Change is finally here for the Cubs.
After months of speculation about which member of the core might be leaving, the first domino fell as left fielder Kyle Schwarber was non-tendered.
Schwarber, 28, was going into the last year of his contract before entering free agency next winter. He had a .230/.336/.480 slash line in six seasons with the Cubs to go along with 121 home runs. After what appeared to be a breakout 2019 season that saw him hit a team-high 38 homers with a 122 OPS+, Schwarber was one of many Cubs players who struggled at the plate in 2020.
“It was a hard conversation,” Cubs president Jed Hoyer said. “We’re definitely going to keep the door open. . . . I don’t think the door is closed, but we had a good conversation. He’s always going to be a Cubs legend; there’s no question about that.
“We’ve known each other for a long time. I don’t wanna speak for him, but I know I have the utmost respect for him. And it was a good conversation, but obviously with disappointment on both sides.”
Center fielder Albert Almora also was non-tendered on Wednesday, MLB’s non-tender deadline. Almora hit .271/.309/.398 in five seasons with 28 homers. Most of his appearances came in a platoon role or as a defensive replacement.
Schwarber and Almora helped the Cubs in their quest to capture the franchise’s first World Series in 108 years, but the overall body of work and production never came close to what the expectations were.
Almora was the first first-round pick of the Theo Epstein era (No. 6 overall in 2012) and at the time was viewed as the center fielder of the future. Schwarber might have had the most hype of any Cubs draft pick of the last decade other than Kris Bryant.
Drafted as a bat-first catcher, Schwarber had the power and plate discipline that always drew rave reviews, even getting occasional, hyperbolic Babe Ruth comparisons. The power was often on display after becoming a full-time outfielder in 2017, but the rest of Schwarber’s offensive profile never quite reached the ceiling the Cubs had for him.
But the lack of production is not necessarily specific to Schwarber or Almora.
The Cubs’ core has struggled to maintain consistent production the last four years, and that had been an issue Hoyer and former president Epstein identified as an organizational shortcoming.
According to MLB Trade Rumors, Schwarber was set to make roughly $8 million in arbitration this year.
Almora and Schwarber should draw interest in the open market, and a continued implementation of the designated-hitter rule in the National League would expand the market for Schwarber’s left-handed power.
Other non-tendered players included right-hander Ryan Tepera and designated hitter/first baseman Jose Martinez.
Martinez, 32, struggled after being acquired at the July 31 trade deadline from Tampa Bay. He went hitless in 22 plate appearances.
Tepera was one of the more effective pitchers out of the Cubs’ bullpen and was second on the team with 21 appearances.
The Cubs agreed to terms with right-handers Colin Rea and Dan Winkler and left-hander Kyle Ryan and tendered contracts to five arbitration-eligible players: Bryant, Javy Baez, Ian Happ, Victor Caratini and Willson Contreras.
With the non-tender deadline gone, the Cubs should start to get some financial clarity on what they can do this offseason.
Even with the Winter Meetings scheduled to begin virtually next week, activity isn’t expected to move nearly as quickly as in a normal offseason.