The Rundown: Schwarber Stays at AAA, Lester Says Cubs Can ‘Use a Boost’ from Trade

“I wouldn’t expect it to be too much longer,” Cubs player development director Jaron Madison said Tuesday of Kyle Schwarber’s AAA stint. “He still has some things to work on and get some at-bats. The at-bats I saw were in control and he was driving the ball the other way.”

That’s why, despite reports that the Cubs were probably going to bring him back to Chicago to finish out the first half, the World Series hero was on a bus to Oklahoma City. I didn’t see any of his four plate appearances Tuesday, but I agree with Madison that the swing has looked more balanced and it appears as though Schwarber’s timing is a little better. Most important, though, is his confidence level.

I think that’s a big part of why the Cubs sent Schwarber down and why they’re keeping him there for a while, with the brief road trip being part of that. It’s nice to have a friendly, comfortable environment in which to thrive and get your head right, but that’s not the way things are going to work all the time at the top level. While OKC isn’t necessarily a litmus test for Schwarber’s progress and doesn’t offer much in the way of a hostile crowd, the eight-hour trip there isn’t fun.

Or maybe hopping on a bus with his temporary teammates is exactly the sort of thing that will get Schwarber back to who he was. He looked to be no worse for wear in Tuesday’s game, going 1-for-3 with a walk. The numbers themselves aren’t spectacular, but it’s how he compiled them that I think is encouraging to the Cubs. After taking a five-pitch walk in his first trip, Schwarber lined a 2-0 pitch to center for a single.

His next two at-bats resulted in outs, but it was nice to see a fly to center and a grounder to short. Well, okay, it was less the results themselves and more how he got them. Showing the ability and willingness to go to all parts of the field is a sign that Schwarber is getting back to what the Cubs want to see. Of course, the pessimists among you could argue that he was simply late on those respective pitches. Maybe that’s all it was.

Barring any unforeseen developments, I’m sticking with my initial guess that Schwarber remains with the I-Cubs for the remaining five games in the first half. Now he could…could…hop a flight from OKC to ORD after Wednesday’s game and could be in the Cubs’ lineup Thursday. Or he could make that same trip Thursday rather than bus back to Iowa. But would that really make sense given the fact that they had him make the road trip in the first place?

No, I have to think it’s still in Schwarber’s best interest to have him continue putting it all together in AAA, then have another chance to decompress and reassess during the All-Star break. When the Cubs open the second half in Baltimore, he’ll be rested and ready to go. In addition, the DH gives Joe Maddon a chance to manipulated the lineup a little more easily.

Lester likes trades

After a 6-5 loss in which he and his team were unable to dispatch the bottom of the Rays’ order with any consistency, Jon Lester talked about the psychology of bringing a new player into the clubhouse via trade.

“You can always use a boost,” the ace lefty said Tuesday after looking decidedly un-ace-like. “That’s always a positive in a clubhouse.

“Any time that the front office believes, ‘Hey, this piece will help us get over that hump,’ that’s always a boost to the clubhouse. Like I said last year when we were rolling: ‘If we don’t make a move, we feel good about ourselves. If we make a move, we still feel good about ourselves.’”

The thing is, though, the Cubs may not be in position to make the types of impact moves that will make a difference this season. The overall mediocrity of the NL Central means that they’re not in any hurry to count themselves out, but the competitiveness of would-be partners like the Rays make it unlikely the Cubs will be able to get anything done there. Other options exist, of course, and we recently confirmed that Justin Verlander was on the radar.

However, additional reports saying that the Tigers wanted a huge return and for the acquiring team to pay the entirety of Verlander’s ~$70 million in remaining salary pretty much threw that out the window. The Rays’ willingness to move Chris Archer was doubtful already, but it’s highly unlikely they deal him at this point. All of that might provide more leverage to the A’s, who could flip Sonny Gray for a nice haul.

What you have to look at here is the impact any one move, or even two, will have on the Cubs in both the near and long terms. Even the splashiest deal for a starting pitcher doesn’t immediately put them over the top in even their own division, though that’s not really the goal. I mean, sure, it would help them if they’re able to finally break through and get to the postseason. But a big move now is really more about jumping the free-agent market and cutting down on the spending they’ll eventually have to do there.

They’d also be building for next season, when this still-intact core should yet be primed for another run. All that said, the most realistic option at this point seems to be a mid-to-late rotation guy who isn’t going to cost much in terms of prospects or salary. Think someone like Baltimore’s Kevin Gausman, a 26-year-old with three more years of club control whose gaudy (in a bad way) numbers this season make him a potential buy-low candidate.

Hmmm, sounds really familiar.

I’m not sure he’s even available, but Baltimore is 8.5 games out of the division race and 3.0 out of the Wild Card. Should they find themselves further back by the end of the month, they might want to start making some moves.

More news and notes

  • Cardinals lefty Zach Duke has moved up to high-A ball to continue rehabbing from Tommy John surgery last year
  • Sean Rodriguez could return to Atlanta’s active roster by the end of the month
  • Freddie Freeman played 3B in his first game back from the DL, going 1-for-4 with a K
  • Former Brewer Chris Carter has been DFA’d by the Yankees again, shortly after being DFA’d, accepting an outright to AAA, and being called back up
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