Theo Epstein wanted it out there in the media, offering up a quote to beat writers last week at Citi Field, saying how he’s looking forward to Kyle Schwarber hitting a big home run in a Cubs uniform early next season.
The Cubs were in New York to play the Mets, but the Yankees still move the needle, perhaps quietly floating the idea that it would take Schwarber to swing a deal for All-Star reliever Andrew Miller.
Schwarber heard the message loud and clear during his grueling recovery from knee surgery, even if he never discussed that part of his future directly with the president of baseball operations.
“You got to know in your own mind that rumors are rumors,” Schwarber said Wednesday inside the Wrigley Field clubhouse. “There’s always going to be rumors, and things are going to happen, but I’m going to worry about being a Cub. I can’t worry about any of that stuff.
“I’m going to worry about my rehab. I’m going to worry about this team and them winning a World Series.”
Beyond the complications in trying to move a player who underwent a procedure on his left knee that reconstructed the ACL and repaired the LCL after an outfield collision in early April, the trade speculation didn’t account for Epstein’s connection to Schwarber.
[SHOP: Buy a Kyle Schwarber jersey]
An executive who tries to stay emotionally detached believes Schwarber will someday become the leader of this team. A franchise built around youth and left-handed power won’t be selling a 23-year-old slugger who blasted 16 homers in 69 games last season and then hit five more during the playoffs.
For now, forget the talk about Schwarber being a better American League fit, because the Cubs saw more defensive upside/versatility as a catcher/outfielder than the industry’s conventional wisdom when they drafted him No. 4 overall out of Indiana University in 2014.
“It’s obviously nice that they feel like that about me,” Schwarber said. “I love this organization. I love this team. I want to stay here. But, obviously, things are out of my control. I take that to heart. It means a lot.”
Schwarber can now walk around without a crutch, and has been jogging and hopping underwater and watching the road games on TV. The Cubs allowed him to rehab in Chicago instead of the team’s Arizona complex, encouraging him to sit in the draft room and meetings with the pitching staff, more status symbols for a guy who’s only had one full season in professional baseball.
“You don’t pay attention to as much stuff when you’re playing,” Schwarber said. “You get the luxury of being on Twitter, I guess, trying to look at updates on what the team’s doing right now. But you get more respect for the game when you’re away from it.”
Epstein has already ruled out a return this year, hoping to see Schwarber in the 2017 Opening Day lineup. Cubs fans, of course, will dream about a Willis Reed moment in October.
“I’m going to work my butt off to get back as soon as I can, whatever the timetable is,” Schwarber said. “I want to do more, and I think that’s only a good mindset to have. And whatever happens, happens.”