Cubs anticipate full recovery after Kyle Schwarber’s knee surgery

Cubs anticipate full recovery after Kyle Schwarber’s knee surgery

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs are anticipating a full recovery for Kyle Schwarber after one of their most dynamic young players underwent left knee surgery on Tuesday in Dallas.

Dr. Daniel Cooper, the head team physician for the Cowboys and a medical expert in NFL circles, reconstructed Schwarber’s ACL and repaired his LCL after a devastating combination of injuries wiped out his season. The procedure did not reveal significant nerve damage.

The understanding is Schwarber’s case is somewhat different from the complicated situation facing Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, who will likely see his NFL draft stock plummet after tearing the ACL and LCL in his left knee against Ohio State in the New Year’s Day Fiesta Bowl. 

“It sounds like everything went as well as we could have hoped,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “There was nothing unexpected that was found in there.”

Schwarber had been a second-team All-Ohio linebacker in high school and played baseball with a max-effort style that endeared him to teammates.

What was supposed to be another breakthrough year ended in the second inning of Game 3 on April 7 at Chase Field, where Schwarber crashed into Dexter Fowler while trying to catch a ball Arizona Diamondbacks leadoff guy Jean Segura drove into the left-center field gap. 

“It’s incumbent on him to really do a great job on the rehab,” Hoyer said. “But there’s no indications that he’s not going to recover fully and be the player we expect.”

That optimism would appear to open the possibility that Schwarber could become a big-league catcher again.

“We haven’t really talked through all that stuff,” Hoyer said. “Let’s get away from the surgery a little bit. But we certainly haven’t had discussions about ending that possibility.”  

Schwarber — the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft out of Indiana — generated 16 home runs in 69 games last season and then set a franchise record with five homers in the postseason.

Even without Schwarber’s left-handed power, the Cubs were 10-3 heading into Tuesday night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. The Cubs still want Schwarber sitting in on pitchers’ meetings and helping design game plans and will base his rehab activities in Chicago.

It’s far too early to set a timetable — other than saying Schwarber faces a long, difficult road ahead — but a tentative best-case scenario could be having him medically cleared by spring training and in the 2017 Opening Day lineup.

“He’s sort of gotten over the initial shock,” Hoyer said. “He’s back to his normal self. I think you know his personality — he’ll dominate this rehab. He’ll work incredibly hard. That’s what we miss the most. Obviously, you miss his bat, but you miss that personality. He’s such a competitor and a winner.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items


Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.