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Washington Nationals’ Kyle Schwarber wasn’t ready for a DH role

Kyle Schwarber wants to keep playing the field as opposed to going full DH.

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Chicago Cubs v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

In a mid-December Zoom call with reporters, Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo said he was proceeding as if there wouldn’t be a designated hitter in the National League this year, after MLB had a universal DH for their 60-game 2020 COVID campaign.

“We’re going to make some assumptions,” Rizzo explained. “We’re going to assume that we’re not going to have the DH in the National League this year, that’s just the way we’re planning it, and if that changes like it changed last year we’ll make an adjustment.”

“We’re going to kind of build a National League style of team,” the GM continued, “... without a typical designated hitter involved in it, but a team that will compete without a designated hitter.”

Though The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal wrote earlier this winter that, “MLB instructed clubs in a memo ... to proceed under the assumption the DH will not be used in the NL this year,” he added at the time that from what he was hearing, “few will complain if the league and union reach agreement to the contrary.”

More recently, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that while MLB and the players’ union are still talking, “the two sides still have not determined whether there will be a universal DH or an expanded postseason with the rosters remaining at 26 players,” in 2021.

Would the Chicago Cubs have non-tendered Kyle Schwarber, who was coming off a rough 2020 campaign, if they could have slotted him in as a DH instead of a left fielder?’s Andrew Simon wrote, after Schwarber was non-tendered, that he’s, “... a fairly limited player,” as a defender, and, “... his defense in left field is suspect, with his -29 Outs Above Average since 2017, per Statcast, ranking fifth lowest among MLB outfielders,” and speculation after the Cubs parted ways with him was that the catcher-turned-outfielder was likely headed to a team that could use a DH.

Schwarber, who was, “projected to earn around $9-10 million via arbitration this offseason,” as’s Jordan Bastian wrote after the non-tender, signed a one-year/$10M deal with the Nationals that reportedly includes an $11.5M mutual option for 2022 or a $3M buyout.

He told MLB Network Radio hosts Brad Lidge and Jon Morosi earlier this month that continuing to play the field was part of the reason he decided to sign on in D.C.

“I think that was the biggest thing for me going into this year, I don’t want to be labeled as the DH, I feel like I’m too young for that,” Schwarber said.

“I know that I’m pretty athletic and I can go out there and catch some balls. The DH days might be ahead of me in the future, but you know what, I still feel like I’ve got a lot to bring to the table in the outfield, and can still go around chasing balls down, keep some guys from advancing, and go on from there.”

As he did in a Zoom call with reporters after signing with the Nationals, the catcher-turned-outfielder did acknowledge that the analytics are what they are when it comes to his defense.

“I’m going to be out there in left field,” he said.

“That’s what I wanted to sign up for.

“I know that a lot of people, for some reason, don’t like my defense, I know these numbers and things don’t really like to grade me out really well, but I’m a guy that’s going to go out there, play 100%, I’m going to make the plays I need to make, and I don’t care if it’s the Cy Young going or we’re getting blown out in the eighth inning, I’m going to play the same way, and I want to make the play for those guys, I want to keep guys from advancing bases, and keep double plays in order.”

Another factor in his decision to join the Nationals, Schwarber said, was his history with Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez, from the time the two spent together with the Cubs from 2015-17.

“Davey was a big impact on me early in my career, just because 2015, getting freshly pulled out of catching, and just getting thrown into left field in the big leagues, I spent a lot of time with him, he was the guy who was working with the outfielders, and we had a lot of conversations out there, just on approaching baseballs, playing caroms, decision-making with the ball in your hand, and things like that, and he’s just a baseball guy. He did it. He had a really good career, he cares about winning, he cares about his guys, I think we all saw that in the [2019] World Series, leaving out his health [as a] factor there, and just fighting to get a win at the end of the day, I think that’s the biggest thing that really wanted me to go over there, was that relationship and obviously the talent, but I know that there’s going to be a level of comfortability there with Davey. I know that he’s going to be able to have honest conversations with me, and I’m looking forward to being able to play under him.”

There were other offers out there, Schwarber said, but in the end the Nationals made sense for him.

“I had some teams calling on interest, and once I figured out one of the teams was the Nationals, it was like, ‘Okay, I really want to lock in on this and try to get this done.’

“Obviously having a previous relationship with Davey Martinez played a big factor, this is a winning team, winning culture over there. Came off — one, a lot of playoff experience, got to play them in 2017 in the division series, had a hard-fought five games over there, and coming off the World Series in ‘19, a lot of promising talent over there, Juan Soto, Trea Turner, Victor Robles, Josh Bell now, being able to play against him, and you can’t say enough about the top three guys there in the rotation, and obviously facing Joe Ross a couple times too, just they’ve all got elite stuff, and I think it’s a great fit, and just really excited about being over there.”