He went 7-for-17 with three walks overall in the World Series.
Schwarber’s first MLB start, also in Cleveland, was memorable. He served as the DH June 17, 2015 and went 4-for-5 with a triple (!) and three runs scored. Overall he hit .246/.355/.487 with 16 home runs in 69 games that year, and hit five home runs in 27 at-bats in the 2015 postseason. Two of those playoff home runs will be forever remembered as part of Cubs lore.
Kyle’s highly-anticipated 2017 season started as a bust. Joe Maddon put him in the leadoff spot and he didn’t take well to it, hitting just .171/.295/.378 in 261 plate appearances before he was sent to Triple-A Iowa for a couple of weeks to try to get his swing (and head) back together. It worked — for the rest of 2017 Kyle hit .255/.338/.565 with 18 home runs in 225 PA, a 30-homer season overall. He finally broke through and had the season we’d all hoped for in 2019, a 38-homer year where he hit .250/.339/.531.
But the pandemic-shortened 2020 season was a disappointment for Kyle. He hit just .188/.308/.393, though with 11 home runs in 58 games. He had a poor year in the field, too, and overall it was a negative (-0.2) bWAR season.
I met Kyle and his then-girlfriend, now wife, Paige, a number of years ago. They’re fine, standup folks and Kyle does great work for local charities. He’s exactly the type of person Theo Epstein wanted for his ballclub — both talented and high-character.
Time moves on, though, and now, so have the Cubs. Sure, it’s still possible that the Cubs will re-sign Schwarber as a free agent and save a bit of money in doing so. But they’ll now have to bid against other teams:
For Kyle Schwarber, the obvious strategy is to take a one-year deal for 2021, rebuild value and then go back into free agency. If he wants to build #, Baltimore is a perfect fit. If he wants great conditions for a LH hitter and also a chance to win in '21, NYY/Yankee Stadium.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 3, 2020
He’ll turn 28 next March and could still have many productive seasons ahead.
But if this is it for Kyle’s tenure as a Chicago Cub — thanks for the wonderful memories, Kyle, and best of luck wherever you go. You’ll always be a World Series champion Cub.