While the Yankees were widely considered the favorite for Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani, New York's exit from the sweepstakes may have the club reconsidering their options. According to New York Daily News columnist John Harper, the Yankees are showing interest in Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber.
Schwarber, 24, is one of the most polarizing assets in the major leagues. He was drafted primarily as a catcher out of Indiana University in 2014, but poor athleticism has relegated Schwarber to left field for most of his big league career. After a strong rookie season in which Schwarber slashed .246/.355/.487, the former top-20 prospect (according to Baseball America) missed all of the 2016 regular season due to ACL and LCL tears, and has failed to regain his stride.
While Schwarber excited fans worldwide with his .412/.500/.471 slash line in the 2016 World Series, the 20-plate-appearance sample size didn't carry over into 2017. Schwarber struggled through the first half last spring, bottoming out with a demotion to AAA Iowa in late June. His second half was certainly stronger, but Schwarber's final numbers for 2017 are lackluster: 486 PAs, .211/.315/.467 AVG/OBP/SLG, 30 HRs, 59 RBIs, 150 Ks.
Scouts and fans alike have long persisted that Schwarber's bulky physique played best in the American League, where the slugger could serve as a full-time designated hitter. The Yankees employed veteran Matt Holliday in the DH spot for most of 2017, but Holliday produced a below-average 95 OPS+ and struggled to get on-base consistently. That said, Schwarber's 2017 OPS+ and OBP numbers are similar to those of Holliday's, but the two outfielders are headed in opposite directions. As Holliday nears retirement, the Cubs (and, apparently, the Yankees) believe Schwarber can begin trending toward his lofty talent ceiling once more. The Cubs have been rumored as willing to trade big league assets to upgrade their pitching staff, and New York can afford to move from their plethora of major-league-ready arms.
It's unknown how either the Cubs or Yankees value Schwarber on the trade market, but he's under team control through 2021 and certainly would not come cheap, despite his 2017 struggles. The Cubs most definitely don't want to trade Schwarber at his lowest value, but there's nobody truly blocking Schwarber from the everyday DH role in New York. The Cubs have officially been chosen as one of seven finalists for Ohtani, however, so don't expect a deal between New York and Chicago to be imminent. Once the Japanese phenom has found his new home, host stove activity should pick up significantly. For now, we wait.