Kyle Schwarber hit a career-high 38 home runs in 2019, finishing his fifth season in the big leagues with a .250/.339/.531 line, 29 doubles, 70 walks, and 156 Ks in 155 games and 610 plate appearances, over which he was worth 2.6 fWAR. He followed that up, however, with a less-than stellar showing in 2020’s 60-game COVID campaign (.188/.308/.393, six doubles, 11 HRs, 30 walks, 66 Ks in 59 G, 224 PAs, over which he was worth 0.4 fWAR), and Chicago’s Cubs, who’d drafted Schwarber in the first round, fourth overall, back in 2014, non-tendered the 27-year-old slugger who’d debuted in ‘15, and then returned from injury to help the Cubs end the 108-year World Series drought in the Windy City in 2016.
Schwarber was projected to earn $9-$10M in arbitration before he was non-tendered, but he got a 1-year/$10M deal from Washington’s Nationals, which was announced today, and he said he had no hard feelings for the organization that drafted and developed him.
“I can’t say enough to the organization,” Schwarber said of his six seasons in Chicago. “To the fans, I mean, you can’t say enough, but obviously, it is what it is, and I’ve got no hard feelings, but I’m excited to move on to Washington here and make new chapters here. I know it’s a one-year deal, but I told [GM Mike Rizzo] when we talked on the phone, I said, ‘I’m not approaching this as a one-year deal. I’m going to come in, I’m going to give you everything I have, and I’m going to play as if I’ve been here for five years and still got a couple years left.
“I’m going to give you everything I’ve got and I’m going to invest myself into winning. That’s what I want to do here.”
The 6’0’’, 225-pound slugger put up a combined .230/.336/.480 line and 162-game average of 21 doubles and 36 home runs in 551 games and 2,108 plate appearances with the Cubs, over which he was worth a total of 9.5 fWAR.
His numbers in 2020, which was a weird season for everyone in baseball, don’t represent the type of player he is, Schwarber said, and he has something to prove after being non-tendered by the Cubbies.
“I don’t put much stock into [2020’s totals] just because I know that’s not a representation of myself,” Schwarber said, “... but at the end of the day you need to look back and kind of find what was going wrong there and find those tweaks and go from there, and I know coming off of — ‘19 was a great year for me, and then 2020 wasn’t the best, but I’m going to learn from that, and coming into 2021, I’m going to make those adjustments I need to make and I’m going to come in fully ready to go.
“A little chip on the shoulder here, ready to come in and win another World Series with these guys.”
Is there additional motivation now, after getting a one-year deal in free agency, to prove he can contribute and earn himself a longer deal (though there’s reportedly a mutual option for $11M in 2022, or a $3M buyout included in his deal with the Nationals)? And is that chip that is on his shoulder a result of not finding a longer deal on the free agent market this winter?
“Like I said, I’m in the business of winning baseball games and — it’s a one-year deal, at the end of the day, and I want to go out there and I want to be the best version of me. There’s a chip on my shoulder just from the previous situation, it’s not ever ideal, being non-tendered to things like that, but I want to come out, I want to be myself, like I said, have that chip on my shoulder, and know that I’m a way better baseball player than what I showed in 2020, and go from there.”
Schwarber said he took some time off after the 2020 campaign came to an end, and he talked on Saturday about some of what he saw and thinks he needs to improve upon in 2021.
“It was a challenging year just on everyone in general,” he said of the 2020 season.
“It was a COVID year, we were playing 60 games, it’s a sprint, and there was no real time to kind of just take a deep breath.
“You take a week off to decompress, and then I like to go back and just kind of reevaluate things and run through thoughts, I’ll keep some notes and run through some video. And I think the biggest thing for me is getting back in my legs.
“I felt like I was really out of my legs this past year, and was kind of just traveling a little bit too far forward and it only kind of allowed me to do one thing, which was either get extension or it’s a rollover. And I think that’s kind of the biggest thing, being able to stay in my legs, stay behind the baseball.
“I’m really excited to work with [Nationals’ Hitting Coach] Kevin Long and [Assistant Hitting Coach Pat Roessler]. Just had a conversation with Kevin long not too long ago and we’re going to sit down here soon and talk some hitting, talk about what he sees, what I want to accomplish, and I’m really looking forward to having this conversation with him.”
Schwarber said he is also looking forward to playing for manager Davey Martinez, who was with him in Chicago as Joe Maddon’s bench coach with the Cubs from 2015-2017.
“I actually talked to Davey before we agreed, and I just wanted to sit down and talk to him and see what he envisioned, and everything was great. Me personally, knowing Davey, I know the kind of guy he is and I really excited about being able to — first off, just even talk to him about coming over to play for him, because I remember just back in the day, when we’d be screwing around and he’d say, ‘Whenever I get a manager’s job you’re going to come over and play for me.’ And you know what, I was like, ‘You know what, now it’s come to fruition.’ So it’s really cool now that this has come to fruition, and I’m just excited to be a Washington National in general, and ready to go.”