Cleveland Indians: Could Kyle Schwarber Join the Tribe?

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Could the Indians pull Schwarber from the Cubs in exchange for one of their pitchers?


The greatest clamor from Cleveland  Indians fans for the last six or seven years is the desperate desire for a “legitimate middle of the order hitter”. I’m not really quoting anyone in particular there, but that idea is what, it is felt in the Wigwam, will push the team to the next level. They haven’t had that sort of player since Travis Hafner had two of the best years in a Tribe uniform, hitting .306/.423/.626 combined in 2005 and ‘06. He tailed off in ‘07 to an .837 OPS but was still a threat, but slowly declined, ending up being a waste of the biggest contract in Indians history. It understandably made the team, and fans, wary of handing out huge dollars, and the Nick Swisher/Michael Bourn mess only exacerbated that. But still, people want the power hitter.

We’ll ignore for a bit that the team has offensive threats. Michael Brantley is a great all around hitter, though he crested at 20 homers in 2014 and likely won’t go more than that. Forty-five doubles a year is nice, but again, people want the long ball. Carlos Santana hit 27 in 2014 but fell off this past year, apparently while dealing with a nagging injury. I think he’ll bounce back, but it’s wait and see on him. Other than that, the other big threats are Yan Gomes, a good hitting catcher but not a premier slugger, and Jason Kipnis and (hopefully) Francisco Lindor, but they’re more line drive, high average and double type hitters it seems. Hopefully one of these farm outfielders pops off, but again, we’ll have to see. The point is, people want dingers. Of the 30 variety.

So when the Greatest Radio Host Ever, Mike Francesa of WFAN 660 in New York City, said the other day that Chicago Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber is essentially Jim Thome, my ears understandably perked up and the mind got churning. Thome is the best power hitter in Tribe history in terms of raw ball annihilation skills, so terrifying at the plate and such a great human being that they built him a statue before he even retired. Thome is literally what people want. He’s not the right-handed power hitter that is really desired, but that’s just because we all want Miguel Cabrera. And we do. But we can’t have him, and he’s old now. But Schwarber is young, powerful and possibly available.

In watching the playoffs this year it’s obvious the thing the Cubs are missing to make this from a great team to a dynasty-founding juggernaut is pitching. Their bullpen is spotty as well, but after Jake Arrieta and John Lester the starting pitching takes a sharp dive. It’s assumed they and the Mets will make a deal at some point soon since the Mets have arms and need bats while the Cubs have bats and need arms. But Schwarber makes the whole situation a bit interesting.

He’s a proven power threat even in just this short stretch of games. Including the playoffs he’s played 77 games and hit 21 home runs, none of them cheap. Getting the ball out of Wrigley when the wind is blowing out is one thing, but hitting it to right center a dozen or so rows up in Citi Field is a tremendous feat. Also he hit one to the Allegheny River. That’s power that’ll work everywhere except center field in the Polo Grounds. He produced a 131 wRC+ this past season and walked 13.2% of the time. If he just reproduced that he’d be be the second best offensive player behind Brantley. He’s a growing boy too, and hopefully will learn to hit more than just fastballs, so that number could jump. He’s good already and has a chance to be amazing.

The two issues would be cost to the Tribe, and where he’d fit in the lineup. Obviously the bat plays, and he’d play DH right from the get-go. Moving Swisher and some of the older guys and having Lonnie find himself in the outfield make things easier. Rayburn will stick around to platoon for a bit, and first base is likely taken care of with Santana, so Schwarber likely won’t have to see defense very much.

The issue becomes what the lineup looks like. In the past the problem with the Indians is too many lefties – opponents have to show up with two LOOGY’s who end up getting six outs in a row because there’s no balance to the order. This year found some balance because of Lindor being a switch hitter ,Gio Urshela batting right and judicious use of Raburn, but Schwarber makes it a bit more left-heavy. Let’s take the typical lineup from this past year, looking like this:

Kipnis

Lindor

Brantley

Santana

Gomes

Chisenhall

Almonte

Urshela

Johnson I guess, or whoever would DH.

Take this, pull out Johnson and slot Schwarber fifth so it looks like this:

Kipnis

Lindor

Brantley

Santana

Schwarber

Gomes

Chisenhall

Almonte

Urshela

So really the addition of Schwarber realy doesn’t impact balance too much, as it goes left, switch, left, switch, left, right, left, switch, right. Counting on that many switch hitters isn’t ideal, especially if they have to turn it around when you hit the bullpen. I feel like they wouldn’t be as effective after spending two at-bats hitting lefty then have to turn around and hit right, but that’s a question for another day. The key is not allowing the opponent to camp on on reliever and cancel all offensive production.

As for cost, that means losing pitching. Kluber and Carrasco are right out, they are both off their rookie contracts and awesome while Schwarber still has six more years of cheap team control. The most likely candidate is Danny Salazar. He’s got the electric stuff that teams so crave, and he’s not a free agent until 2021 at the earliest. That’s a year before Schwarber. The Cubs want to compete right now, that much is obvious, and even if they can throw money around in the offseason you know Theo would want cost controlled talent in the rotation.

So if they do sign David Price, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility, then trade for Salazar, with Arrieta and Lester that’s a rotation that can stand toe to toe against the Mets and anyone else who steps up. There might be some bits and pieces going one way or the other, but the keys are Schwarber for Salazar.

The biggest issue with Schwarber is his left-handedness. As mentioned before, he wouldn’t knock the lineup out of balance really, but the fact is he hasn’t shown an ability to hit lefties. He had a .481 OPS this past season against lefties compared to .953 facing righties. If the Indians were to trade one of their younger power arms they’d hope to get more than a platoon guy. Granted, it’s all of 61 plate appearances against left-handers in the majors and he could certainly learn to adjust, but the way he plays the game plainly speaks to pulling the ball hard and often. When sliders are running away from you that gets tough. His ceiling is Jim Thome, but the floor might be a worse-gloved Mark Reynolds. Somewhere in the middle there is Adam Dunn, and to be honest I’d love to have that might in the middle of the order.

The underlying issue is the Indians have been blatantly unathletic the last few years while teams like the Royals or Giants or Cardinals have guys who can do quite a bit defensively and handle a bat. We’ll ignore Jhonny Peralta, though somehow even he has been saved by Cardinal black magic. The Tribe is putting together a squad of talented, young, athletic players who can do quite a bit all over the diamond, not just slug their way out of a problem. Bringing in a guy who can only DH kind of fouls up the plan, and he’d have to be really, really good really quick for it to be worth it. I like the versatility the Indians have right now, it allows Francona to machinate as much as he pleases. It frustrates some, but it’s a strength of the team.

Whether the Cubs would really cough Schwarber after less than half a season of attempted defense is the real question. It depends on how much of a liability their brain trust considers him. As we’ve seen the last few years, defense is a premium commodity in the postseason – it’s what doesn’t slump when your slugger is hitting .100. They could hope Schwarber figures out left field, or deal with it and hope he homers every game he screws up so he’s a net neutral player. But that’s dangerous if you want to win titles in a very impatient town. Which, as an aside, is weird they’re so impatient since they haven’t won in a century, but that’s their deal. Schwarber would flourish as a DH and he’d do well in a Cleveland park that caters to lefties. Pronkville needs a new populator, and Schwarber can be that man.

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