WASHINGTON — Now that they’re both with the Washington Nationals, Kyle Schwarber recalls joking around with Dave Martinez when both were with the Chicago Cubs – Schwarber a slugger, Martinez a bench coach.
“He goes, `Whenever I get a manager’s job, you are going to come over, and you are going to play for me,”‘ Schwarber recounted. “And now it’s come to fruition.”
The power-hitting outfielder who had a big 2019 and a disappointing 2020 signed a one-year contract with Washington for 2021 that guarantees him $10 million, and Schwarber said Saturday his relationship with current Nationals skipper Martinez was “a big factor.”
“Davey was a huge influence on me in baseball,” Schwarber said, noting that Martinez helped him make the transition from catcher to outfielder in Chicago.
“I love him. I’m so excited to be playing for this guy. I know he’s a baseball guy. He cares about his players,” Schwarber said. “He loves winning. He only wants to win.”
Schwarber will make $7 million this season and the contract includes a mutual option for 2022 that would be worth $11.5 million if exercised or guarantee a $3 million buyout if not.
Schwarber was able to sign with any club after becoming a free agent last month when he was non-tendered by the Cubs. He was a member of their drought-ending 2016 World Series championship team – and Martinez was on then-manager Joe Maddon’s staff at the time – hitting .412 in the Fall Classic after missing much of that season with an injured left knee.
He was taken by Chicago with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 amateur draft and has proven to deliver homers and strikeouts in bunches.
“It’s always going to be a special place in my heart, especially because of 2016 and what we did there,” Schwarber said, but acknowledged he was “definitely disappointed” to be non-tendered.
“It’s not the way I wanted to leave my tenure in Chicago,” he said.
The 27-year-old Schwarber struggled at the plate during the pandemic-truncated 2020 season, hitting .188 with a .701 OPS. He earned $2,596,296 prorated of a $7.01 million salary.
A year earlier, he produced 38 homers and 92 RBIs, a .250 batting average and an .871 on-base plus slugging percentage, all career highs.
“I don’t put much stock into (2020), just because I know it’s not a representation of myself. But at the end of the day, you need to look back and kind of find out what was going wrong there and find those tweaks and go from there,” he said. Coming off of ’19, it was a great year for me, and then 2020 wasn’t the best, but I’m going to learn from that.”
Schwarber could take care of two needs that Washington general manager Mike Rizzo outlined heading into the offseason: a corner outfielder and a power hitter to help protect Juan Soto, the 22-year-old who was the NL batting champion last season, in the lineup.
“When you look at Soto, I mean obviously, I think he’s probably – I think he’s the best hitter in the game. I really do,” Schwarber said. “Even at his age, I think he’s one of the best hitters in the game.”
Unless the designated hitter rule is brought back to the NL in 2021, it seems likely that Schwarber would start in left field, with Soto sliding from that spot over to right field, where he saw a bit of time late last season.
This is Rizzo’s second significant attempt to boost the lineup, after making a trade to acquire first baseman Josh Bell, a 2019 NL All-Star, from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Like Schwarber, the 28-year-old Bell had a career year in 2019 – 37 homers, 116 RBIs, .936 OPS – and slumped in 2020. Bell had a .226 batting average and .669 OPS last season.
The Nationals went 26-34 in 2020 and tied for last place in the NL East, a year after winning the franchise’s first World Series title.