The Washington Nationals, historically early players in free agency, made a move on Saturday morning by signing Kyle Schwarber to a one-year, $10 million deal, according to Jeff Passan of ESPN. The pact is pending a physical.
Outfielder Kyle Schwarber and the Washington Nationals are in agreement on a one-year, $10 million deal, sources familiar with the situation tell ESPN. First with the deal: @dougherty_jesse.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 9, 2021
The deal comes as a surprise for various reasons. First of all, Schwarber was widely expected to sign with an American League team to serve as a designated hitter, where he likely would be the best fit. Instead, he lands with the Nationals, who are preparing to employ him in left field while shifting Juan Soto to right field.
The second reason why this deal raises eyebrows is the terms. While one year is a fair length for Schwarber, the $10 million he is due is significantly higher than many projections. Schwarber was non-tendered by the Chicago Cubs in December, but if he had been retained, he likely would have landed roughly $8 million in arbitration. (MLB Trade Rumors used three models to project $7.01 million, $9.3 million, and $7.9 million salaries for Schwarber, good for an average of $8.07 million.)
Schwarber, a former first-round pick of the Cubs, has been a reliable presence in Chicago for several seasons. In each of his past four seasons, he appeared in at least 79.6 percent of games. That number jumps to at least 84.5 percent of games in each of the past three campaigns.
The Indiana product carries a career .230/.336/.480 slash line in 551 career games. He has 279 RBI on 416 hits, including 121 home runs and 71 doubles. Schwarber, who led all of baseball with 20 intentional walks in 2018, owns a 13 percent walk rate and 28 percent strikeout rate. He has a .267 BABIP, .343 wOBA, and 113 wRC+ while carrying 9.5 fWAR.
For each of the past two seasons, Schwarber has ranked in the top five percent in baseball in terms of exit velocity. In 2020, he finished in the top 17 percent in both hard-hit percentage and walk rate while posting a strikeout rate that put him in the bottom 15 percent.
Schwarber was a valuable member of the Cubs franchise, but his lack of speed and outfield prowess makes this deal an eyebrow-raiser. Nevertheless, Schwarber heads to the National League East where he’ll align in left field, moving Juan Soto to right field.