The Philadelphia Phillies and veteran slugger Kyle Schwarber weren’t able to reach a free-agent deal before baseball’s owners chose to lock the players out Thursday, but one insider believes that the two sides could still ultimately come together once a new collective bargaining agreement is in place.
Robert Murray of FanSided had this to say regarding the Phillies pursuit of Schwarber on the latest episode of “The Baseball Insiders”:
“A point that I want to mention too with Schwarber is that he’s a perfect fit in Philadelphia. He can be a leadoff hitter, which is something they desperately need. Their hitting coach is also Kevin Long, who is the one who unlocked everything with him with the Washington Nationals and basically changed his career. Those guys are extremely close. And I believe the interest there was very mutual, but a deal did not happen. As I said earlier, it always comes down to finances, and that’s why a deal was not reached. But that is going to be one that’s firmly on my radar when the CBA is eventually agreed to.”
On Monday, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported that the Phillies “remained in pursuit” of Schwarber, who homered 32 times and posted a .928 OPS in 2021. But because a deal wasn’t reached before the lockout began, both sides will have to wait to potentially hammer out a contract because there is currently a major league transaction freeze.
Whenever the transactions freeze is eventually lifted, the Phillies will be left to negotiate with a player set to turn 29 in March that Barry Jackson and Craig Mish of The Miami Herald say is targeting a three-year deal “in the $60 million range.”
Such a deal would seemingly be pretty reasonable. While a $20 million average annual value would be a bit higher than anticipated, three years is less than many expected Schwarber to sign for at the outset of the offseason. Over on Audacy Sports, I predicted that Schwarber would sign a four-year/$65 million deal. MLB Trade Rumors projected a four-year/$70 million deal for the former World Series Champion. Ken Davidoff of The New York Post had Schwarber pegged at $80 million over five years.
It should be noted that under the previous CBA, average annual value — not a given year’s salary — was what determined how much a player counted towards the luxury tax threshold. So if Schwarber signed for $20 million per year, that wouldn’t leave the Phillies a ton of room left to play with if the threshold doesn’t rise much higher than the $210 million mark that it was at in 2021. Phillies Nation‘s Destiny Lugardo estimates that after the signings of Corey Knebel and Johan Camargo, the Phillies have $28,047,052 of space to work with under last year’s luxury tax threshold. To this point, the franchise has never exceeded the threshold.
The Phillies, though, need a starting left fielder. And both Michael Conforto and Nick Castellanos figure to command a similar amount of money per season (at least), likely on longer-term deals. Signing either Conforto or Castellanos would also require that the Phillies surrender their second-round pick in the 2022 MLB Draft and $500,000 of international bonus pool money, because both declined qualifying offers. Schwarber wasn’t eligible to receive a qualifying offer because he was traded from the Washington Nationals to the Boston Red Sox during the 2021 season.
During his time with the Nationals, new Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long helped to revive Schwarber’s career, after he had been non-tendered by the Chicago Cubs last offseason. The Nationals also found out that Schwarber — despite not being a prototypical fit for the position — was very effective as a leadoff hitter. In 101 at-bats hitting first in the lineup in 2021, Kyle Schwarber slashed .297/.385/.832 with 17 home runs, 30 RBIs and a 1.216 OPS.
Long admitted last month that he believed one of his former star pupils in D.C. would be a good fit for the Phillies:
“Well, I do think he’d fit the Phillies,” Long said. “I’m a Kyle Schwarber fan, I think the world of this guy. [He’s a] baseball junky, baseball rat … [he] loves to talk baseball, he loves to talk hitting.
“There were just some things that I thought he could do better and when we addressed it in the offseason, we attacked it pretty firmly. I thought he got really upright in his stance. I thought he started creating a lot of forward movement. He wasn’t staying behind the ball well. He was pretty much long to contact, as I would explain it. And I thought there was a lot more in the tank, and we started addressing those issues.
“And midway through the first half, he caught fire. I mean, you guys saw it. [Nationals manager] Davey [Martinez] inserted him into the leadoff spot and he went crazy. I mean, it was to the point where guys didn’t want to miss the first pitch of the game because they thought he might go deep. And he was doing it, every single day it seemed like he was hitting a home run.
“But he’s a remarkable player, a great clubhouse guy and somebody you want on your team. And when he started putting together those offensive numbers, at that point, he became one of the best players in the league.”
Perhaps at some point in early 2022, the transaction freeze will be lifted and the Phillies will be able to work out a deal with Schwarber.
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