Kyle Schwarber

State of the Cubs: Left field

State of the Cubs: Left field

As the Cubs maneuver through a pivotal offseason, we will break down the current state of the team by sectioning it off into position groups. Here is the eighth installment on left field.

Is this the year Kyle Schwarber *truly* breaks out and finally silences all of the haters?

That's the narrative surrounding the left-handed slugger, but in reality, 2018 probably should've been enough to silence Schwarber's haters.

He finished with 3.2 WAR (FanGraphs), nearly reaching the mark (3.4 fWAR) he put up in his entire MLB career prior to 2018. A lot of that was due to increased defensive ratings across the board — the culmination of shedding a bunch of weight last winter and continuing to develop and learn the outfield position in the big leagues.

But Schwarber also took some major strides at the plate, even with some of the same questions about power that faced every Cubs hitter last year.

Consider this — the entire list of qualified MLB hitters who had a higher walk percentage (15.3 percent) AND isolated power (.229) than Schwarber in 2018:

Mike Trout
Bryce Harper

That's it. That's the complete list.

Of course, Schwarber is not without his warts as a player. His defense still isn't "good" even when you take into account the weapon his throwing arm has become. He struggles mightily against left-handed pitching, posting a .654 OPS and hitting only 1 of his 26 dingers off southpaws last year. 

Maybe more than anything, Schwarber has to find a way to produce runs when he's not hitting the ball out onto Sheffield Ave. Over the last two seasons, Schwarber has driven in just 120 runs in 996 plate appearances despite 56 homers. FanGraphs had an interesting article last September shining a light on Schwarber's historically poor performance in the clutch in 2018.

Schwarber and the Cubs are insistent the "clutch" performance last year was just randomness. After all, this is the guy who tied the overall franchise record for postseason homers in one October (2015) and returned in epic fashion for the 2016 World Series.

If the Cubs are going to get where they want to go in 2019 and fix an offense that "broke" down the stretch, they're going to need a big performance from their left fielder.

Depth chart

1. Kyle Schwarber
2. Ian Happ
3. Ben Zobrist
4. Kris Bryant
5. Daniel Descalso
6. David Bote
7. Mark Zagunis
8. Johnn Field

Left field is Schwarber's for the indefinite future. There's a reason the Cubs haven't traded him yet despite all the rumors surrounding America's Large Adult Son. Theo Epstein's front office clearly hasn't received a package of players or prospects they deem worth the price of getting rid of Schwarber, who they still feel has another level to attain on the field and serves as an important presence in the clubhouse with his work ethic and attitude.

However, the Cubs still may platoon Schwarber in left field, subbing him out against tough lefties (or maybe most lefties if he doesn't start hitting for more power off southpaws). He also dealt with a disc issue in his back that sapped much of the final month of the season, but that's not expected to continue into 2019.

When it's not Schwarber in left, the Cubs will probably turn to Happ first, as he's looking more and more like a full-time outfielder as time goes on. Zobrist and Bryant will also see some time out in left, especially if Bote is able to carry over the defensive skills he flashed in limited time last year.

Descalso has some experience in left, but made just three starts there last year for the Diamondbacks. Bote has played outfield in the minors and Zagunis and Field represent depth in Triple-A if disaster strikes the Cubs outfield.

What's next?

That depends on Schwarber. Assuming he can stay healthy, he needs to continue along the path he started last season making significant strides as a hitter and defender.

Even if he's never able to hit lefties well, Schwarber still needs to find a way to avoid the quiet stretches where he disappears for a couple series in a row. Other teams still fear him as a hitter, but not on an everyday basis.

As the Cubs lineup works to remake its image, a thriving Schwarber hitting 4th or 5th and cleaning up the likes of Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez on base in front of him would be a huge step in the right direction.

The bottom line

The Cubs have enough depth if Schwarber takes a step backward or injury hits. Unless there's a surprise Bryce Harper signing, the Cubs feel very good about their outfield depth heading into spring training.

