I know this isn’t going to be a very popular opinion inside Cubs Nation, or among Cubs fans in general. I assure you, I have thought about this for a long time. This is NOT a knee-jerk reaction to the opening series. In fact that just made me believe all the more that the Cubs need to trade Kyle Schwarber while they still can. Please continue with an open mind and at least think about what I am saying about this.
Defense matters. I have always said defense is the most underrated thing in all of baseball. Now I’m not talking about diving, spectacular catches. Remember when people used to actually watch ESPN and on Baseball Tonight they had a segment called “Web Gems?” It was all the jumping, diving, mesmerizing plays of the day. That’s NOT what I’m talking about. I was always critical of those plays. The outfield catches, most of them anyway, always looked like the player made a dive of a slide to make the catch look harder than it really was just to get on Web Gems. And the shortstop going deep in the hole to barley throw the runner out? Well that was usually the slowest runner on the team. Not to say the plays weren’t good, but just a little overblown sometimes.
I’m talking about just plain old solid fundamental defense. In 2016 the Cubs were the best defensive team in baseball (without Schwarber by the way). Last year, they dropped to 8th. In the National League. Middle of the pack. I’m not talking about fielding percentage either. That’s useful and all, but you can’t boot what you don’t get to. That’s why I always contended that Wade Boggs was a overrated fielder. If you hit it right at him, he made the play. If it was 3 feet away, not so much. You make an error, OK, it happens. But Schwarber just cannot cover the ground in the outfield. And since Joe Maddon refuses to put Albert Almora, their best center fielder, in the everyday lineup, Schwarber gets little help. I don’t care how much weight he’s lost. He’s never going to be even average in the outfield. He’s not a good enough athlete. He’s a hitter. And that’s where he belongs. As a hitter. as in a designated hitter.
Now if baseball, and specifically the National League, would listen to me and put in the DH, the Cubs would have it made. But since the powers that be would rather watch Jon Lester go 0-66, if you want Schwarber’s bat, you also have a defensive liability. Oh but what about the World series when he hit .400? Oh yeah, what position did he play in that series again? That’s right. DH. Where all he has to worry about is hitting. He was a catcher. The Cubs have that position covered. Plus he may not even be able to do that now on his surgically repaired knee. A knee he hurt making a terrible decision in the outfield by the way.
That brings me to his hitting. Now I haven’t seen anybody generate the kind of bat speed Schwarber gets since Gary Sheffield. He hit 30 home runs last year. He also hit .211 and spent time in the minors. I will concede that some of that may have been Maddon’s stubbornness in leaving him in the leadoff spot when it was obvious it was a bad decision. But who’s the real Kyle Schwarber? The guy who hit .400 in the World Series? Or the guy from last year? Probably somewhere in between. If the Cubs were power starved I would probably have a different opinion. But they aren’t. Rizzo and Bryant are both proven 30 homer run guys. Wilson Contreras showed last year before he got hurt that he’s capable of 20-25 at least. Also, Ian Happ hit 24 homers last year, so there’s another power source. Home runs aren’t everything anyway. Sometimes all you need is not to whiff. Last year Schwarber struck out 150 times in 422 at bats. That isn’t good. But what about Jason Heyward? He hasn’t lived up to his contract. No argument there. But I’d rather have Heyward’s glove and a lighter bat than Schwarber’s bat and defense, or lack thereof.
The Cubs defense would look much tighter with Almora in center every day. And he hit .290 last year, so it’s not like you’re putting a lightweight out there. The only way to do that and keep Happ in the lineup is to shift him to left. That leave an off man out. Schwarber. I have to believe that Schwarber would be coveted by many American League teams as a DH. First and foremost would be the Boston Red Sox, who need a left-handed replacement for the retired Big Poppi. But the longer you wait, the more you risk Schwarber reverting back to last year’s form, striking out and barely over .200.
Look the Cubs have a log jam of talent, which is a good problem to have. You want to see Happ play every day. Almora has earned his shot. And don’t forget about Ben Zobrist. You can only play 8 players at a time. Somebody has to be the odd man out. I have nothing against Kyle Schwarber. By all account’s he works incredibly hard and seems like a good kid. I just feel like he has the most down side due to his defense and he’d be the most desirable to another team in a trade. If you look at it objectively, it’s the only logical move to make. Again, remember, I value defense more than most, but as of this writing Schwarber is hitting .178 and is second on the team in whiffs. Now this may just be a slow start at the plate, and he wouldn’t be alone, but he is they only guy coming off a season where he hit .212 and had to get hot in the second half to get there. After a stint in the minors too boot.