When asked during a lengthy interview with the Sun-Times last year about how fun it might be to one day become a designated hitter, Kyle Schwarber needed just two words to sum up his thoughts:
So maybe we shouldn't be so quick to assume he’ll be the Cubs’ everyday DH this season if Major League Baseball opens in July as planned, with a universal DH in use for a 2020 season of reshuffled leagues and divisions.
Remember, this is the same guy who dropped an F-bomb on team president Theo Epstein as a college prospect during an initial face-to-face meeting when Epstein brought up scrutiny of his catching ability — a few months before the Cubs drafted Schwarber fourth overall in the 2014 draft.
Schwarber, whose passionate pride in his defense might run second in his baseball character only to his work ethic, actually worked from below-average left fielder early in his career to above average by 2018 — a year he led the National League with 11 outfield assists — according to some metrics.
“Just tell Schwarbs he can’t do something. And then just stay out of his way,” then-Cubs manager Joe Maddon said the following spring.
The problem for Schwarber when it comes to this issue is he might actually be the best DH on the team — a career .299 hitter with 1.046 OPS in 22 games DH’ing. Nobody in Cubs history has more than the nine homers he has as a DH.
Even if, “I’d love to always be a National League player and be out there for all nine,” he said.
All of which might be worth at least remembering, if not considering, as the league inches toward possibly reconvening next month for an abbreviated training period ahead of a possible season of 78-82 games that would start more than three months after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sport.
That the DH would be used in all games for all teams this year was a foregone conclusion as soon as it became apparent that venues might be limited and divisions and leagues consequently mingled to make a season functional.
That Schwarber would be the Cubs’ primary DH also seems like a foregone conclusion. Until considering his improvement in the field in recent seasons. And considering that somebody such as Steven Souza Jr. — coming off a year missed because of a devastating leg injury — might get more out of regular time in the lineup without putting his leg through defensive rigors in the outfield.
Either way, the Cubs potentially would benefit more than most National League teams with the DH added — an addition that has been discussed seriously among owners for years and that has the potential to stick beyond 2020.
“It makes every [NL] team better; you have an extra hitter,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said when talking this spring about the potential rules change. “It just lengthens your lineup. There’s no easy out, there’s no pitching around the seven-hole or eight-hole hitter to get to the pitcher in the early innings.”
But the way the Cubs’ roster is constructed, the DH option in theory helps keep one of the best right fielders in baseball (Jason Heyward) in that position of strength and out of center field (where he is good but not as exceptional) more often. The team’s best defensive center fielder, Albert Almora Jr., in theory becomes a more viable option for run prevention even in stretches where he’s not hitting or on a bad matchup day because of the added hitter to the lineup (especially on pitcher-heavy or pitcher-friendly days when runs might look especially precious).
It allows more mixes and matches with switch-hitter Ian Happ, Souza, second-best defensive second baseman Jason Kipnis and, yes, Schwarber.
“We’ll see,” Rizzo said. “It sounds great on paper, right?”Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.