HOUSTON — Red Sox outfielders hit 39 home runs this season, the fifth fewest in the majors. Kyle Schwarber hit 45 playing left field for the Phillies.
In related news, the Red Sox have been home for three weeks after finishing in last place and the Phillies play Game 1 of the World Series on Friday night.
Schwarber said Thursday he wanted to stay with the Sox after helping lead the team to the American League Championship Series in 2021. But it was clear to him the feeling wasn’t mutual.
“We had talks, but I wouldn’t say it got deep with the way things were shaking out,” he said. “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.”
Should the Red Sox have kept Schwarber?
When the 2021 season ended, the Sox had Alex Verdugo, Kiké Hernández, and Hunter Renfroe in the outfield with Bobby Dalbec at first base and J.D. Martinez as the designated hitter.
Dalbec was coming off a season that saw him post a .792 OPS with 25 homers and 78 RBIs.
There was no apparent fit for Schwarber, who has been primarily a left fielder during his career.
The Sox traded Renfroe to the Brewers on Dec. 1, but took back outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and two prospects.
After the lockout lifted, the Phillies came to a four-year, $79 million agreement with Schwarber on March 16.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said at the time the Sox were in contact with Schwarber but that deal wouldn’t have “made sense” for the team.
Four days later, the Sox made a six-year, $140 million deal with Trevor Story to play second base.
All of the Red Sox moves backfired. Bradley, who was under contract for $12 million, opened the season as the everyday right fielder, lost the job in June, and was released in August.
Dalbec regressed dramatically and also lost his job in June. Story had a career-worst .737 OPS and played only 94 games because of injuries. The power they expected from him never materialized.
The Sox ended the season with Verdugo in right field and journeyman Tommy Pham in left.
All the while, Schwarber was crushing baseballs.
But the statistics were only part of the story. The Phillies recognized Schwarber’s presence in the clubhouse being a needed ingredient to help transform an underachieving roster.
“He’s got this folk hero way about him,” Philadelphia hitting coach Kevin Long said. “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.”
Schwarber has played eight seasons in the majors and been to the playoffs seven times with the Cubs, Red Sox, and Phillies. Those are all franchises with demanding fan bases and a lot of media attention.
Players who thrive under those conditions — and help their teammates do the same — have a value that can’t be quantified by statistics.
“He’s making $20 million a year; that’s a lot of money,” Long said. “Obviously, he’s paid for how he swings a bat mostly. I don’t know what his value is. But I can tell you this team wouldn’t be here without him.”
The power and those intangibles come at a price. Schwarber led the majors with 200 strikeouts, was a poor defender in left, and his OPS fell from .928 to .827.
The Red Sox were open to the idea of wedging Schwarber onto the roster this season, knowing the long-term fit would have been fairly seamless with Martinez’s contract coming to an end. They valued his presence, too.
But at $20 million a year, that made less sense. Particularly given their goals of improving the team’s defense and athleticism.
Seven months later, Schwarber will bat leadoff against Justin Verlander in Game 1 of the Series.