State of the Cubs: SP
State of the Cubs: RP
State of the Cubs: C
State of the Cubs: 1B
State of the Cubs: 2B
State of the Cubs: 3B
State of the Cubs: SS

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Where Cubs payroll stands after the arbitration deals

arbitration_cubs.jpg
USA TODAY

Where Cubs payroll stands after the arbitration deals

The Cubs' 2019 payroll figure became a bit more clear on Friday, as the team agreed to deals with all seven of their arbitration-eligible players.

Of the seven players, shortstop Addison Russell — who is serving a 40-game suspension for domestic violence — has perhaps the most interesting contract. Russell's contract is worth $3.4 million, though he will lose about $600K while serving the remaining 28 games of his suspension. 

Russell could recoup the lost salary through five bonuses if he is on the active roster for 30, 60, 90, 120 and 150 days, respectively. The shortstop made $3.2 million in 2018 and was projected to make $4.3 million in 2019, though his suspension surely affected the figure that he ultimately received.

Here are the salary figures for the other six arbitration-eligible Cubs:

-Javier Báez -$5.2 million 

-Kris Bryant - $12.9 million 

-Carl Edwards Jr. - $1.5 million

-Kyle Hendricks - $7.405 million 

-Mike Montgomery - $2.44 million

-Kyle Schwarber -$3.39 million 

Despite this offseason being his first as an arbitration player, Báez's salary is the biggest surprise of the group. Not only was he the Cubs' best player in 2018, but he also finished second in the National League Most Valuable Player voting.  In fact, MLB Trade Rumors projected Báez to receive $7.1 million.

Bryant, who is in his second year of arbitration, will see his salary increase modestly from 2018. His $10.85 million salary last season set the record for the highest awarded to a first-year arbitration player. Hendricks, who is also a second-year arbitration player, will receive a substantial raise from the $4.175 that he made in 2018.

Edwards Jr. ($594,000), Montgomery ($611,250) and Schwarber ($604,500) will all receive handsome raises from 2018. However, they were not eligible for arbitration until this offseason, hence the hefty raises.

If Russell does ultimately recoup the $600K, the Cubs will pay the aforementioned seven players about $36.235 million combined, short of the $38.9 million total projected by MLBTR. The difference here is marginal, but it's worthy to note when considering how the Cubs' budget constraints have been discussed at length.

Including the estimated $14.5 million for player bonuses and $2.2 million for minor league players on the 40-man roster, Friday's deals will push the Cubs' projected 2019 Opening Day payroll to a little more than $225 million.

The projection does not account for any additions that the Cubs could still make, such as adding bullpen help and/or a backup catcher. Regardless, the fact of the matter is that the Cubs will surpass MLB's $206 million luxury tax threshold by a wide-margin. Hopefully this puts things into perspective for any fans clamoring for the Cubs to make more offseason moves. 

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Cubs reportedly agree on arbitration-avoiding deals with seven players, including the suspended Addison Russell

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USA TODAY

Cubs reportedly agree on arbitration-avoiding deals with seven players, including the suspended Addison Russell

The Cubs have reportedly settled with a host of their arbitration-eligible players, including suspended shortstop Addison Russell.

Russell is reported to be getting a one-year deal worth $3.4 million, with bonuses built in should he be on the major league roster for a certain number of days this season following the conclusion of his suspension — handed down by Major League Baseball at the end of last season in the wake of detailed descriptions of mental, emotional and physical abuse by Russell's ex-wife, Melisa Reidy — which will last through roughly the first month of the season.

Some of that $3.4 million will be taken out of Russell's salary while he's suspended, so the bonuses allow him a chance to make that money back should he stay on the roster, as explained by the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmeyer.

Russell, though, wasn't the only Cub to reportedly agree to a new deal and avoid the arbitration process. Reports have numbers for third baseman Kris Bryant, NL MVP runner-up Javy Báez, starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks, outfielder Kyle Schwarber, swingman Mike Montgomery and relief pitcher C.J. Edwards.

These numbers have long been projected, but with the contracts officially agreed to, the Cubs now have an even more exact layout of their 2019 payroll, a big roadblock in their ability to augment the roster this offseason.

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