MLB Roundup 1/10: Kyle Schwarber signs with the Nationals
This winter’s non-tender deadline was a busier one than usual with some big names and real surprises hitting the free agent market at this time. One of the biggest names to be non-tendered through it all was Kyle Schwarber, who the Cubs did not want to pay his projected salary. Chicago has been looking like their only focus this winter is to cut salary, and it turns out the Nationals will benefit here. The slugger has agreed to a deal in Washington, heading to the Nationals on a one-year deal worth $10 million. There is also an $11 million mutual option for 2022.
I was actually a bit surprised to see that Schwarber signed already, particularly with a National League team. While the former Cubs first rounder can certainly swing the bat with some authority, his defense is a question. I thought he may wait until a DH decision was officially made, though there is its own risk in trying to wait that out. As it stands, it’s hard to know what the role will be here without knowing if Washington will have a DH at its disposal. If they don’t, presumably Soto would shift over to right field full-time (he played there more than left in 2020 as well, so it’s not too much of an adjustment) for Schwarber to play left.
The Nationals are signing him for his bat, though, and he can still hit the ball a long ways. Although the soon-to-be-28-year-old hasn’t quite turned into the star-level hitter some had hoped, he’s still largely been above-average. He did struggle some in 2020, finishing the shortened season with a 90 wRC+, but he’s at 113 for his career. Schwarber will strike out some, but he typically makes up for it with power and some walks here and there as well.
The Red Sox may have been considering Schwarber in the event of an Andrew Benintendi trade, but that was really the only way that would have worked. If they had signed him and then not been able to find a trade for Benintendi, they would have been stuck with an outfield of Schwarber, Benintendi and Alex Verdugo left-to-right, which would be a disaster. So while this deal is certainly reasonable in a vacuum, I don’t know that I can blame them for not getting this done without knowing whether or not there’s a real Benintendi trade out there. And besides, there are other outfield options beyond Schwarber out there still as well.
In addition to the Schwarber signing, there was a minor deal agreed to between the Phillies and Giants as well. In the trade, Philadelphia gets reliever Sam Conrood in exchange for pitching prospect Carson Ragsdale.
For the Phillies, the objective is clear: Improve the bullpen. Their relief unit, which in the second half included Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree from the Red Sox, was essentially what kept them out of the postseason this past summer, and it was one of the worst units the league has ever seen. They acquired José Alvarado from the Rays earlier in the winter, and now Conrood makes a second addition. The righty is a hard thrower who can miss bats, but he’s also 28 and has had his results consistently undercut by his command issues. If he doesn’t rein in his walk rate, he will continue to struggle despite the big stuff.
On the other side, the Giants get a fourth round selection from this past summer’s draft. Ragsdale obviously hasn’t been able to pitch professionally since he was just drafted in 2020, but he showed big stuff before an injury cut his time short at the University of Southern Florida. There are questions about whether he’ll be able to start long-term, but he should at least be able to compete for a bullpen role at the highest level.