Is it weird that we’re only one game into the World Series and I’m already complaining about trade rumors? I guess calling them rumors is assigning too much credence to the talk regarding the possibility that the Cubs will move Kyle Schwarber. I’m also being a bit hypocritical, in that I recently published my thoughts on the possibility of other players who could perhaps be on the move this offseason.
When it comes to talk about the burly rookie slugger being moved, I’ve admittedly found it to be a bit of a snipe hunt. I keep hearing about it, but now I’m wondering if someone’s just pulling one over on me. I see a tweet about Joe Sheehan advocating (or at least presenting the possibility of) a Schwarber trade on a local radio show. Then I check my site stats and see “trade Schwarber” as a search inquiry that found Cubs Insider. I’ve also seen “Kyle Schwarber girlfriend” on there, for what it’s worth.
While shouting into the void here may not yield any appreciable results, I’m going to try it anyway. First, let me reiterate my statements from the other day:
I think it’s important to note that no one is truly untouchable. But in terms of the likelihood of staying put at all costs, I think Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber are the closest the Cubs have. I’m sure not everyone agrees with me on the latter figure, but I see a guy who pretty much carried the offense in the playoffs and is capable of playing multiple positions (granted, none of them really well…yet). That bat is not something you part with.
Don’t want to listen to me? How about ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers? Okay, I know some of you may not be really high on Rogers’ work, but he does follow the Cubs for a living and I think he’s got some pretty fair insight into the team and its plans.
Let’s start with the fact that if the Cubs wanted equal pitching to hitting they wouldn’t have drafted hitters in the first round over the past four years. If they trade Schwarber, they will just be looking to replace him, especially considering everything he brings to the table starting with being a dangerous left-handed hitter. It might be easier to find pitching.
Now, that’s a little simplistic, as trading Schwarber for a pitcher in his prime isn’t the same as drafting one who is unproven, but the point is the Cubs want to trade from where they are redundant or can get maximum value.
The Cubs absolutely love what Schwarber can do. As has been repeated many times, if he ends up catching he’s a left-handed power/on-base guy who are rare to find behind the plate. Plus, they believe he’ll be a big time leader at a leadership position — if he catches.
Even if he doesn’t catch that doesn’t diminish his value all that much. Who cares if he’s an average left fielder? The Cubs don’t. He will more than make up for it with his offense. It feels like everyone is freaking out because he had a tough go of it on defense in the NLCS. He did. There is no denying that, but was his defense a big deal during the regular season? He had his bad moments, but not to the point of believing trading him for pitching was any answer. The ball found him in the NLCS. It happens.
Much of the impetus for Rogers’ piece came from fellow 4-Letter tentpole Grantland, where Ben Lindbergh’s article The National League Has a Designated Hitter: What’s Next for Kyle Schwarber? featured some pretty caustic words from a pair of AL scouts:
“Probably not playable unless you have two CFs playing the other two spots,” said an AL scout, who followed up later to note that he hadn’t yet seen Schwarber’s latest NLCS mistakes when he first answered. Another AL scout was even harder on him. “He can’t read fly balls, he has a slow first step (and all subsequent ones too), poor instincts,” the scout said. “Just looks bad out there on every single play. Adam Dunn–ish … or even worse.” Worse than Dunn would be uncharted territory: The miscast DH posted the worst defensive season on record while splitting time between first base and the outfield corners in 2009. The same scout added that even if Schwarber devotes himself to defense, “He will always be one of the worst OFs in the league if he stays there,” concluding, “right now he is a disaster with the glove in the OF. Unplayable at present.”
When it came to an evaluation of War Bear’s future behind the plate, the reviews were much the same:
Different position, same conflicting reviews. I asked one AL scout what prevents Schwarber from catching. “Everything,” he replied.
Again, I want to stress that those evaluations came from scouts and not Lindbergh himself. I’m not one to disparage the validity of men who watch more baseball in a year than most will in a lifetime, but I have to wonder how much either saw of Schwarber and in what context their assessments took place. Were they aware that he hadn’t played the outfield this season prior to coming up to Chicago for the second time? Had they watched him play outside of the NLCS?
But if you’re feeling glum about what those guys had to say, take heart. Later in that same Grantland piece, we find this:
ESPN analyst Keith Law had the least equivocal and most optimistic response. “I have zero doubt he can play an average left field,” Law said. “He’s a good athlete for a guy his size” (6 feet and 235 pounds).
Plus, we know Schwarber has the arm for the outfield. The table below, which displays Statcast data on outfielders’ max-effort throws, proves that Schwarber fits in just fine.
According to some stats, that [evaluation of his catching prowess] seems harsh. Statcast says Schwarber’s arm strength and pop time (how long it takes for the catcher’s throw to reach second after the pitch hits his glove on a steal attempt) are almost exactly average.
Baseball Prospectus says his receiving was exactly average as well: In 953 “framing chances,” he earned his pitchers precisely as many strikes as expected.
“I think that, for the next few years, there’s a possibility that Schwarber becomes an average defensive catcher,” [an NL scout] said. “I believe in his athleticism and his ability to translate it into lateral agility. Perhaps more importantly than that, he has proven to have very good balance and strong hands. I believe those two attributes correlate strongly with framing abilities. I’m not sure how long he will be able to last back there — the tools I see seem to be fairly maxed out and I am skeptical about any increases happening. But count me in on the Schwarber-behind-the-plate bandwagon. He won’t be Yadi [Molina], but I think he can do it and not be harmful to the pitching staff.”
Lindbergh also mentions that one of those AL scouts believed the Cubs were merely using the Schwarber-as-a-future-catcher storyline to increase his potential trade value. I don’t know, man. I mean, I don’t put it past Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to do all they can to maximize an asset, but I think there’s a fair bit of gamesmanship involved from all parties here. What AL team wouldn’t gladly slot Khal Schwarber into the DH role for the next decade? Subverting his value as a fielder would help make that at least a little more possible for them.
For now, though, the former show choir star is going nowhere. To that end, I’ll leave you with the words of yet another scout, who said of the potential for Schwarber to be moved (emphasis mine):
“He’s not attainable now,” another AL scout said. “He still has a chance to hit .285 with 40 bombs. They’d be insane to trade that.”