The Washington Nationals signed Kyle Schwarber over the weekend, giving the former Cubs’ burly man a one-year deal for $10 million. Schwarber will receive a base salary of $7 million, with a $3 million buyout. The contract includes an $11 million mutual option for 2022, but that’s an unlikely outcome. So it’s best to view this as a one-year pillow contract for $10 million.
The arrangement makes sense for both sides. The Nationals added power to go against RH pitching and are willing to live with Schwarber’s below-average defense by stashing him in left field. Schwarber has a career .497 slugging percentage vs. RH, and has victimized them for a homer every 13.3 at-bats. And that’s an important factor considering how the Nationals will face right–handed heavy rotations in the NL East.
Schwarber — who was non-tendered by the Cubs two months ago — has a chance to reinflate his value after a down 2020 season that included a .188 batting average, .393 SLG and 29.5% strikeout rate. The big man is a good bet to rebound — unless, of course, you believe Schwarber’s 59-game profile in a Covid-shortened season is more meaningful than a more complete body of work that consists of more than 2,00 MLB plate appearances. But even if Schwarber, 27, is stymied for a second consecutive season, this is still a low-risk gamble by Washington. One year, then move on.
“This was my number one choice,” Schwarber said on a video call Saturday, pointing to his strong relationship with Washington manager Dave Martinez, who was the Cubs’ bench coach for three of Schwarber’s seasons in Chicago. “This is the place I wanted to be.”
Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, never short on aggressiveness, already had traded for Pirates first baseman Josh Bell. Now he adds Schwarber, with Juan Soto switching to right field. As the Washington Post concluded, “Schwarber was a cost-effective way to further lift an offense that leaned too heavily on Soto and Trea Turner in 2020. Trading for Bell was, too. Those additions should leave room for the Nationals to add a fourth starter and a solid second catcher and deepen their bullpen. Significant upgrades at third base or catcher, whether through trades or free agency, would really boost the roster if the Nationals can meet a bigger price.”
This must be nice, eh?
Unlike all of the teams in the NL Central, the Nationals are refusing to stand down and use 2021 to save money, regroup financially, and, like the Cardinals, give a more comprehensive audition to young players.
For teams that are still determined to compete, the NL East is an unforgiving territory. The Braves and Mets are relentless in the pursuit of talent, the Nationals are a season removed from winning the World Series, the Phillies aren’t bashful about spending money, and the Marlins went 31-29 and made the playoffs in ‘20.
With the exception of the Pirates, every NL Central team has a chance to win the division by doing … well, nothing. And just hope to be the best of the worst. That attitude won’t play in the NL East.
Much earlier in the offseason I assumed the Cardinals would add, if nothing else, a hale and hearty platoon hitter or two. A couple of bats that could supplement a mediocre offensive core and give manager Mike Shildt an edge in matchups.
Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. however, has signaled the intention to give a more complete look to outfielders Dylan Carlson, Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas and possibly Justin Williams. The same still applies to Harrison Bader, who turns 27 in June. But we have to point out that Bader — with 348 MLB games and 1,050 plate appearances — is more experienced than the others in this group. Carlson, O’Neill, Thomas and Williams have 660 PA, combined.
In an interview on my KFNS show late last week, Bill DeWitt III reaffirmed the management philosophy.
“Our model has always been built on a combination of young talent, and you’d like more of it than less if you draft and develop well,” he said. “And establish core players, then free-agent pickups and trades that fill out the roster. The more young talent you have that is up and coming, the more flexibility you have to do more impact-type things in the free agent and trade market.
“We might be more dialed into the young-player piece. But even if we’re in our heyday, driving huge revenues and making deep playoff runs, we still need — based on our market size relative to other teams — to be developing young players.”
Along these lines, the Cardinals must give their young outfielders a longer to form a more substantive idea of what they have … instead of not knowing what they really have, and screwing up by trading away a young player that had been denied a proper big-league showcase.
(See: Randy Arozarena.)
“It just seems like a lot of times when we’ve made mistakes, it’s in not giving young players enough runway to see what they’re all about,” DeWitt III said. “Arozarena comes to mind where ‘Darn it, we didn’t give them enough time.’ If there’s this clamoring to bring in someone new because they can’t do it, we better make sure they can’t do it.”
Not that I agree with all of it, but as I’ve said several times this offseason I understand the Cardinals’ approach here.
But I no longer view the list of potential free-agent signings as a particularly relevant matter concerning the Cardinals. At this point there is simply no reason to look at hitters’ names and match them to St. Louis.
DeWitt III politely disagrees with the assessment.
That door remains open, he said.
This includes the possibility of making new deals with pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina. But the Cardinals need to do more than that.
“We certainly haven’t hung up our cleats here, and there’s a long way to go in the offseason,” DeWitt III told me. “A lot of players are out there, as you know. Yadi and Waino need to be resolved, one way or the other. I’m certainly cautiously optimistic that we can maybe do something there. We’d love to. There’s every intent to try. And put a fitting bookend on their careers.
“And as far as additional opportunities, I think they’re out there. The market is very slow this year. Who knows where it will end up? I don’t think we were ever going to be in the position of saying, like a San Diego or the Mets, who are in a new situation. That (new Mets owner Steve Cohen) is sort of richer than God. So, what the heck. He’s coming in new and all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
“But having said all that, I wouldn’t count these guys out. There are creative ways to be aggressive. Maybe not a giant splash in the free-agent market. But maybe the free-agent market moves down enough to where you really do get tempted. I just don’t know. Some of this is just playing the waiting game.
“We weren’t in the position, we aren’t the position, to go big and say ‘Whether the market corrects or not, we’re going in on A, B, and C.’ We just aren’t in that position right now to be able to do that. If the market moves, and some things start looking like too good to refuse, who knows?
“I understand the sentiment, I cant combat it with facts at the moment. All I can say is, we’re always looking. There’s no point in the calendar which which you can’t improve your team if you really want to.”
Key phrase there: “If you really want to.”
Thanks for reading …
Listen to “The Bernie Show” on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS, weekdays from 3-6 p.m. You can also listen online or download the podcast by going to 590thefan.com … the station app is available in the app store.