Projecting out to be more of a designated hitter more than anything due to his defensively-challenged performance, Kyle Schwarber and the Chicago Cubs are at a crossroads of sorts, needing to figure out his role on a team that desperately needs to move on from 2018.
Even though the Cubs made the playoffs, they somehow managed to lose their lead in the National League Central division to the surging Milwaukee Brewers, who held the divisional lead for the vast majority of the first half before stumbling out of the gates post-All-Star break. The Cubs managed to take back the lead and hold it until the second to last game of the season, opening the door for the Brewers to tie them and finish the regular season deadlocked at the top of the Central.
Forcing a game 163, Milwaukee came into the unfriendly confines of Wrigley Field, used their monstrous fan base that took the Amtrak trains down from Milwaukee to infiltrate the enemy territory, and defeated the Cubs on their way to winning the division and forcing the Cubs to play soon after in the Wild Card round.
Hosting the Colorado Rockies, extra innings under the lights were needed to determine a winner, which eventually was the Rockies, marking the second away team in consecutive games to use the visitors clubhouse (or closet, better description) as a way to shower each other in celebratory champagne, ending the Cubs’ postseason hopes before they managed to even begin.
Forced more into a pinch-hitting role for the team down the stretch, Schwarber has yet to find solid footing in the everyday lineup for the Cubs, as manager Joe Maddon is trying to incorporate him into every situation that plays to his best features of offense.
Schwarber, who was a catcher when originally drafted, transitioned to play outfield after his defensive liabilities behind the plate became too big of a worry to be able to stick him back behind the dish. Now mostly manning left field if in the field, Schwarber consistently misplays fly balls, does not have an overly strong throwing arm and has issues with accuracy when hitting cutoffs and base responsibilities.
He did improve on those issues in 2018, but there is still a lot of work left to be done.
While a trade to an American League team would be best to help with his playing style, the Cubs would be smart to hold on to him for two reasons, one of which just resurfaced this past week.
The evolution of talks between the MLB and the MLBPA have moved to rule changes for 2019 and beyond, and talks of a universal DH have been brought up again, which would play exactly into Schwarber’s skill set. If that change were to be made for 2020, the Cubs have a perfect role for Schwarber and should stash him on their squad for one more season before he develops into a starting role.
Another reason to keep Schwarber is his value as a late-innings pinch hitter, who has come up clutch for the team in previous situations. He is especially valuable in the playoffs when he has had moments that make fans and players alike understand why he is still in Chicago.
If the Cubs are going to make much more noise to drown out their wails about the 2018 season, then Schwarber will need to become an integral part of their plans, either through his playing time or his inclusion in any deals.
He has immense value and could immediately be penciled in as a DH if traded to an American League franchise. He would be able to fetch a decent haul and could be used if the Cubs are looking to bring starting rotation help or a higher-tiered positional player.
While still ironing out all the kinks in his developmental process, Schwarber has more value than most think he does, and he is an integral piece to the puzzle that the Cubs have the pieces to, but just need help putting back together.