CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs non-tendered 2016 World Series hero Kyle Schwarber on Wednesday, making him a free agent after six seasons with the team, while tendering a contract to 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant as well as shortstop Javier Baez and catcher Willson Contreras.
“He wasn’t surprised,” new Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said of Schwarber in a video call with reporters Wednesday night. “He was disappointed. Any competitor would be.”
Schwarber, 27, was in his final year of arbitration, but the team let him go rather than pay him around $8 million-$9 million next season. The Cubs have not ruled out bringing him back on a lesser deal, though.
“We’ll definitely keep the door open,” Hoyer said. “We’ll continue to talk about ways to bring him back. … We had a good conversation. He’s a Cubs legend. No question about that.”
Schwarber hit .230 with 121 home runs in 551 regular-season games, but he’ll be remembered for his playoff performances, during which he compiled a .981 OPS in 24 games.
He hit .412 in five games as the Cubs’ designated hitter in the 2016 World Series, which Chicago won in seven games over the Cleveland Indians. After missing all but two games of the 2016 regular season — and the ensuing playoff rounds — because of a knee injury, Schwarber came back to star in the World Series.
Manager Joe Maddon made him the Cubs’ leadoff hitter the following year, after Dexter Fowler left via free agency. Schwarber flopped in that role, hitting .190 with a .312 on-base percentage before spending time in the minors.
He rebounded in 2018 and 2019, hitting 64 home runs, but his shortened 2020 season didn’t go well. Schwarber hit just .188 with 11 home runs in 59 games.
The Cubs also said goodbye to another 2016 mainstay, Albert Almora Jr., who was demoted to the alternate site in 2020. And though there is speculation Bryant could be moved before next season, he was tendered a contract for 2021 that should pay him close to $20 million.
In addition to Baez and Contreras, the Cubs also tendered contracts to catcher Victor Caratini and outfielder Ian Happ. Those players, along with Bryant, will either negotiate a one-year or longer-term deals, or go to an arbitration hearing in February to determine their salaries.
Without fans in attendance at Wrigley Field, the Cubs said they lost between $125 million and $140 million in 2020. Front-office and baseball operations staff were let go in a series of cost-cutting moves, and a reduction in payroll was on the agenda for the team this offseason — along with an offensive makeover. The core group of players who won the World Series in 2016 had collectively stalled at the plate.
Schwarber’s release is the first major sign of both the payroll and personnel turnover. And it is the first major decision under Hoyer’s watch, after Theo Epstein stepped down with a year left on his deal.
Schwarber was the Cubs’ first-round pick, fourth overall, in the 2014 draft after attending Indiana University.