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For generations, the Chicago Cubs were a novelty act of losing. They were the anti-Harlem Globetrotters, not just losing all the time, but doing so comically, reliably, even lovably in some people’s minds, though not mine.
So in 2016, when they finally won the World Series, I feared that that would just become part of the schtick, the lovable losers finally win. Charlie Brown finally kicks the football, and it’s a 60-yard, Super Bowl-winning field goal. How long would they try to live off of that?
All of this is to explain my feelings about the Cubs not tendering an offer to Kyle Schwarber on Wednesday. They are letting him go. Schwarber, who’s just 27, was a big part of the Chicago Cubs’ legend and family.
And here’s the thing: I’m so glad to see him go. It shows that the Cubs aren’t happy just being lovable. Schwarber became a massive Babe Ruthian, all-or-nothing, homer-or-strikeout player. The Cubs have too many of those, meaning they have more than one. And it is exactly that high-risk, low-reward style that has kept the Cubs from doing more than losing early in the playoffs each year.
Schwarber hit .188 in 2020 and has hit .229 in the four seasons since the World Series. Getting rid of him is a statement that the Cubs are a real team now. Winners into the future.
Cubs teams from the past would have built marketing campaigns around a guy like Schwarber. The fans love him. The fans in the left-field bleachers connect with him. He looks like a Chicagoan, and he’s basically a Chicago sports legend.
Now, he’s gone. And I hope he hits .270 and 40 home runs next year, no matter where he is. He actually might. But for the Cubs right now, this team, the fastest route back to the World Series does not include another guy like Schwarber.
It’s cold-hearted, I know.
So is winning.
The team is moving forward. The architect of that 2016 team, Theo Epstein, already left the Cubs a few weeks ago. GM Jed Hoyer was promoted to president and left with cleaning up the mess and getting the Cubs back to the World Series.
The Cubs’ core needs a shakeup. It doesn’t come through in the clutch anymore. It doesn’t seriously threaten for the World Series. Epstein had to trade away the best prospects and the future to get it done the first time. Now the Cubs have some over-priced non-performers and very little in the minor leagues.
Hoyer has to start over.
Schwarber was Epstein’s first first-round draft pick. He not only was a member of that World Series team, but he was also an inspirational part of it. He blew out his knee, tore his ACL, just as the season started and was told his season was over. Rather than going off somewhere to rehab, he stuck around to be near the team, showed up in the dugout, sat with Epstein in the suites.
When the Cubs went to the National League Championship Series, Schwarber’s doctors cleared him. He went to the Arizona instructional league for a handful of at-bats and then showed up for Game 1 of the World Series, starting as designated hitter, batting fifth.
In the fourth inning, he doubled off the right field wall and became the first position player in Major League history to get his first hit of the season in the World Series.
Sporting a body that resembles that of a lot of Chicagoans, filled with Chicago pizza and beef sandwiches (not at the same time. . . usually), Schwarber hit .429 in that World Series and even stole a base.
During that season, the New York Yankees tried to trade for Schwarber, but Epstein said Schwarber was untouchable, the centerpiece of the future.
Schwarber was expected to command between $8 and $9 million next season. And if the Cubs were just looking for a salary dump, following a season without ticket revenue and an upcoming one with questions, then that’s too bad.
That could be what happened, too. The Cubs do cry poor a lot, even though that’s a big lie. But I don’t think that’s what this is. The Cubs need some guys who get their bats on the ball and find ways to get on base. We’ll see soon whether they go get those guys.
Schwarber was a major part of the best moment in Cubs history. That’s going to last forever. But if you’re about winning, and not just a novelty act, your focus has to be ahead.
One CommentLeave a Reply
Good assessment, Greg. Love Schwarber, but the Cubs have way too many Ks in the lineup. An AL team will hit the jackpot with this guy as a DH.
As much as I hate to say it, Bryant is the next guy they need to drop. He’s got to put it back together in 21. He can’t stay healthy, and isn’t consistently putting up the power numbers he should even when he has been in the lineup.