The Nationals are acquiring another big left-handed bat and appear to be building a lineup capable of hitting a bunch of homers, drawing a lot of walks and hoping not to hurt itself too much in the field.
The latest addition: Kyle Schwarber, the power-hitting former Cubs outfielder, who has agreed to a one-year deal worth $10 million, a source familiar with the terms confirmed. The signing, which was first reported by The Washington Post, is pending a physical.
Schwarber, who turns 28 in March, was a high-profile member of Chicago’s 2016 World Series club and a fan favorite for his tape-measure homers and affable personality. He has long been a favorite of Davey Martinez, who served as the Cubs’ bench coach before becoming the Nationals’ manager in 2018.
But in seeking to reduce payroll and begin a rebuilding process on the North Side, the Cubs non-tendered Schwarber earlier this winter, making him a free agent. The 2021 salary he’ll now get from the Nats is roughly what he would’ve been likely to earn via arbitration had Chicago retained him, perhaps even a bit more.
In many ways, Schwarber is the classic slugger: A 225-lb. lefty who swings big and misses a lot, but hits the ball a mile when he does connect. His career batting average across more than 2,100 plate appearances is a mere .230, but he has 121 homers (including 38 in 2019), a .336 on-base percentage and .816 OPS as a big leaguer.
Now he joins a rebuilt Nationals lineup that will be stacked from the left side of the plate with Juan Soto and recently acquired first baseman Josh Bell, plus the right-handed Trea Turner. It remains to be seen if general manager Mike Rizzo feels the need to seek another right-handed bat, either as a part-time outfielder or potentially to start at third base over Carter Kieboom.
Schwarber’s arrival almost certainly will move Soto to right field on a full-time basis, a shift that was telegraphed late last season when Soto began playing games at the position he manned as a minor leaguer but hadn’t yet manned in the majors.
Like many big sluggers, Schwarber isn’t known for his defense. But Martinez has long touted him as one of the hardest workers he knows, and over the last three seasons Schwarber rates a respectable minus-3 Defensive Runs Saved in left field while accumulating 21 assists.
The Nationals rated as the majors’ worst defensive team last season, and the additions of Bell and Schwarber aren’t made with dramatic improvement in that department in mind. Then again, the possibility still remains that the National League will bring back the designated hitter this year, which would change the dynamic.
The club didn’t make these moves expecting that to happen, though. Rizzo has said he is proceeding this offseason as if the DH will not be used in 2021, and other NL executives have said similar things in recent weeks.