Cubs

Why Cubs won’t risk playing Kyle Schwarber in the outfield during World Series

Why Cubs won’t risk playing Kyle Schwarber in the outfield during World Series

Kyle Schwarber plays baseball with the same run-through-a-brick-wall mentality that once made him an All-Ohio linebacker in high school. The Cubs feed off that energy and the explosive power that’s already made him a legendary playoff hitter, even though he still hasn’t played a full season in the big leagues yet, and even after a layoff that lasted more than six months. 

As bad as Schwarber wanted this – and as much as president of baseball operations Theo Epstein senses the chance to eliminate the Cleveland Indians and make history – the Cubs couldn’t make such an important decision based on emotions.

After consulting with Dr. Stephen Gryzlo, the team’s orthopaedist, and Dr. Daniel Cooper, who performed the surgery on an extremely valuable left knee, the Cubs couldn’t get medical clearance to start Schwarber in the outfield for World Series Games 3, 4 and 5 at Wrigley Field this weekend.

“Of course, we’re all disappointed,” Epstein said. “We’d love to see Kyle out there getting four-plus at-bats a game. But I think it was important to talk to a medical professional, who’s objective and detached from the situation.

“We’re all wrapped up in seeing how well Kyle swung the bat and how it impacted us and the stage that we’re on and our desire to win.

“There is the possibility of us getting carried away and throwing caution to the wind. But that’s why you have to consult the doctors and follow their professional judgment.”

[MORE: Why Cubs won’t risk playing Kyle Schwarber in the outfield during World Series]

Whatever disappointment he may have felt after initially getting the news, Schwarber buried it by the time he followed Epstein into the makeshift interview room after Thursday’s workout at Wrigley Field, vowing to be ready to pinch-hit at any time and giving future Hall of Fame manager Terry Francona something to think about in the visiting dugout. 

“It’s not disappointing at all,” Schwarber said. “It was a long shot at the most. Obviously, I want to be out there for my teammates and everything. It’s just the competitor inside me. But facts are facts. I just can’t physically do it.”

Schwarber refused to concede after a full-speed collision in the outfield on April 7, attacking his rehab process with the same intensity that made him the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft and such a force on last year’s 97-win team (16 homers in 69 games plus five more in the playoffs).

Showing virtually no signs of rust, Schwarber went 3-for-7 with two walks and two RBI as the designated hitter while the Cubs split Games 1 and 2 at Progressive Field. 

“The doctors were very convicted that there’s just too much risk in playing the outfield,” Epstein said, “because of the dynamic actions involved, the instantaneous reactions, the need to cut in the outfield, the dynamic, athletic movements that are unanticipated in the outfield. 

“This was not just an ACL tear. This was a complete blowout of his knee, multiple ligaments (involved and) an expected eight-month, return-to-play, best-case scenario.

“We have to look out for Kyle’s long-term interests. We have a lot of confidence in other guys, too. We won 103 games. We have all the faith in the world in our other outfielders. And on top of that, we now have Kyle off the bench to take maybe the most important at-bat in the game at a given point.”

One of those outfielders – Chris Coghlan – understands the big-picture concerns for Schwarber after tearing the meniscus in his left knee during an on-field pie-to-the-face celebration with the Florida Marlins in 2010. 

“That’s my biggest worry for him personally,” Coghlan said. “I rushed back and reinjured it. And I don’t say that to scare him. They got doctors. They got a million people running over it. But what he’s doing is remarkable.

“To be able to go in there and just put competitive at-bat after competitive at-bat on the biggest stage (after) being out six months and only having maybe eight at-bats (in the Arizona Fall League) – it’s just a testament to his character and his perseverance. And that’s what makes him a special player.”

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Knowing how Schwarber is wired, the Cubs probably couldn’t have cut a deal where he gave something less than a maximum effort in the outfield and conserved his body to take vicious left-handed swings. But the medical experts did not present that option. 

“There would not have been a player to be cleared under this scenario,” Epstein said. “But that said, if we had been able to clear him only under the condition that he only go 60 percent: a.) I don't think Kyle knows how to go 60 percent, especially in a World Series-type game; and b.) At 60 percent, you’re such a tremendous defensive liability, it’s probably not worth the offense that you get on the other side, anyway.

“But that wasn’t the case. It was black and white. He simply is not medically cleared to play, regardless of his effort level.”

A crowd already delirious from the franchise’s first World Series at Wrigley Field in 71 years will still create a deafening roar at the sight of Schwarber walking up to home plate with a bat in his hand.

“Deep down in my heart, I really wanted to,” Schwarber said. “But there’s obviously the doubts (about) the injury. It was a huge injury. And that’s the facts. Not many people get this opportunity that I’m in right now, so I’m embracing (it). I’m going to cheer my teammates on. And when my time comes, I’m going to be ready.”

Cubs not selling Kyle Schwarber stock: 'We really believe in him'

Cubs not selling Kyle Schwarber stock: 'We really believe in him'

LAS VEGAS — It's Winter Meetings time, which means, of course, that it's Kyle Schwarber trade rumor season.

Every winter since he made his MLB debut in the middle of the 2015 season, Schwarber has found his name linked in trade rumors.

Yet the Cubs have not taken the bait, instead doubling and tripling down on Schwarber as a player and as an important part of the team's core. 

So it wasn't a surprise when USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale reported Sunday teams have inquired about trading for Schwarber but were turned away.

We know the Cubs don't deal in untouchables thanks to the Kris Bryant trade conversation earlier this winter, but Schwarber is right up there with players the organization has no interest in selling unless they're blown away with the return.

