LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Trade Kyle Schwarber? Don’t trade him?
How about this one: Put him back in the leadoff spot for the Cubs next season.
The collective groan from Cubs fans could be heard in the rush of Twitter activity in response to manager Joe Maddon’s apparent embrace of the idea during his media session Tuesday at the Winter Meetings.
“Schwarber obviously could lead off, if he is hitting like Schwarber,” Maddon said, “if he’s accepting his walks and he’s got his .250-plus batting average — his on-base is going to be 100 points over his batting average, I really believe that.
“I definitely will consider that once again, but I want to see who all the available candidates are first.”
With the Cubs focused almost exclusively on pitching, the only guy anyone seems to want to talk about is the young hitter who struggled most of last season after starting with a failed seven-week experiment in the leadoff spot.
Other general managers have asked if the Cubs will trade Schwarber. Other officials from those teams have asked Chicago media about him.
And just when it seemed like everybody was done talking about how svelte the fireplug slugger looked in those pictures he posted from his workouts recently, Schwarber was spotted in the lobby of the Winter Meetings hotel Tuesday afternoon.
Why he drove up from his winter workout headquarters in Tampa and what he thought of Maddon’s latest comments he wouldn’t say, declining interviews and meeting with general manager Jed Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein before taking care of some business and returning.
“It’s hard not to want to play right now listening to him,” Hoyer said of Schwarber’s enthusiasm during his on-a-mission winter to improve on a disappointing .211 season that began with that .170 leadoff start that led mostly to a midseason demotion to the minors.
“Give him credit. He did something about it,” Hoyer said. “And it’s so obvious when you look at him what great shape he’s in. I love the fact that he drove over here to show it off. I don’t blame him. I probably would, too.”
For all the trade speculation — fueled in part when Epstein said in October he’s willing to consider trading from his hitting core for pitching — Schwarber doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
“He’s always been someone that teams have had interest in,” Epstein said. “But we have probably the most interest in.”
He did hit 30 home runs last season. And his 59 walks in 486 plate appearances did push his on-base percentage past Maddon’s 100-point magic mark above his batting average.
But leadoff? Isn’t that how that whole slump thing started last year?
“I know there’s a lot of stuff written about that,” Maddon said of the failed leadoff experiment. “It was only failed in the sense that Kyle had a tough time last year. He could have hit 1-through-9 and still had a tough time last year. It just was not his year, although he rebounded really nicely [.253 average, .894 OPS after the demotion].”
Hoyer wasn’t signing up for another trip to the top of the order for Schwarber, but he seemed careful not to rule it out after the manager’s comments, either.
“There’s zero way to prove why he struggled last year,” Hoyer said. “It could have been leadoff; it could have been something that was going to happen if he was batting fifth.
“I think it’ll come down to talking to him, Joe and Kyle having an honest conversation, like, ‘Would this bother you? Be honest, don’t tell me what I want to hear,’ that kind of thing.’’
Another layer to the issue is that the Cubs don’t figure to add anyone this winter for that spot in the order as they focus on pitching.
But then again, Maddon said he’s “not really drawn a lot of conclusions” about his leadoff spot.
“Obviously, we’ve still got to see what the team’s going to look like in its entirety.”
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