So it wasn’t exactly as dire as this for Kyle Schwarber when he was shipped up to Boston at the deadline in 2021, but he was suffering from a hamstring injury that delayed his debut for Boston until August 13; a Friday night at Fenway Park. He went 0-2 with two walks and two runs scored from the sixth spot in the lineup. It was an okay start for the hard-hitting lefty, but what he did the rest of the way is really what matters.
Over the 41 games he spent with the Red Sox in 2021 during the regular season, he hit .291 with an OPS of .957. We all know that Schwarbs is no Freddie Freeman, but, all in all, it was a solid showing for the 28-year-old and the Red Sox would do well to snatch him back up.
For Comparison’s Sake
Here is the premise: The Red Sox need somebody who can be a first-base stop-gap for next year and then take over as the team’s primary DH after J.D. Martinez leaves (and, yes, I am assuming J.D. Martinez will leave). So that puts us at a three-to-four-year deal, preferably three years guaranteed with a fourth-year option structure of some sort. There are some guys under contract who may be on the move as well, Matt Olson for example, but the Red Sox seem unlikely to want to take on money and give up talent from a farm system that has finally crept back into the top ten in baseball. Olson to the Sox sounds great, but with how things are shaping up for this year and the next few, it makes less sense to make a trade than it does to sign a free agent.
The other players available that would fit this bill are Freddie Freeman, and Anthony Rizzo. All are at least three years older than Schwarber and come at very different price points. Before accepting his qualifying offer, Brandon Belt may have presented as a similar option, but he is now headed back to San Francisco for $18.4 million.
I don’t see Freddie coming to the Red Sox for several reasons. The first of which is that the Atlanta Team will likely, and absolutely should, re-sign him for whatever fair market value he commands. He is a franchise guy, a leader, and a heckuva ballplayer.
Another reason is that, regardless of Freeman’s offensive prowess and million-dollar smile, the Red Sox will not pony up the dough required to land him. While I hate them for not doing so for Mookie Betts, It’s the right call here. I’m not sure Freeman would be content being a DH (and he shouldn’t since he is tied for 3rd among all active players in fielding percentage at first base at .9953). On top of that, the organization does not need him blocking both Bobby Dalbec and Tristan Casas; young, talented hitters in the Red Sox system, poised to contribute to the big league club as soon as 2022.
There is, of course, the possibility of signing Anthony Rizzo If he does not wind up back in the Bronx. Three years older than Schwarber, however, the price tag to commit to Rizzo through his age 35 or 36 season just isn’t worth it for the Red Sox. This is especially true if you trust the Steamer projections for 2022:
It’s All About the Benjamins
It all boils down, as so many things in life do, to money. Show me the money. Follow the money. Money, money, money, money…MONEY! The first thing to know is where the Red Sox are at with currently committed payroll for 2022 and how close to the luxury tax threshold they are. This may become moot with the upcoming CBA reboot, but it is still worth considering at this point. At the moment, the Sox have total tax allocations of $183,250,000 which leave them $26,750,000 of competitive balance tax space. That is a significant number in terms of any new contract’s average annual value, especially if Boston wants to remain under the luxury tax threshold.
Money talks, so let’s dive a little deeper into that money. The logical place to go first would be historical contracts for players who become designated hitters for their prospective teams. The most prominent DH contracts for players who have gone through free agency are Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez, neither of which effectively helps us to contextualize Kyle Schwarber because of the talent and productivity gaps. Telling you that Cabrera will be making $32 million in 2022, comprising 38.86% of Tigers’ payroll is an interesting factoid, but gives us nothing useful in terms of reasonable parameters for a Kyle Schwarber deal because they are completely different players of completely different abilities seeking contracts at completely different times and stages of their careers. Same with J.D.
That being the case, it is far more helpful to use projections to get at an idea of upper and lower thresholds not only for Schwarber but also for other free-agent first-basemen currently on the market. This was done using two different methods for projecting these contracts and average annual values.
The first, based on information provided at spotrac.com, sets what might be considered a lower-end boundary. The second looks at value based on dollars/WAR and takes into account both 2021 fWAR and Steamer’s WAR projections for 2022. This is not an exact science, but it provides a nice upper boundary on the higher end. The numbers below land somewhere in the middle. Now, this is not an exact science, but at the very least it should show the relative costs from one player to the next.
Freddie Freeman will command somewhere in the neighborhood of five years. Perhaps more if Atlanta truly wants to lock him up, perhaps one less if the AAV is huge for a team with deep pockets like the Yankees. I would expect him to get in the neighborhood of $30-35 million per year on a five-to-six-year deal. There’s no way the Sox are giving him five years and $175 million. The Yankees might. Atlanta should.
Anthony Rizzo is looking at $21-22 AAV. A contract in the realm of four years would make sense, perhaps with some sort of mutual option for around $25 million for a fifth. There is mutual interest between the Yankees and Rizzo in working something out and a four-year, $86-90 million deal is certainly not out of their reach. It also makes it far more than either team needs to spend because Schwarber will likely be a good bit cheaper.
Kyle Schwarber should command around $14-15 million. At that rate, lock him up for four or five years. Having him under control through 2026 with a chance that he has not yet peaked is an exciting idea. If you look at a five-year, $75-$80 million you are getting maybe 80-90% (with the potential of 100-110%) of Rizzo for a much better price:
Kyle, Strong Like a Bull
It is fair to ask about Fenway Park as a more permanent home for Schwarber. People think it is a left-handed hitters’ haven because of Pesky’s Pole (the right field foul-pole name for a Boston legend that sits just 302 feet from home plate). However, the stadium goes straight back from there and, since hitting a ball directly down the line and smashing it off of a pole is not a discrete or repeatable skill, Fenway Park is not a great hitters’ park for left-handed batters.
That is, of course, unless you hit the ball so hard and so far that the distance is rendered largely meaningless. I would like to submit exhibit A:
The exit velocity on this bomb was 110.3 mph with a 31-degree launch angle which deposited it 435 ft from where he struck the ball.
Here’s another off of the Astros in the ALCS:
This one had an EV of 114 mph, a ridiculous launch angle of 37 degrees, and covered 430 feet; I think you get the point. When you hit the ball as hard as Schwarber, the park factor is almost a non-factor. In the end, we all know that Kyle is not Freddie. He may not even be Anthony. He is, however, a better bargain than either and, therefore, makes far more sense for the Red Sox to bring back. Use him to fill in some gaps. Use him to teach the kids. Use him as a leader in the clubhouse.
Ship Kyle back up to Boston.
Photos by Getty Images/Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerGuyBoston on Twitter)