Kyle Schwarber had been a Cub his entire professional life, since the North Siders made him the fourth pick in the country in 2014, back when they were still lovable losers and didn’t dare dream of breaking the Billy Goat Curse.
So when he learned a month ago the Cubs had non-tendered him, and he was suddenly searching for a new employer for the first time, Schwarber rightfully could’ve been upset. Instead, he embraced this unexpected opportunity to pick his next home one year before he would’ve been a free agent.
And with no shortage of options on the table, he didn’t have to think long and hard about it. Schwarber wanted to be a National.
“I was ready to jump on it, because this was my No. 1 choice,” the 27-year-old slugger said today during a Zoom call with reporters after signing a one-year deal with the Nationals with a $10 million guarantee. “This was the place I wanted to be. I’m not just saying it because I’m here with you media writers. As soon as everything was right, I was like: ‘All right, let’s go. Let’s do this.’ “
Schwarber’s deal actually includes an $11 million mutual option for 2022 or a $3 million buyout, a source familiar with the terms confirmed. Technically speaking, his 2021 salary is $7 million. But given the fact mutual options rarely get picked up by both club and player, the most likely scenario would still have him earning $10 million total this year.
What made Schwarber pick the Nationals above all others? Their recent success, their stated desire to try to keep winning and a familiar face guiding the ship in Davey Martinez.
“I love him,” the outfielder said of his former bench coach in Chicago and current manager in D.C. “I’m so excited to be playing for this guy. I know he’s a baseball guy. He cares about his players. He loves winning. He only wants to win. And I think we all saw how much he’s going to fight for his players and will fight for a win at the end of the ‘19 World Series, when coming freshly off that heart deal he had and getting thrown out. I think this is a perfect fit.”
The Nationals sure hope so. They’re counting on Schwarber to start in left field and provide another much-needed big bat in the middle of their lineup. He’s shown he can be just that, having hit 26 or more homers three times in his career, including a 38-homer, 92-RBI performance in 2019.
But he’s also shown he’s far from a consistent offensive player, and during the abbreviated 2020 season he hit a scant .188 with 11 homers and a career-worst .701 OPS.
“I don’t put much stock into it, just because I know it’s not a representation of myself,” Schwarber said. “But at the end of the day, you need to look back and kind of find out what was going wrong there, and find those tweaks and go from there. ... I’m going to learn from that, and coming into 2021 I want to make those adjustments I need to make, and I’m going to come in fully ready to go.”
Schwarber also knows his reputation in the field isn’t a positive one. The 225-lb. former catcher, though, insists he has made significant strides over the years, thanks in no small part to his work with Martinez, a former big league outfielder himself.
The numbers do bear some of that out: After finishing with minus-7 Defensive Runs Saved in left field in 2017, Schwarber’s combined rating over the last three seasons is a respectable minus-3. He also has recorded 21 outfield assists during those three most recent seasons.
“No one likes me in left field for some reason,” he said with a laugh. “Everyone likes to look at these numbers and stuff and just bang me on it for some reason. ... I view myself as a good outfielder. You know what? I’m going to go out there, I’m going to make the plays that I need to make.”
Whether it’s with his bat or his glove, Schwarber repeatedly preached his overriding goal with his new club.
“I’m in the business of winning baseball games,” he said. “I’m pretty sure this group is in that business as well, from all the veterans on their staff to some of the exciting young players in this game on the offensive side of the baseball. It’s going to be a fun time.”