Change is finally here for the Cubs.
After months of speculation on which member of the core might be leaving, the first domino fell on Wednesday as left fielder Kyle Schwarber was non-tendered.
Schwarber was entering the final year of his contract before entering free agency next winter. The 28-year-old outfielder had a career .230/.336/.480 slashline over six seasons in Chicago to go along with 121 home runs. After what appeared to be a breakout 2019 season that saw him his a team-high 38 homers with a 122 OPS+, Schwarber was one of many Cubs position players that struggled at the plate in 2020.
“It was a hard conversation,” 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 Jr. was also non-tendered on Wednesday, which was MLB’s non-tender deadline. Almora slashed .271/.309/.398 over five seasons with 28 homers. Most of his appearances came in a platoon role or as a defensive replacement.
Both Schwarber and Almora Jr. 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 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 besides Kris Bryant.
Drafted as a bat-first catcher, Schwarber’s power and plate discipline always drew rave reviews, even getting occasional, while also 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 Jr.
The Cubs’ core has struggled to maintain consistent production over the past four years and has been an issue Hoyer and former president Theo Epstein identified as organizational shortcomings in the past.
According to MLB Trade Rumors arbitration projection, Schwarber was set to make roughly $8 million in arbitration this year.
Almora Jr. and Schwarber should both have interests on the open market and depending on the future of the designated hitter in the National League, that expands the market for left-handed power like Schwarber.
Other non-tendered players included right-hander Ryan Tepera and DH/1B Jose Martinez. Martinez struggled after being acquired at the July 31 trade deadline from Tampa Bay. The 32-year-old first baseman went hitless in 22 plate appearances. Tepera was one of the more effective relievers out of the Cubs’ bullpen and was second on the team with 21 appearances.
The Cubs also agreed to terms with right-handers Colin Rea and Dan Winkler and lefty Kyle Ryan and tendered contracts to five arbitration including Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, Ian Happ and Victor Caratini and Willson Contreras.
With the non-tender deadline now past, 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 a normal offseason.