It's entirely possible that no matter what he does for the rest of his career, Kyle Schwarber's star will never shine brighter than it currently does. You know the story by now: After missing nearly the entire 2016 regular season due to a serious knee injury, Schwarber made it back
It's entirely possible that no matter what he does for the rest of his career, Kyle Schwarber's star will never shine brighter than it currently does. You know the story by now: After missing nearly the entire 2016 regular season due to a serious knee injury, Schwarber made it back in time for the World Series, then reached base 10 times in 20 plate appearances. It will be one of the enduring memories of the historic Chicago title run. It may define Schwarber forever.
It's also why we propose something that will probably be considered akin to blasphemy on the North Side -- the Cubs should at least consider exploring trades for Schwarber this offseason. Why? Because the Legend of Schwarber is at an all-time high, and the Value of Schwarber may never catch up.
The sheer horror most Cubs fans are likely experiencing as they read that probably confirms that theory. Yes, Schwarber is an immensely talented young hitter. No, he's not the most valuable player in baseball or really close to it. In Schwarber's brief career, he's been 29 points better than average on offense, with little defensive value. For 2017, Steamer projects him to be 29 points better than average on offense, with little defensive value. That comes out to about three Wins Above Replacement, which is solidly above-average/borderline star -- think Manny Machado without the defense, or what Hanley Ramirez provided in 2016.
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"Wait," fans will protest, "Theo Epstein said Schwarber wouldn't be traded," but that argument doesn't hold water. For one, Epstein is also on the record as saying he doesn't believe in true untouchables. For another, it should be beyond clear by now that public statements from executives are hardly iron-clad legal contracts. Remember when the Yankees told Andrew Miller he wouldn't be traded? Or when Dave Roberts insisted Clayton Kershawwasn't available for Game 5 of the National League Division Series? Or when reports indicated the same Cubs told Starlin Castro he wouldn't be traded last offseason? Of course you do.
None of this is suggesting that Schwarber isn't valuable. He is. None of this means the Cubs should give him away. They shouldn't. But think about how the Cubs' roster is set up for the next few years. With Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Willson Contreras, Javier Báez and others, they're deep in young, controllable offensive talent. But starting pitchers Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are free agents after 2017, and Jon Lester, as great as he is, turns 33 in January. Looking at the Top 15 Cubs prospects at MLBPipeline.com, there's not a single pitcher who has spent a full season above Class A ball. Kyle Hendricks is going to need some help in the future.
So it's not controversial to say that the Cubs could use a high-quality young starter who is under team control over the long term. It's also an open question as to where Schwarber fits in Chicago, given that there is no designated hitter in the NL, he was uncertain to stick behind the plate even before his knee injury, that he's never likely to be a strong outfielder and that first base is well spoken for by Rizzo. The Cubs could surely convert that into a rotation upgrade, if they so pleased -- and if they did, shouldn't Epstein's fantastic trade record with Chicago earn him the benefit of the doubt?
Look, no Schwarber trade is likely to happen, but what's the point of Hot Stove season if we can't have some fun speculating? So let's take a look at a few possible pairings, adding the final caveat that we're looking at good fits, not necessarily pitching complete trade ideas. It's unlikely any such trade would be one-for-one, meaning extra talent probably enters in on both sides.
Chris Sale, White Sox
Remaining contract: Three years, $39.5 million (age 28-30)
This is the obvious choice, because Sale is a legitimate ace playing for a White Sox team that finally seems like it's ready to consider a full rebuild, at least enough to listen on Sale. You probably don't need a refresher on just how good Sale is, but in case you do: Over the past five years, he's behind only Kershaw and David Price in FanGraphs' WAR. Over the past three years, he's fourth behind that pair and Corey Kluber. Over the past two years, he's second behind Kershaw.
WAR isn't a perfect stat, but it's good enough to say that Sale has long been one of the five best starters in baseball. We don't really need to spend a ton of time on this. Sale is truly elite, with four straight top-five finishes in American League Cy Young Award voting, and the contract makes him even more valuable. If he were a free agent right now, he would probably get north of $30 million per year. As it stands, you get Sale's age 28-30 seasons for roughly $40 million total. The Cubs would need to kick in more than just Schwarber, but imagine heading into 2017 in a situation where Arrieta is the fourth starter? It's the kind of thing that would soothe the loss of Schwarber.
Chris Archer, Rays
Remaining contract: Five years, $38.5 million (age 28-32)
This one is going to get controversial, because many will look at Archer's 9-19 record and consider the conversation ended. But you know better than to do that, because you read the detailed look we just did into Archer's season, and you know that the record largely reflects the underwhelming performance of a last-place Tampa Bay team. After a rough start, Archer was a star once again down the stretch, even if few noticed. Over the past two years, Archer's 28.4 percent strikeout rate is the fifth best among qualified starters, behind only Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Sale and Noah Syndergaard. Over the past three years, his 11.5 WAR is 15th, between Stephen Strasburg and Cole Hamels.
And, of course, Archer is under control for the next five years for less money per season than Charlie Mortonjust got from Houston. Think that doesn't make Archer valuable? There's a good argument to be made that he could cost more than Sale, largely because he's got the two additional years of team control at extremely team-friendly prices. Perhaps you build this into a larger deal where the Cubs also try to get underrated closer Alex Colomé; the iterations are endless. Like Sale, Archer would benefit in the NL. Like Sale, it's easy to see him helping the Cubs more than Schwarber in 2017 and beyond.
Carlos Carrasco, Indians
Remaining contract: Four years, $33.5 million (age 30-33)
It's a shame that Carrasco broke his hand in September, because it robbed fans of the chance to see one of the sport's most underrated and dominant pitchers on the national stage. You can completely ignore Carrasco's career numbers, because what he did when he was rushed to the bigs back in 2009 no longer matters. Since he returned from the bullpen in 2014, Carrasco is 15th in WAR, tied with Gerrit Cole and Félix Hernández. He's 10th in FIP, just ahead of Price and Madison Bumgarner, and sixth in strikeout percentage at 27.7 percent.
Though Carrasco is rarely thought of in the same light as bigger names, the sustained performance over a span of several years proves otherwise, and he's still got four more seasons of control. Steamer projects him at 4.5 WAR next season, and like each of these pitchers, he'd look even better in front of Chicago's elite defense.
While the Cubs are a big-ticket team that doesn't need to look only at contracts, things will get pricey soon when players like Bryant, Rizzo, Russell and Hendricks all come up for extensions around the same time, and pitchers signed to big contracts either aren't getting moved, or are for the wrong reasons. The Cubs probably won't trade Schwarber, anyway. But did they get this far by doing everything they were expected to? Of course not. It might not be the popular move. It could be the right move.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.