MLB Rumors: Free agent Kyle Schwarber and the Washington Nationals have reportedly agreed to terms on a one year deal worth $10 million. The free agent outfielder/DH was non-tendered by the Chicago Cubs in early December, due to their not wanting to pay him the estimated $7-8 million Schwarber was expected to get in free agency.
Schwarber was selected #4 overall in the 2014 draft by the Cubs out of the University of Indiana. An offense-first catcher with a lot of questions about his ability to stay behind the plate, he was not expected to go nearly that high in the draft, and the Cubs signed him to a well-below-slot deal that allowed them to apply the savings to, among other things, signing 6th rounder Dylan Cease, who got $1.5 million to sign as a sixth round pick, established himself as a top 100 prospect, and now is with the Chicago White Sox (who acquired Cease in the Jose Quintana trade).
On a separate note, I think I mentioned this when Schwarber was non-tendered, but the top of the 2014 draft has ended up being historically bad. The Houston Astros ended up not signing Brady Aiken, the #1 overall pick, and Aiken appears at this point to have an uphill battle to ever even make the major leagues. The #2 pick, Texas high schooler Tyler Kolek, has barely pitched since a 2015 campaign that saw him log 25 starts in low-A, and has yet to pitch above low-A. Carlos Rodon has 97 games and a 4.14 ERA in the majors, but was non-tendered in December as well, and has had his career completely de-railed by injuries. Nick Gordon, taken 5th overall by the Minnesota Twins, has yet to make the majors, and played just 70 games at AAA in 2019, though he slashed .298/.342/.459. Alex Jackson was taken at #6 by the Seattle Mariners — he was traded to the Atlanta Braves after the 2016 season, and has barely appeared in the majors.
Aaron Nola, Kyle Freeland and Michael Conforto were taken #7, #8 and #10 in 2014, and have all been very good. Trea Turner (13), Matt Chapman (25) and Jack Flaherty (34) have also done quite well, while some high school picks, such as Touki Toussaint, Sean Newcomb, Justus Sheffield and Michael Kopech, still look like they could be meaningful players in the majors, but overall, the 2014 draft was pretty terrible. In case you are wondering, the Rangers’ first round pick that year was pitcher Luis Ortiz (30), who was dealt in the Jonathan Lucroy trade, and is now back with the organization on a minor league deal without a major league invite.
Anyway, back to Schwarber...
He made the majors in 2015 after having mashed in the minors, and slashed .246/.355/.487 in 69 games while playing mostly left field. There was a good deal of enthusaism about his bat, with the Cubs getting praise for his selection. He missed most of 2016 due to a knee injury suffered in the second game of the season, though, and then put up just a 99 OPS+ in 2017. He was better in 2018-19, slashing .245/.347/.503 with a 120 OPS+ in those years, but was still just a nice, solid bat, rather than an impact masher like it was hoped he could be. Schwarber put up a miserable .188/.308/.393 slash line in 2020, leading the Cubs to decide to cut ties with him.
The Nationals have now added a couple of hitters with significant defensive limitations, a mixed track record, but with what is seen as some untapped potential in their bats, with Schwarber joining former Pittsburgh Pirate first baseman Josh Bell in their lineup. Having both Bell — a bad defensive first baseman — and Schwarber, whose defensive reputation in left field is poor (though who doesn’t look quite so bad based on the advanced defensive stats), on the roster might suggest that the Nats anticipate the National League having a DH again in 2020, though they could also simply see the offensive upside in the pair as being good enough that they’ll put up with their gloves if there isn’t a universal DH.
Schwarber signing for more than what he would likely get in arbitration suggests that the Cubs made a mistake in non-tendering him, since presumably the Nationals (and likely other teams) would have given something up to get Schwarber for $7-8 million rather than $10 million. This would have been Schwarber’s final year of arbitration eligiblity, so he would be a free agent after 2021 regardless. If Schwarber mashes in 2021, he’ll be in position to potentially land a multi-year deal next offseason.