Heading into the offseason, the Giants face the annual task of needing to upgrade their outfield. The obvious upgrade and one they absolutely should pursue is Bryce Harper. As rad as it would be to land Bryce Harper, it’s still kind of a long shot for the Giants to land him. The most recent odds put the Giants at the fourth-most likely landing spot for the American Juan Soto. Fortunately, there’s another available power-hitting left-hander who walks a lot, and he’s not going to cost $350 million.
Since coming up in 2015, Kyle Schwarber has been the target of trade speculation, but it feels like Schwarber will actually be on the move this off-season. Once the Cubs land Bryce Harper, they’ll need to jettison one of their many talented outfielders, and Schwarber might be the odd man out. The Cubs aren’t even using him. He got one lousy at bat in the Wild Card game, and Terrance Freaking Gore got two.
It’s still not certain The Giants should absolutely be kicking Schwarber’s tires this offseason. If they can’t lure free agent sluggers to AT&T, they’ll just have to abduct ones that don’t have a choice about it.
In two and a half full seasons, Schwarber has slashed .238/.339/.470 for a 113 wRC+. In 2018, cracked 26 dingers in 510 plate appearances while walking 15.3 percent of the time. Schwarber, a beef golem given life by a dinger-crazed wizard, has power that sure as hell plays at AT&T.
Schwarber isn’t without his flaws as a hitter. He has a 29 percent strikeout rate over his career. That mark would have been the third highest on the 2018 Giants behind Austins Jackson and Slater (min. 150 PA). He also has some rather ugly platoon splits. Over his career, he has just a .608 OPS against lefties, but he creams righties at an .858 OPS.
He also doesn’t hit for average, which doesn’t matter, but his signing would likely cause a rift in the fandom between the nerd stat people and the Dads. The Schwarb Wars would be the War of 1812 to the Belt Wars’ Revolutionary War.
Schwarber’s career hasn’t quite lived up to his potential, but he remains a solid hitter. He also doesn’t turn 26 until March, so he has a little time to mature and refine as a hitter.
It’s always been assumed that Schwarber would eventually go to an American League team because he’s always been thought to be a DH at heart, but Schwarber vastly improved his defense this year. This year he was worth 2 DRS and 9.8 UZR. Statcast’s OOA (Outs Above Average) was less favorable putting him at -9, but he’s not the clankmitt he was in the 2015 NLCS.
As a former catcher, he still has a tremendous arm. Among all qualified outfielders, Schwarber’s arm ranked first at 7.9 runs. He tallied up 11 outfield assists in 2018 alone. As a team, the Giants had just 20 with Andrew McCutchen leading the way with 8. He may not be super rangy, but he’s a competent defender and much better than his reputation dictates. And remember, the Giants won a World Series with Pat Burrell clomping around in left, so the Giants could certainly do worse than Schwarber.
Schwarber would also be cheap at least in terms of dollars. MLB Trade Rumors projects Schwarber to earn $3.1 million as he enters his first year of arbitration. He won’t become a free agent until 2022, which means that he would be a great grab for a team that has been completely incapable of filling left field since Bonds left.
That also means the Cubs don’t have to move him if they aren’t floored by the return. Cubs fans are hoping for Whit Merrifield, Kansas City’s second baseman who put together 5.5 bWAR this season. Acquiring Merrifield would allow the Cubs to permanently slide Javier Báez over to short and let them part with Addison Russell, who as it turns out, isn’t that good at baseball and is even worse at being a human.
But Merrifield would likely require Chicago to send additional prospects to Kansas City, and the Cubs’ farm system ain’t what it used to be.
The Cubs will want whoever they get in return to contribute now, and they’ll need help in starting pitching. Earlier in the year, I floated the idea that the Giants could trade one of their controllable starters to Chicago, but that was under the assumption that the Cubs weren’t going to pick up Cole Hamels’ option* ($20 million is a lot of clams for a 4.49 FIP!). The Cubs might not need starting pitching as much as I thought they did, but they definitely need help in the bullpen.
*This hasn’t happened yet, but it seems likely.
Brandon Morrow had a down year due to pants-related injuries, Justin Wilson became a free agent, Brian Duensing took a major step back. The Giants have several relievers they could offer in a trade. Hunter Strickland, Tony Watson, and Will Smith would all make the Cubs better. Smith is probably the only one that could bring back Schwarber on his own but Watson or Strickland plus prospects might be enticing.
Losing Smith or Watson would hurt the Giants’ bullpen, but if they could get Schwarber back, it’s worth the cost. They first need to be able to gain a lead to protect it, and Schwarber would help them do that.