Cubs

Now is not the time for the Cubs to trade Kyle Schwarber

Now is not the time for the Cubs to trade Kyle Schwarber

Change is coming to the Cubs roster, but that change should not extend to Kyle Schwarber. 

The case for trading Schwarber makes sense: It would be selling at potentially the height of his value. It could also free up a corner outfield spot and subsequent money to bring back fan favorite Nicholas Castellanos (it would be hard to fit both Schwarber and Castellanos on the roster long-term).

But consider this: Schwarber performed almost as well as Castellanos down the stretch last season, putting up a .997 OPS after the All-Star Break compared to Castellanos' 1.002 OPS following the trade from the Tigers. Those totals were good for seventh and eighth in the National League in the second half.

Schwarber also ranked 11th in the NL in wRC+ (151) in the second half, just behind Castellanos and Anthony Rizzo. That led to a number of career highs for Schwarber this season, including homers (38), RBI (92), batting average (.250), slugging percentage (.531), OPS (.871) and doubles (29). 

Chalk it up to a small sample all you want, but this is nearly half a season (257 plate appearances) where Schwarber was one of the best hitters in the league and it certainly seems like the 26-year-old finally reached his potential.

"There were obviously a lot of ups and downs [this season], but pretty pleased by how I handled it," Schwarber said during the last series of the year in St. Louis. "Overall, on a personal side there, it was definitely a positive."

Schwarber wouldn't completely acknowledge that something "clicked" in his second half, instead crediting his mindset and how he avoided riding the roller coaster of getting too high or low after each game. 

The mindset also carried over into his approach at the plate, where he stopped trying to pull the ball so much and went to the opposite field more than ever before.

"I'm a pretty simple human," Schwarber said with a laugh. "Obviously whenever the ball is pitched away, you want to hit it that way. There's gonna be sometimes, too, when you catch it a little deep on the inside part of the plate and it goes that way and it lands in there for a hit.

"This game's really messed up because you can do everything right and get out and then you can do everything wrong and get a hit. You just gotta be able to stay consistent with the work and obviously some adjustments there with being able to stick more middle, it allows you to be a little more reactive away."

Sure seems like something clicked there mentally for Schwarber and the physical tools have always been there.

The development in the mental game has led to tangible changes on the stat sheet that very well might hold up over time. For example, Schwarber hit the ball on the ground less in 2019 than ever before and subsequently increased his line drive percentage. He also hit the ball harder overall, dipping to a career-best 12.7 percent low contact rate. 

He silenced some of the doubters about his ability to make an impact against left-handed pitching, posting an .809 OPS against southpaws in the second half and carving out consistent playing time down the stretch regardless of the opposing pitcher.

It all adds up to a true breakout and Schwarber might just be scratching the surface of what he's fully capable of. 

"I think he made some adjustments," Theo Epstein said on ESPN radio in an interview with David Kaplan and Pat Boyle last week. "Some of it was mindset and belief and approach and some of it was a little bit fundamental mechanics of the swing. But just the combination led to a really confident hitter up there who's dictating a little bit more instead of being reactive — not trying to cover every single hole, but going up there with a really good gameplan. 

"More of the rhythm and timing to his swing — the prepitch movement that is a little bit unconventional, but it allowed him to always be on time as an amateur and as a minor-league player. When he's locked in like that and feeling good and has the right kind of approach, he's extremely dangerous. I think it just gets back to what we talk about with development not being linear in baseball — you never know when it's gonna click. A lot of guys have to go up and back — Triple-A to the big leagues a couple different times and in Kyle's case, he missed a whole year [due to injury]. He had that one really rough season initially in the leadoff spot and then had to go back to the minor leagues. 

"I think he's reached that point where he's turned the corner and can be really impactful middle-of-the-order bat for years to come."

It can be dangerous to point to one half season for any player and extrapolate it out over a full campaign year over year, but if fans are really sold on bringing back Castellanos after two good months, why sell off Schwarber right now after he was essentially as effective as Castellanos over the same stretch? 

Schwarber is also a lot more affordable than most other players capable of approaching 40 homers, as he's projected for $8 million by MLB Trade Rumors in 2020, his second year of arbitration.

It's unknown exactly what Schwarber would fetch in a trade because of the public perception about his defense, the lack of track record and how this Cubs front office views him. It's hard to see any team truly meeting the price Epstein and Co. will set forth given how highly they think of him internally. 

So you have a left-handed slugger who tears up right-handed pitching and has started to come around against southpaws, a guy who could hit in the middle of the order, is still young (he'll turn 27 in March), affordable and may not fetch enough in a trade to make it worthwhile?

That doesn't exactly portend a trade coming this offseason involving Schwarber. If they held on to him this long, why deal him away now that he finally put it all together?

Sure, crazier things have happened and maybe some team meets the Cubs' asking price. 

In the meantime, Schwarber will spend the winter making sure all those positive developments he made in the second half stick.

"The foundation's there," he said. "It's just being able to stay consistent. Whenever you pick up that bat again and start swinging, you got your routine, you got your standards for what you want to do with the ball and keep repeating it."

Forget about full Cubs schedule, fans at games and plan for a short, bittersweet season

Forget about full Cubs schedule, fans at games and plan for a short, bittersweet season

The bad news for the Cubs after Thursday’s scheduled Opening Day is that they’re 0-1. The worse news is that so is everybody in baseball.

And with Friday’s agreement between MLB and the players union addressing the coronavirus shutdown, the only known winner, at least in this city, might be Kris Bryant, who will not lose yet another year before he can become a free agent.

