After helping the Red Sox make it to the American League Championship Series last October, Kyle Schwarber has yet again taken center stage in Major League Baseball’s postseason.
Schwarber clubbed a National League-best 46 home runs and posted an .827 OPS in 155 regular season games for the 87-75 Phillies. The 29-year-old slugger then went deep three times in five games during the National League Championship Series against the Padres. He is now preparing to play in his second career World Series.
While Schwarber is set to bat leadoff against Justin Verlander and the Astros in Game 1 of the Fall Classic at Minute Maid Park on Friday night, the Red Sox are left to wonder what could have been.
Boston acquired Schwarber from the Nationals in exchange for pitching prospect Aldo Ramirez last July. At that time, the left-handed hitter was dealing with a right hamstring strain, but he quickly made his impact felt once he was healthy.
In 41 games with the Red Sox down the stretch last year, Schwarber batted .291/.435/.522 with 10 doubles, seven home runs, 18 RBIs, 34 runs scored, 33 walks, and 39 strikeouts over 168 plate appearances. He put up those numbers while receiving a crash course on how to play first base and also saw playing time in left field, his natural position. When J.D. Martinez needed a day off or played the outfield himself, Schwarber slotted in as Boston’s designated hitter on 14 separate occasions.
Though Schwarber was undoubtedly productive in his time with the Red Sox, he also added value in other areas. Whether it be by embracing the role as a clubhouse leader or connecting with fans on a personal level, the Sox had more than one reason to be interested in a reunion with the artist formerly known as “Kyle from Waltham.”
It was a given that Schwarber would decline his mutual option for 2022, which he did in November in order to become a free agent. Around that same time, however, Martinez opted in to the final year of his contract, which essentially locked him in as Boston’s regular designated hitter for one more season.
Rostering Martinez and Schwarber — two defensively limited players — would have posed a problem for the Sox this season. In theory, first base was an option for Schwarber, but the club liked what they saw from Bobby Dalbec during the second half of 2021 and was well aware that top prospect Triston Casas was about to be knocking on the door.
That left left field as the only real possibility for Schwarber in Boston. But chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. elected to improve their outfield defense last winter by trading Hunter Renfroe to the Brewers in exchange for Jackie Bradley Jr. and two prospects.
Right after that trade happened, a league-wide lockout went into effect that prevented clubs from negotiating with free agents, let alone communicate with their own players who were already under contract. Once the work stoppage was lifted in March, it did not take long for Schwarber to find a new home.
On March 16, Schwarber agreed to a four-year, $79 million deal with the Phillies. Shortly after that news broke, Bloom took questions from reporters at JetBlue Park. He was unsurprisingly asked about Schwarber’s decision and the reported price it took for the Phillies to land him.
“We stayed in touch with him the whole way,” Bloom said, via MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo. “Ultimately, you want to make sure it actually aligns in terms of term, in terms of price, with other things you might be able to do not just now but over the course of the whole time you might have him. Ultimately, we just thought it was to a level that didn’t make sense.”
Earlier this week, WEEI’s Rob Bradford reported that the Red Sox’ offer to Schwarber was in the range of $39 million over three years. The Phillies, led by old friend Dave Dombrowski, offered Schwarber significantly more with an extra year attached.
Both Bloom and Schwarber have raved about the latter’s time in Boston on numerous occasions, yet the two sides could not come to an agreement before Schwarber ultimately signed with Philadelphia.
“In such a short time, he became an incredible part of this team, very beloved in the region,” Bloom said. “And he’s a great fit for Philly.”
Schwarber, for his part, told The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham on Thursday that he wanted to remain with the Red Sox., but he felt as though the feeling might not have been mutual.
“We had talks, but I wouldn’t say it got deep with the way things were shaking out,” said Schwarber. “Don’t get me wrong; I loved my time there. I loved the team; I loved [Alex Cora] and I loved the coaching staff. I still talk to them to this day. But it just didn’t happen.”
Four days after losing Schwarber, the Red Sox attempted to get some power back in their lineup with a splashy free agent signing of their own. Boston agreed to sign former Rockies shortstop Trevor Story to a six-year, $140 million deal and have him move over to second base.
Though Story provided exceptional defense at second base, injuries limited him to just 94 games in his debut season with the Sox. In those 94 games, the 29-year-old managed to hit just 16 home runs while posting a career-worst .737 OPS.
Schwarber, meanwhile, led the National League in homers and made his second straight trip to the All-Star Game. He also led all of baseball with 200 strikeouts and played poor defense in left field. But, as he showed in Boston, Schwarber’s value goes beyond how he performs on the diamond. Dombrowski and the Phillies recognized that.
“He’s got this folk hero way about him,” Philadelphia hitting coach Kevin Long told Abraham. “In Boston he was a big piece of that team and what they did last season. I knew there were chemistry issues [in Philadelphia] and I knew how important he was. He’s probably the most important piece of this whole thing because of how he’s brought the team together. I give him a lot of credit because it wasn’t easy.”
Hindsight is 20/20, but it seems the Red Sox whiffed by not pushing harder to bring Schwarber back. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here that Bloom and the rest of the front office can implement in order to have meaningful October baseball return to Boston next year and for the foreseeable future.
(Picture of Kyle Schwarber: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)