Imagine Kyle Schwarber Wearing a Houston Astros Uniform
In theory, the Houston Astros should NOT clean up their DH/1B situation by trading for another player that profiles as a strikeout-prone, power-first DH. But at the same time, the Astros can acquire one of baseball’s best young hitters without an astounding financial commitment or loss of young talent. Trading for Kyle Schwarber will help the Astros win now and in the future.
Despite only logging 273 PA, the 22-year old Schwarber established himself as a legitimate left-handed power threat with 16 home runs (5 of which were no-doubters), a .241 ISO, and a .487 slugging percentage. He also hit five mammoth home runs in nine playoff games, including one that will remain in Cubs lore for the foreseeable future.
It is difficult for the Cubs to part with one of the most talented young hitters in baseball, fresh off a historic, eye-opening October. It’s also difficult for one of the most talented young teams to retain a DH in the National League while their minors overflow with blocked talent. The Cubs’ pitching prospects pale in comparison to their abundance of young position players. Swapping an elite young hitter in Schwarber for an elite Astros pitching prospect solves positional logjam and creates new opportunities for both teams.
When compared to incumbents Chris Carter and Evan Gattis, Schwarber leads in ISO, BABIP, wRC+, slugging percentage, wOBA, OBP, OPS, and quality contact by substantial margins. Schwarber’s HR/FB ratio of 24.20% dwarfs Carter’s 18.9% and Gattis’ 16%. Couple that with his excellent contact quality and isolated power, and you have a perfect fit for the Astros’ boom-or-bust offense. His .293 BABIP beats out Carter’s .244 and Gattis’s .264, and his wOBA stands tall at .364 to .319 and .317 accordingly (worth noting: Gattis and Schwarber both finished with a .246 batting average). While he leads Carter and Gattis in BB%, he trails Gattis in K% at 28.2%. The strikeouts will be an issue, and Schwarber fared poorly against LHP in 2015, batting .143 with 2 HR. However, DHing will allow more time to refine his patience.
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Schwarber would be a much-needed left-handed power bat in a potent right-handed offense. He is a pull hitter, which doesn’t necessarily work as a disadvantage at Minute Maid Park. Additionally, Minute Maid eliminates Wrigley’s nightmarish wind factor, which would allow Schwarber to thrive in a hitter’s ballpark that generously rewards him for the occasional HR he pushes.
Acquiring Schwarber will give the Astros flexibility with Gattis. There is a lot of discussion about how Gattis’ second half meltdown has turned him into a non-tender candidate. The Astros gave up a lot to get Gattis (and James Hoyt), and it’s easy to forget that he was the team’s leader in HRs, RBIs, and, naturally, triples even after a bad second half. Leading the almost-ALCS-bound 2015 Astros in any of those statistics is a remarkable accomplishment. The front office is patient. 2016 should be a chance for Gattis to return to form, and if he struggles, bench him, trade him, or platoon him with Schwarber.
The Astros’ commitment to and abundance of young outfielders with above-average defensive peripherals and speed would suggest that Schwarber would not get too many chances in LF. With A.J. Reed, Jon Singleton, Luis Valbuena, and Marwin Gonzalez as viable 1B options, perhaps Chris Carter is the odd man out. Carter should fetch the Astros plenty in trade return despite the up-and-down 2015. If we presume that Carter is traded, the Astros could even experiment with Schwarber at 1B.
Schwarber could be the Astros’ long-term DH solution, and, perhaps more importantly, he would not block anyone in the Astros’ farm system. He is only 22 and is flourishing. The Cubs took him fourth overall in the 2014 draft, and there’s no question that the Cubs adore him. The bigger question for Chicago is how he fits into their long-term plans, and if he is to be traded, how to maximize his value.
The Astros have some standout pitching prospects that could tempt the Cubs. Packaging Scott Feldman with one of these prospects could be an option. Feldman’s 2013 stint in Chicago is perhaps more memorable for netting Jake Arrieta than for a quality half of a season, but he could provide solid stability to the back-end of a vicious Cubs rotation while netting Chicago a new young arm. Both teams solidifies their present and their future, and any money absorbed by the Cubs should make the retention of Gattis and acquisition of Schwarber even more enticing.
Editor’s note: It will take a large package to trade for Schwarber, it would be like someone trying to trade for Springer. The Astros may not be willing to trade multiple young players for one player, but if Schwarber is not really a good catcher and doesn’t succeed in the outfield, look for the Cubs to eventually trade him to an AL team, similar to Gattis to the Astros.
It would be very interesting to see how a Schwarber trade would unfold over the next few years, especially with the increasing possibility of an Astros/Cubs World Series. Things could get hairy with two of the brightest front offices in baseball, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.