Friday was a rough day for the Chicago Cubs, as they found out that they will be without slugger Kyle Schwarber for the remainder of the regular season.
The team got their first taste of the post-Schwarber life on Friday night, losing in walk-off fashion to the Arizona Diamondbacks, but even after one game without the outfielder, there is still one question on the minds of many fans: what comes next?
For the team, the short-term answer will simply be to have Jorge Soler get more action in the outfield. His strong playoff performance last season gave some hope to fans that he could become a consistent contributor to the team, but having Schwarber in the fold meant that he wouldn’t get into the lineup on a regular basis.
That will certainly change now, but there are still questions about his approach at the plate, but more importantly, there are questions about his fielding ability. Can he improve in that area enough to allow the Cubs to be satisfied with their outfield makeup?
Outside of Soler, the Cubs do have other options. Javier Baez did suffer a bit of a setback in his recovery from a thumb injury, but he figures to join the team sooner rather than later and has shown an ability to play in the outfield, as well as at three of the four infield positions.
Kris Bryant can also play some outfield, as he did on Thursday night when Schwarber was injured. He also played in right field for the Cubs’ wild card game win over the Pirates last season, so Joe Maddon will certainly utilize him in that role if he wants to give a guy like Jason Heyward or Dexter Fowler a day off.
The Cubs could also use a player like Ben Zobrist in an outfield spot. He was promised a regular role at second base this season, but with the injury to Schwarber, he’d certainly be a good candidate to play in a corner spot when necessary.
Aside from what the team will do on a day-to-day basis for the rest of the season, there are naturally questions about what this injury means for Schwarber’s future. Tearing two knee ligaments is always a tough rehab for a player, but when that player also had aspirations of being a regular catcher on the roster, then things get a bit more complicated.
Fortunately for the Cubs, they have a really good option in their minor league system if they end up deciding to pull the plug on the Schwarber-at-catcher experiment. Willson Contreras has a tremendous arm and great discipline at the plate, and he could be the heir apparent to the starting catcher’s job when Miguel Montero’s contract expires at the end of next season.
That would leave Schwarber to play the outfield full-time (or potentially learn a position like first base, so that he can give Anthony Rizzo occasional days off), and that’s where the real bad news is for the Cubs here. They have plenty of options to replace him in the lineup, but there are no real upsides to losing a year of development as an outfielder and as a catcher.
Schwarber is still plenty young and has a long career ahead of him even after his rehab is complete, but having to sit out a season is not ideal for learning these positions. That is the biggest shame of all of his for the slugger, and it will add an interesting wrinkle to his career as he tries to come back from his serious injuries.