The Kyle Schwarber journey has been a rollercoaster over the past couple of years. It was fairly steady from 2017 to 2019, as he was in a groove as the Cubs’ regular left fielder, playing at least 129 games and hitting at least 26 home runs each year. His wRC+ was between 103 and 119 in each of those three campaigns. 2020, however, went in a completely different direction. Over 59 games in the shortened season, Schwarber’s slash line was a meager .188/.308/.393, producing a wRC+ of just 89. There was reason to think it was a fluke, however, as his BABIP on the season was .219, well below his previous campaigns. Nonetheless, the Cubs decided to move on from Schwarber by declining to tender him a contract for his final year of arbitration control, sending the lefty away from the organization that selected him fourth overall in the 2014 draft.
He then went on to have arguably the best season of his career in 2021, between Washington and Boston. He slashed .266/.374/.554, en route to a wRC+ of 145, easily a personal best. His 3.1 fWAR was just slightly below the 3.2 he produced in 2018, though he played 24 more games that season compared to 2021. Based on that excellent campaign, Schwarber is sure to decline his half of the $11MM mutual option for 2022 that was part of his deal with the Nationals, taking the $3MM buyout instead and heading to the open market in search of a big payday.
But could the Red Sox sign him and bring him back? Schwarber tells Alex Speier of The Boston Globe that he’s open to it. “It’d be pretty stupid not to think about [returning],” said Schwarber. “My team here has been unbelievable. … If they feel like they would like to talk about [a new deal], I’d be all ears. I just think it would be stupid to ‘X’ someone off for no reason. Especially for a place like this, I’d be all ears.”
As Schwarber astutely points out, it would be silly for a free agent to eliminate any potential bidders for their services, especially publicly. So, it’s not terribly surprising for him to say he’s interested in returning. However, it would make for a potentially awkward fit. Schwarber was moved from his usual corner outfield position to first base with Boston, due to the Red Sox already having Enrique Hernandez, Alex Verdugo, Hunter Renfroe and J.D. Martinez on hand as outfield options. The switch wasn’t without hiccups, as Schwarber made a few obvious flubs in his time at first, and defensive metrics seemed aligned in their disapproval of his initial attempts at the position.
Although there is the designated hitter slot to think of, Speier’s piece says that Martinez is unlikely to opt out of the final year of his contract, meaning that bringing Schwarber back would give the club two bat-first players with defensive limitations. With Hernandez, Verdugo and Renfroe also coming back for 2022, it will still be difficult to make all the puzzle pieces fit. Schwarber will be one of the premier corner outfield options in this winter’s free agent market, meaning he should get plenty of interest without having to continue the first base experiment.
The Red Sox, for their part, could also turn to more-seasoned options at first, with Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo and Brandon Belt being the top names available. They could also let Bobby Dalbec have the position for now, as he’s been productive in his major league time so far. There’s also Triston Casas to think about. He’s considered a top-20 prospect in all of baseball, according to FanGraphs, Baseball America and MLB Pipeline. He finished 2021 in Triple-A and could soon force his way onto the big league roster. But a reunion between Schwarber and the Red Sox can’t be ruled out, as the slugger himself adds, “This is definitely a clubhouse that I could see myself wanting to stay in. These guys are amazing,” he said. “This is a World Series clubhouse, and I would love to hopefully see if that opportunity comes back.”
The Red Sox could have room for Schwarber from a financial standpoint as their current payroll for 2022 sits just under $160MM, per Jason Martinez of Roster Resource. Their opening day payroll in 2021 was just north of $180MM, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. However, the Red Sox could use their resources to address things besides first base, such as a pitching staff that is seeing Eduardo Rodriguez, Adam Ottavino and Hansel Robles head into free agency.