The Washington Nationals are loading up on left-handed power this offseason with another on-brand free agent signing, Kyle Schwarber.
The addition of the slugging outfielder for a reported one year at $10 million is typical of the Nats and general manager Mike Rizzo. The team has made a few high-profile signings in his tenure, most notably Jayson Werth, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin. But especially with position players, Rizzo has generally preferred short-term, low-budget signings of guys with solid postseason credentials like Howie Kendrick, Mark Reynolds and Chris Heisey to name a few.
By taking on yet another one-year contract, the Nats are also toeing Commissioner Rob Manfred’s official line that major league teams suffered combined losses of more than $3 billion during the COVID-shortened 2020 season. With a new collective bargaining agreement on the horizon and an increasing probability of short-term negotiations with the players’ union, the team is maintaining maximum flexibility for a landscape beyond 2021, when it can work out long-term deals with stars like Juan Soto, Trea Turner and others.
Schwarber also gives manager Davey Martinez another opportunity to mold the team in his own image, with one of his favorite players from his days as bench coach of the Chicago Cubs.
Martinez must also be hoping Schwarber will keep up the postseason magic he displayed in Chicago.
In fact, Schwarber’s entire contribution to the Cubs’ 2016 World Series title came in the World Series, itself.
After tearing his left ACL colliding with Dexter Fowler in the second game of the regular season, Schwarber was not cleared to play again until October, and then only as a DH or pinch hitter.
Playing in five of the seven World Series games against Cleveland, Schwarber hit no home runs but had seven hits in 17 at-bats, including a double, plus four walks for a .412/.500/.471 line that helped the Cubs end their 71-year “curse” and bring home the World Series trophy.
Schwarber became a darling of North Side fans during his rookie season in 2015 when a mid-season call-up to play designated hitter in interleague games turned into a 69-game stint where he pounded 16 home runs and amassed an .830 OPS in helping the Cubs to the postseason for the first time since 2008. Once he and the Cubs got there, Schwarber set the team’s postseason home run record with five, while driving in eight runs and walking four times for a .333/.419/.889 line that translated to an eye-popping 1.308 OPS.
The Cubs made it to the National League Championship Series for the first time since 2003 but ran into another offensive juggernaut, future Nats’ star Daniel Murphy and the New York Mets, who pounded Cubs’ pitching in a four-game sweep to the NL pennant.
Schwarber kept up his power from 2017-2019, with 30, 26 and 38 homers with a collective .234/.337/.492 line, with the on-base percentage fueled by 207 walks in that span.
He finished 21st in the majors in walks in 2018 and 37th in 2019.
His addition gives the Nats another powerful left-handed bat to go with Juan Soto and the newly acquired Josh Bell, giving the team a formidable power lineup against right-handed pitchers.
If baseball adopts the designated hitter for the NL again this year, the Nats will not have to worry so much about his -3.6 career defensive WAR. If there’s no DH, he will likely play left field, with Andrew Stevenson as a defensive replacement.
With a one-year deal, Schwarber is another short-term, low-risk acquisition who can get on base, drive in runs, and potentially make a big contribution in the postseason. You’re also likely to hear both Rizzo and Martinez say that Schwarber has a reputation as an affable teammate and is the kind of guy they want on the field and in the clubhouse. If he doesn’t work out, both he and the Nats can walk away and start fresh in 2022.