If you’ll remember before the 2015 season, the Cubs weren’t favorites to win the NL Central. They certainly weren’t expected to win more than 100 games. When the Sporting News picked them to win the World Series that January, it seemed like a novelty.
Then Kris Bryant came up and thrived. Then Kyle Schwarber came up and thrived. It took us about three months to get used to the idea of the Cubs being a one-stop repository for several of the game’s best young sluggers. It’s why they most certainly were favorites to win the NL Central in 2016. It’s why picking them to win the World Series seemed like a lazy pick this year instead of a provocative one.
Cut to the present, where there are whispers that the Yankees covet the injured Schwarber as a return for super-reliever Andrew Miller. It sounds silly, except there are about 18 other teams that are competing for Miller, and that the Yankees are most certainly in reloading mode instead of rebuilding mode, which means they have a pretty sweet consolation prize (keeping a super-reliever around) waiting if they don’t get just the right offer.
This is Brian Cashman in a meeting, tuning out, writing "Kyle Schwarber" on a legal pad over and over again. Doodling pictures of Kyle Schwarber lifting a car above his head. Accidentally telling his wife, "I love you too, Kyle" before hanging up. You can understand the fascination.
And you think there’s no way. The Cubs will have five more years of thunderous, galooty power, a special kind of power, the kind that makes other teams supremely jealous. They’ll get their slugger back next year, and almost all of the important pieces of their lineup will be laughably young. This will be the Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey of lineups, a Howard-Utley-Rollins combo with an extra cleanup hitter stuffed in the middle. All they need is health.
The argument for a deal is powerful, though. More powerful than you think. And it goes like this:
The argument for trading Kyle Schwarber to get Andrew Miller
First, this presumes that the Yankees blow off all of the other offers and give the Cubs an ultimatum. In theoryland, the Cubs have the prospects to trade for any reliever in baseball. In practice, this is the reliever they want, and the Yankees might get in a staring contest with them.
Brian Cashman, calling Kyle Schwarber’s phone, then hanging up when he answers.
If the Cubs blink, it’s because they’re having the visions, too. They’re picturing Andrew Miller coming out in the seventh inning of a Game 7, having his own mini-Bumgarner moment. They’re picturing teams panicking throughout the postseason because they’ll know they have to get to the starting pitchers before the sixth inning is over.
They’re picturing this happening for the next two years. They’re picturing a parade. What would a parade look like for the Cubs? A billion people, probably. Abraham Lincoln crawling out of his tomb and introducing all of the players. Theo Epstein crowdsurfing over the sea of people until he reaches a pillar of light and disappears. It would be a party, is what I’m saying. And there isn’t a single player on the trade market who could make it likelier to happen than Miller.
Is he a guarantee? Nope. Postseason history is littered with sad closers and disappointed relievers, from Dennis Eckersley wishing he threw a fastball to Mariano Rivera allowing Tony freaking Womack to start a Series-ending rally. There is a distinct possibility of Miller not getting to that fabled Game 7, instead getting hung up two rounds earlier on a wonky Game 2 that leads to a rough Game 3 that leads to a quick exit.
Also, a solar flare could wipe us all out between now and then, so, no, nothing is guaranteed. But if you want the Cubs to assemble the best possible team between now and the World Series, this is the way to do it. Schwarber won’t help. He’s frozen in carbonite. The Cubs would be taking an inactive asset and swapping it with the best possible asset. If they weren’t tempted during the days of a .700 winning percentage, you can be sure they’re tempted now.
Then you get to the idea of how imperfect of a fit Schwarber is for the Cubs. It would be one thing if they had a 32-year-old placeholder at first base, but they have a 26-year-old All-Star and perennial MVP candidate. Schwarber isn’t much of a catcher, either, which is a big deal in the pitch-framing era. That leaves left field, and his serious knee injury has to have tinkled on whatever optimism the Cubs might have had for him there.
There have been no-win situations like this in the past. Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda. Jim Thome and Ryan Howard. Benito Santiago and Sandy Alomar, Jr.. Ozzie Smith and Jose Uribe. If the Cubs aren’t confident in Schwarber’s ability to fit, what would they trade him for? Prospects? Oh, those are nice, but the Cubs don’t need more birds in the bush right now. They’d prefer one in the hand. A real ill-tempered and snappy falcon, if possible.
It’s possible that Miller would be the best possible return, not in terms of WAR or potential WAR, but in terms of timing, clear need, and the odds of realizing the expected reward from such a deal.
At the very least, there is a logic behind it. More so than there should be.
The argument against trading Kyle Schwarber to get Andrew Miller
That argument is that what Schwarber did a year after leaving Indiana is rare. The kind of rare where you keep trying him in left field until his cleats catch on fire because his bat is just that special.
A year after swinging aluminum bats against pimply teenagers, Schwarber was in the majors, crushing home runs. Patience? He had it. If he showed off a 13 percent walk rate in Double-A that season, he still would have been a top prospect. He did it in his first spin in the majors.
Power? Of course he had it. I will stop and watch this every time it’s in front of me, even in the middle of traffic.
It’s not just a young hitter with power. It’s a young hitter with special power. And it’s not just a young hitter with special power, it’s an extremely young hitter with special, in-game power that arrived after just a few hundred minor league at-bats.
That would be the kind of player a team might trade to another team with a similar logjam. The Mets for a starting pitcher (once they’re all healthy). Maybe the Rays for Chris Archer, or even the Astros for Alex Bregman. That’s the kind of deal you expect for someone as rare as Schwarber.
A 31-year-old reliever? Even one as good as Miller? That deal seems like it would be a team mooning baseball history. The only reason the Cubs would even consider it is that baseball history has spent the last century mooning them.
This is not a hot take with a conclusion. I see both sides, the push of the present and the pull of the future. The Cubs can feel the urgency. They’ve felt that urgency for, oh, 100 years or so. And here’s the best player at the position the Cubs can use the most. All they have to do is trade someone who won’t even help them this year.
I’m not even a Cubs fan, and I can’t watch. There’s a chance the Yankees will blink. There’s a chance that the Cubs can put together the best deal without including Schwarber. But if they make the deal, can you blame them? And if they don’t make the deal, can you blame them?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to set a reminder to revisit whatever happens in five years and use the power of hindsight to write a fiery, unfair article. Good luck with all this, Cubs.
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