The Nationals have some holes to fill in their lineup, and Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post reports that the club has interest in the recently non-tendered Kyle Schwarber. However, in contrast to earlier reports, the Nats aren’t pursuing an even bigger name in infielder DJ LeMahieu, according to Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe.
Given the uncertainty over how much the Nats are willing to commit towards payroll in 2021, this news could be further indication that D.C.’s spending may be somewhat limited this offseason. LeMahieu will command a hefty multi-year deal, while Schwarber could potentially be available on just a one-year contract. Teams such as the Twins, Angels, Yankees, and Blue Jays have also been linked to Schwarber, but it remains to be seen how this fairly substantial amount of interest will translate into new deal for the former fourth overall pick.
Schwarber hit only .188/.308/.393 over 224 plate appearances in 2020, a far cry from his .245/.347/.503 slash line over 1120 PA in 2018-19. Though he was still making plenty of hard contact, he had some bad luck on that contact in the form of a .219 BABIP, and he was also making less contact in general with a 29.5% strikeout rate (his highest in three seasons.
Between that dropoff at the plate and a below-average (-2.5 UZR/150, -3 Defensive Runs Saved) performance in left field, Schwarber was only worth 0.4 fWAR in 2020. Schwarber earned $7MM last season and was projected to earn a healthy raise in arbitration, leading the Cubs to just part ways with Schwarber entirely at the non-tender deadline as Chicago looked to cut back on payroll.
Assuming a return to his pre-2020 form, Schwarber would add some much needed left-handed hitting pop to the Nats’ lineup. He could be slotted into left field (with Juan Soto moving to right) if the National League doesn’t have a DH spot available in 2021, though Dougherty notes that such a move wouldn’t help the Washington improve its defensive issues in the outfield. This is just my speculation, but it’s at least possible the Nationals could explore using Schwarber as a first baseman, as Washington also has a need at that position and Schwarber has worked out as a first baseman before, though he played first base only once in the majors and in two minor league games.
Naturally, LeMahieu would have been a bigger upgrade from both a hitting perspective and a defensive perspective, as he has posted MVP-caliber numbers over the last two years with the Yankees and could be utilized at first, second, or third base. The Yankees and Blue Jays have been the teams most closely linked to LeMahieu’s market thus far, though the Astros and Mets also rumored to have at least some interest.