7 strong landing spots for Kyle Schwarber

December 4th, 2020

On Wednesday night, 56 players joined the free-agent pool when their teams non-tendered them, with one of the headliners of that group.

Schwarber was the fourth overall pick in the 2014 Draft, burst into the Majors with a strong debut just one year later, and helped the Cubs snap their most infamous championship drought in 2016 -- even after missing nearly all of that season due to injury. He then proceeded to average 31 homers over the next three years, establishing himself as a big-time power threat before a subpar 2020.

Now Schwarber is available on the open market, with Chicago choosing to part with the “Cubs legend,” who was arbitration eligible for the final time and due for a raise from roughly $7 million.

Aside from the financial aspect of the decision, Schwarber has become a fairly limited player. His defense in left field is suspect, with his -29 Outs Above Average since 2017, per Statcast, ranking fifth lowest among MLB outfielders. That could make Schwarber more appealing as a DH, but National League clubs such as the Cubs do not yet know for sure whether they will get to use one in 2021. Schwarber’s propensity for strikeouts, .230 career batting average (.188 last year), and .650 career OPS against lefties also are concerns.

On the other hand, Schwarber is a walk machine, has historically crushed righties (.859 OPS), ranks 22nd in MLB in homers since 2017 (105), and even last year, had 95th-percentile exit velocity. His Steamer projection for 2021? A .239/.346/.500 line (116 wRC+) with 34 homers in 132 games. That sort of difference-making thump is going to intrigue teams, even if it’s to fill the strong side of a left field and/or DH platoon.

So with all that in mind, here are seven teams for whom Schwarber could be a good fit -- not including the Cubs, who still could re-sign him. For the purposes of this exercise, we’re keeping the universal DH in play for 2021, but the NL clubs on the list might want to see that come to fruition before committing. Teams are listed in alphabetical order.

We’ve seen a couple of other outfielders move between Chicago and St. Louis in recent years (Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler), and maybe Schwarber could follow suit. The Cardinals certainly could use a jolt to their lineup after another underwhelming offensive season in which the club had little firepower from the left side of the plate (.358 SLG). The outfield picture remains somewhat crowded at Busch Stadium, so having a DH in 2021 would make this an easier fit.

You might have heard that the Indians need offense (and that’s before a potential trade of Francisco Lindor). Cleveland ranked 26th in the Majors in slugging and isolated power last season, and 27th in homers and wRC+. The club's outfield was a particular issue, batting a collective .196/.270/.304 with 11 homers -- the same number Schwarber hit by himself. On the other hand, Cleveland already has essentially a full-time DH in fellow slugger Franmil Reyes, meaning Schwarber likely would see the vast majority of his playing time in the outfield.

Seattle’s offense was tepid overall in 2020, and left field was no exception (.218/.276/.346). Five different players started at least eight games there in the 60-game season, and the position remains unsettled, pending the arrival of top prospect Jarred Kelenic. (Right fielder Mitch Haniger is also a question mark after missing all of last season). Schwarber could bring some much-needed power to Seattle, manning the outfield initially and perhaps sliding to DH when Kelenic is ready, or becoming trade bait if the club isn’t contending.

While Miami made its first postseason since 2003 this year, there is little question that the club needs to improve if it’s going to reach October again. The Marlins took fewer left-handed plate appearances than all but two MLB teams in 2020 and tied for last with 12 lefty homers. Schwarber would change that dynamic, but it just so happens that the only lefty clearly ticketed for a starting job in 2021 is left fielder Corey Dickerson. That makes this less of an ideal fit, but Miami still could find a way to make it work. Obviously, that job gets much easier if the universal DH is in play.

The Washington lineup gets quite thin after Juan Soto and Trea Turner. Schwarber brings his own uncertainty after last season’s .701 OPS but he would add quite a bit of offensive upside to the mix while also meshing well with the club’s needs. The Nationals have an obvious opening in left field -- Andrew Stevenson is currently penciled in there -- not to mention at first base and DH (if one is available). Schwarber could help in the Nats’ quest to return to October after last season’s championship hangover.

The fact that they also just non-tendered a power-hitting left fielder with defensive issues (Eddie Rosario) might suggest that the Twins wouldn’t turn around and pick up Schwarber. On the other hand, Schwarber does have notable edges over Rosario in career walk rate (13.0% to 4.7%) and OBP (.336 to .310), which could make him more appealing. With Nelson Cruz also a free agent, it’s possible that Minnesota simply turns to prospects such as Alex Kirilloff, Brent Rooker and Trevor Larnach to fill those voids, but Schwarber’s bat would bring some more proven thunder to the Bomba Squad.

They always have to be in the discussion for a notable free agent, especially a left-handed power hitter who would get to take aim at Yankee Stadium's short porch. And the Yankees could in fact stand to add a big lefty bat to a very right-handed lineup. The trouble comes in actually figuring out how the puzzle pieces come together, given the presence of Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Luke Voit, Clint Frazier and Gary Sánchez on the roster. In other words, adding Schwarber probably would have to pair with trading one of those hard-hitting righties. (Just one example: Frazier in exchange for pitching help).