Remember when that was the biggest concern surrounding the Cubs’ season — whether the Cubs were going to trade their star third baseman and whether they could co-exist with him if they didn’t — after beating him in a grievance hearing over service-time manipulation?

That was just last month. And a lifetime ago.

The highlights of the MLB-MLBPA agreement include freezing transactions until a date for resuming play is determined, the assurance that major-leaguer players will accrue full service time for the 2020 season even if it is not played, the likelihood of additional roster spots once play resumes, and $170 million in salary advances to players across multiple contract tiers, most to those with guaranteed deals.

Multiple teams, including the Cubs, optioned players who were on 40-man rosters but not expected to make the club to the minors ahead of the deal Thursday night, which, among other things, prevented service-time accrual. 

Pitcher Dillon Maples was optioned to Triple-A Iowa, leaving 30 members of the Cubs’ 40-man roster still on the active major-league roster. They include three bullpen candidates who are out of options: Alec Mills, Duane Underwood and Casey Sadler.

But the most important element of the plan for fans involves the report that MLB and the players agree to wait until they get the all-clear from health and government officials that mass gatherings are safe again before starting the season. Unless that looks like it won’t happen in time for something feasible, in which case they might discuss playing without fans, possibly using spring training sites.

Some in the game are still suggesting methods for trying to play close to a full 162-game schedule, maybe 140. The hope of a June start and lots of doubleheaders seems popular — maybe with seven-inning games making up the doubleheaders.

But for all the numbers of games, innings and dollars being thrown around and negotiated, only one number continues to matter. On Friday it was close to 1,500.

That’s the number of U.S. deaths attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a number that includes this week a 17-year-old boy in Los Angeles County who reportedly had no underlying risk factors, a 12-year-old girl before that and many others who, by CDC definitions, were not in high-risk groups.

And it’s a number that’s rising fast.

Certainly, baseball officials and players appreciate the gravity of the moment, and that’s why anything and everything seem to be in play as eventual options.

And it’s why for now, regular-season ballparks/weight rooms and spring training facilities finally were shutting down across baseball Friday to all but a select few players who might have specific (such as medical) needs for them.

Cubs Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo are among the individual players across baseball raising awareness and money for those affected, from stadium workers to first responders and small businesses. Cubs manager David Ross published a short video through the team’s Twitter account thanking healthcare workers and encouraging continued safe practices during the crisis.

Jon Lester, Jason Kipnis and others have tweeted about the bigger picture in this time of missing the game.

But the mere suggestion of trying to squeeze most of a full schedule into 2020, against the hope of playing those games in fan-filled stadiums, is perhaps understandably wistful thinking.

If there’s going to be a baseball season this summer/fall, it’s going to be a short one, and it probably should be.

The fewest games played in a season since the two-league format began in 1901 were the 103 games some teams played during the 1981 strike season.

The plan now should involve redrawing schedules for 80- and 100-game contingencies. Plan for no — or extremely limited numbers of — fans. Play the games in spring ballparks; eliminate interleague play; position one league in Florida and one in Arizona — or all in Arizona if it’s safer there than Florida.

An 84-game schedule would allow for a balanced league schedule with six games per opponent. Or unbalanced (albeit, less drastic) schedules could still be used. Restructure the playoffs? OK. Add teams? Sure. Maybe by then those games can even be played in neutral-site, warm-weather or domed stadiums with fans.

A lot of us around sports talk about sports being important to our culture and things like civic pride, or at least as escapes from real-life issues. President Franklin Roosevelt recognized that much in 1942 when he urged MLB to play its season for the good of the country during a war.

But this we haven’t seen before. It’s why so many uncertainties hang in the air even after scheduled openers, months after the virus first was identified, weeks after federal action was taken in this country.

“Worst opening day ever,” Lester tweeted, “but focused on what’s most important right now and that’s keeping the team safe at home so we can get back to baseball soon.”

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Anthony Rizzo discusses foundation's support of health care workers amid COVID-19

Anthony Rizzo discusses foundation's support of health care workers amid COVID-19

Anthony Rizzo and his family’s foundation are working diligently to support the health care workers combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday, Rizzo appeared on ABC News to discuss the foundation’s campaign to provide meals to hospital workers and staff. To date, they’ve served over a thousand hot meals to frontline workers in Chicago and Florida, in collaboration with the foundation’s restaurant partners.

“A lot of these staff workers don’t know if they’re allowed to go to the grocery store,” Rizzo said on ABC, “because they really are quarantining outside the hospital to stay safe, keep everyone safe.

“We really want to give back to the restaurants and also help the frontline workers, so it's really been a win-win because there's a lot of people in tough times right now and we're just trying to help out any way we can."

Rizzo’s foundation said in a press release Friday the meals have brought many hospital workers tears, overwhelmed in appreciation.

“These health care workers are going every day, many without the proper protection, to care for our loved ones,” the release reads. “They are putting themselves at risk, their families at risk and even foregoing seeing their loved ones for months to protect our families, friends and neighbors.”

(Photos courtesy of the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation)

The foundation asks for anyone interested in supporting the campaign to reach out. Donations can be made by texting HOPE44 to 52000 or by going to rizzo44.com/donate.

The coronavirus has altered everyone's lives and changed daily routines. When asked what his message is to fans, Rizzo said to stay strong together and find a routine that makes you happy.

"We're gonna get through this together; this is tough for everyone," he said. "We all want to be playing baseball, we all want sports on television. A lot of people want to be going to work on a daily basis to get back into that routine. 

"It's hard to be home 24/7 but everyone is doing this together, so you're not alone."