Kyle Schwarber is a lefty with power, but wasn’t the answer the KC Royals are searching for.
Kyle Schwarber, the popular power-hitting left fielder the Chicago Cubs non-tendered last month, is headed to the Washington Nationals. While that may disappoint fans of the KC Royals who clamored for him to fill the gap Alex Gordon’s retirement left in the club’s outfield, Schwarber wasn’t the answer.
Saturday’s news that the 27-year old, six-year veteran has a one-year $10 million deal with the Nationals certainly generated angst among Kansas City faithful who were reminded once again Friday that General Manager Dayton Moore wants to add some lefthanded punch to his team’s lineup. After all, Schwarber averaged over 31 home runs from 2017 -2019, and his 11 homers last season extrapolates to almost 30 over a full 162-game schedule.
That power happens to be Schwarber’s primary, and most attractive, attribute, but power isn’t the only thing the KC Royals need from an additional lefthanded bat, especially one so expensive for just a single season’s guaranteed stay.
And it’s that financial burden that probably drove the Cubs’ decision to let Schwarber go. He was in his last arbitration year, which means he’s free agency-eligible at the end of the 2021 campaign, and was projected to win between $7.01 million and $9.3 million had he forced Chicago to arbitration. So far, the post-Theo Epstein Cubs aren’t showing signs of being big spenders, even for Schwarber, so non-tendering him made some sense for a club rumored Saturday to be on the verge of also jettisoning Kris Bryant and his salary.
In other words, the Cubs apparently didn’t want to spend a lot to keep Schwarber for what may have been just one season. The Royals, always less willing to spend than a mega-market club like the Cubs, would have been ill-advised to make the kind of move Chicago decided not to. Tossing $10 million (if not more) on the table to get Schwarber, knowing that even an average season would make him a popular free agency target after 2021, would have been a move packed with risk and, in all likelihood, only short-term reward for Kansas City.
But back to power. Yes, Schwarber has it, a fact conclusively established when he clubbed 16 homers in his 69-game 2015 rookie season with the Cubs. Two torn knee ligaments suffered in Chicago’s third game ruined his 2016 campaign (he came back for the World Series—more on that later) but he returned in 2017 with 30 homers, then hit 26 in ’18 and 38 in ’19.
Other than that, however, Schwarber is not a stellar hitter. His career batting average stands at a lowly .230 with a career-best .250 in .219; he hit .211 in 2017, .238 in ’18, and a miserable .188 in 59 games last season. Like most big league teams, the Royals prefer better overall hitting than Schwarber typically provides.
In fairness, Schwarber has managed to get on base, as his .355, .356 and .339 OBPs in 2015, ’18 and ’19 demonstrate. He draws a good number of walks and led the National League with 20 intentional bases on balls in 2018. He doesn’t make much happen when he gets on, though, as his 11 career steals tend to prove.
What of his glove? Schwarber is an interestingly versatile player (he’s even a decent catcher) who seems best suited for left field, but has been an adequate, if inconsistent, defender. The Royals typically demand more from their outfielders.
Schwarber’s postseason exploits deservedly draw raves. His eight playoff series slash of .288/.405/.576 is excellent, and his .412/.500/.471 line for the Cubs in the 2016 World Series defied the odds after he missed the last 158 games of the regular season with those dual ligament tears.
But postseason performance, even if reliably predictive of the future, is only meaningful to teams with realistic chances to play October baseball, or to those who perennially do. Although the Royals are improving, they’re not there yet.
So it is that the Royals, if they were interested at all in Schwarber, didn’t miss Saturday when he signed with Washington. His power would have been nice, but $10 million (or more) would have been too much to land that power for probably one season. They may not have much power, but the Royals have internal options.
Kyle Schwarber hits home runs, but the KC Royals need more than just power. He wouldn’t have supplied the kind of answer the club needs.