"Nothing's changed," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Monday. "We really believe in him. He's an incredibly gifted hitter and we fully believe in the makeup. In general, I think you can ask a similar question about almost any guy in our core. For a reason, we 've stuck by these guys and we've won a lot of games with these guys and we believe in them.

"Of course there's no untouchables and we've said that over and over, so whenever these rumors come out — 'would they trade any of these guys?' Of course. We never have an untouchable. We do believe in these guys. If we didn't believe in them, we certainly would've changed course by now.

"The last three years, we've made a real effort to have this group together and I think we're still gonna win a lot of games as a group."

The day after the Cubs' 2018 season ended in disappointing fashion, Theo Epstein discussed the need to evaluate the team's young position players on production rather than potential.

While Schwarber took some steps forward in 2018, he still falls into that category. Sure, he drastically improved his defense thanks to increased fitness/weight levels. And he improved his walk rate while cutting down on his strikeout rate. 

But he still hasn't morphed into that ever-dangerous hitter that sits in the middle of the Cubs order and strikes fear into opposing pitchers. Schwarber hit 30 homers in 2017 and 26 last season, but drove in just 59 and 61 runs, respectively. He also found himself out of the lineup often against left-handed pitchers. 

It's important to keep in mind that Schwarber is still developing as a hitter and big-league player, missing out on the entire 2016 regular season with that devastating knee injury and enduring prolonged struggles in 2017 due in part to increased pressure hitting in the leadoff spot.

To put it in perspective, Schwarber had a very similar season to Phillies cornerstone player Rhys Hoskins and consider how he compares to fellow teammates Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo through a similar number of plate appearances through their first three-plus MLB seasons:

Schwarber (1,274 PAs) — .228/.339/.470 (.809  OPS)
Rizzo (1,211 PAs) — .238/.324/.412 (.735 OPS)
Baez (1,267 PAs) — .255/.300/.427 (.727 OPS)

Schwarber was worth 3.2 WAR (FanGraphs) for the Cubs in 2018, but the team knows there's a lot more in there waiting to be unlocked.

He's a big reason why the Cubs are betting on an overall team improvement in 2019 thanks to individual steps forward.

"Ultimately, I'll still go back to what I've said over and over each winter is the biggest improvements are going to be from within," Hoyer said. "No matter what we do from the outside, getting our guys back and getting our team playing like we should is the most important thing.

"We have spent a lot of time on that today as well, talking to Joe, talking to our coaches, talking to our scouts. As much as we talk about external stuff, we never get that far away from the internal improvements we need to make."

With Hot Stove season in full tilt, when will Cubs join the fray?

With Hot Stove season in full tilt, when will Cubs join the fray?

LAS VEGAS — Cubs fans are getting very antsy, and it's easy to see why.

The Cubs' offseason began weeks earlier than past falls due to the one-and-done postseason appearance and with such a disappointing finale, even Theo Epstein teased the potential for an offseason of change

Yet here we are, at the end of the first day of the MLB Winter Meetings — 68 days after the 2018 season came to a close — and the Cubs have yet to make an impactful addition to the roster.

That's not to say they haven't done anything. They picked up Cole Hamels' $20 million option as well as the team options they held on Pedro Strop and Jose Quintana. But the list of offseason acquistions at the moment looks like this:

LHP Jerry Vasto (waivers)
RHP Rowan Wick (trade with Padres)
OF Johnny Field (waivers)

Only Wick is on the 40-man roster. The Cubs also re-signed pitcher Kyle Ryan to a major-league deal after he spent 2018 in their minor-league system.

On the other side of the coin, the Cubs have already lost Drew Smyly and Jesse Chavez this winter — both of whom ended up with the Rangers — and traded Tommy La Stella to the Los Angeles Angels. They've also likely lost a crop of free agents headlined by Daniel Murphy and Justin Wilson (neither are expected back in a Cubs uniform in 2019).

So it's understandable why fans are impatient.

Does that mean the Cubs are on the verge of making a move and filling the holes in their bullpen or lineup?

"No, nothing imminent," GM Jed Hoyer said Monday evening in the Cubs' suite inside the Delano Las Vegas. "Today is sort of build the ground work, have those conversations and hopefully you build some momentum for the end of the week or towards next week. But there's nothing imminent."

Like last winter, it's a very slow-moving free agent market around the game even if the trade market has been very active to date. 

It's not just the top names like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, either. Almost every free agent relief pitcher is still on the market and nearly every team with hopes of contending in 2019 needs to build up their bullpen, so the Cubs have spent a lot of time talking to agents with nothing bearing fruit yet (obviously). 

That said, Hoyer confirmed the Cubs still spent much of their time Monday chatting with other teams about potential trades. 

While the Cubs have been clear about their desire to add relievers, another bench bat and some more leadership in the position player group, they also continue to state publicly that they're expecting most of the advancement from 2018 to 2019 to be done in-house. The Cubs front office maintains the solutions will come from within to rebound from a late-season fade where the offense went ice cold.

Still, for those who can't wait for there to be actual news — any news — on the Cubs front, they may not have to wait long.

As Hoyer met with the Chicago media early Monday evening (Vegas time), he speculated the day may be only half over for the Cubs front office.

"I feel like Day 1 is really difficult to assess," Hoyer said Monday. "We'll have a better sense of [any potential moves] tomorrow. If things are going to happen, they gain momentum as the week goes on. Usually, ideas don't percolate on Wednesday.

"The way things work in these meetings, [Monday evening is] like Noon on the first day in some weird way. People work through the night."