We’re About to Find Out How Much the Cubs Really Believe in Kyle Schwarber
The myth depicted on the front of the baseball cards stands at odds with the stats printed on the back, a tall tale lost in translation of short numbers. Kyle Schwarber is the man who hit one ball into the Allegheny and another onto the top of Wrigley’s right field video board. He hit a ball so hard in Washington that he was limited to a single as the wall actually cried out in pain.
The myth depicted on the front of the baseball cards stands at odds with the stats printed on the back, a tall tale lost in translation of short numbers.
Schwarber is also the man who, as more than one fan can tell you, hit only .171 prior to being demoted on June 22. He’s the man who flopped awkwardly in the 2015 NLCS, prompting most of the baseball world to label him a defensive butcher whose only future was as a DH. His double error in Game 3 of this year’s NLDS didn’t do much to help that perception.
The Cubs are more than complicit in the creation of Schwarber’s pulp legend, referring to him in the same breath as Babe Ruth and talking about him as an amalgam of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. The front-office triumvirate of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod were unequivocally enamored of the burly slugger who dropped F-bombs with as much frequency and confidence as he hit bombs for the Indiana Hoosiers. Understandably so, he’s an awesome dude.
That’s why they made him the No. 4 pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, it’s why they called him up early to DH for them in June of the following year, and it’s why he was up to stay through the second half. But some will say it’s also the reason he’s still on the team, that the brass’s stubborn devotion to a favored player won’t allow them to grasp the reality that Schwarber isn’t a good fit for the Cubs moving forward.
“[Schwarber]’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein gushed during his hour-long press conference this past Friday, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.
“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”
The real question, though, is whether Epstein is using the royal “you” or whether he’s speaking to potential suitors and telling them they should be trying to build around Schwarber. Maybe it’s both. Or maybe Epstein and the Cubs don’t really know exactly what the best course of action is where their large adult son is concerned. Yeah, I think that’s it.
Or maybe Epstein and the Cubs don’t really know exactly what the best course of action is where their large adult son is concerned.
Mind you, I’m not saying they’re looking at this like some kind of hard-and-fast situation that has only one real answer. It’s just two paths diverged in a wood or a choose-your-own-adventure book. Epstein and Co. are simply doing whatever they can to look as far up the path as possible to ensure that whatever they choose brings them to the right place.
After all, Schwarber could yet develop into the type of indispensable hitter a team would be crazy to part with. I mean, dude hit 30 dingers in what was universally viewed as a down year. And then you’ve got the personality and charisma that turned Schwarber into a leader even as he sat out nearly all of 2016 with a shredded knee.
“I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with,” Epstein said. “I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.
“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”
You can make up your own mind as to whether Epstein is selling Schwarber to fans, other baseball execs, or maybe himself, but I think he’s being honest here. At the same time, there are layers evident in the baseball boss’s words. My pet description of Theo Epstein is that he always means what he says without saying exactly what he means.
And I believe that, while the Cubs were once steadfastly against moving Schwarber, they’ve climbed down from that hill and are no longer willing to die on it. That softened stance coincides with an appreciable drop in Schwarber’s value that all but ensures he won’t be able to net the same kind of return he would have even while rehabbing that knee injury.
Reports held that Schwarber was the price for Andrew Miller at the deadline in 2016, though history will show that the Cubs made the right call there. One player told David Ross to su…well, to do some untoward things after he collected a hit, while the other gave up a home run to Ross in the backup catchers last-ever at-bat. I mean, c’mon.
It’s hard to envision Schwarber bringing back a game-changing lefty reliever at this point, let alone the kind of cost-controlled starting pitcher the Cubs have yet to develop on their own. And that’s exactly why I don’t see him going anywhere this winter, which is something I touched on in my look at the overall position-player situation in Chicago.
The organization’s ironclad faith in Schwarber is starting to show some visible rust around the seams, which may end up being better for both parties in the end. If his value has dropped too low to merit trading him, the Cubs can reap the benefits of his resurgence next season.
The organization’s ironclad faith in Schwarber is starting to show some visible rust around the seams, which may end up being better for both parties in the end.
He’s not nearly as awful a defensive player as fans and pundits would have you believe and he’s not as bad against lefties as Maddon’s platooning would have you believe. And if can extrapolate his second-half line of .253/.335/.559 with 17 home runs and a 129 wRC+ over the course of a full season, no one will really care about either of those blemishes anyway.
Put truth serum in them and I think the members of the Cubs’ front office would tell you they don’t really know what Kyle Schwarber is right now, only that they hope he can still be the hitter they knew they’d drafted. Or that someone else knows what he is and is willing to pay handsomely for it. And I’m saying “what” because who he is has never been in question. If this was just a matter of personality, Schwarber would be posing for a rendering of his statue at the corner of Sheffield and Addison.
It’ll be a while before we know for sure whether Schwarber will ever live up to the hype, but we should find out by the end of the calendar year whether or not he’ll be doing so in Chicago. I’ve got my fingers crossed for his return, though nothing would surprise me at this point.