Kyle Schwarber blocks out trade speculation to focus on recovery with Cubs

Kyle Schwarber blocks out trade speculation to focus on recovery with Cubs

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.”

Podcast: Cubs pass the first test in midst of crucial stretch

Scott Changnon

Podcast: Cubs pass the first test in midst of crucial stretch

On the latest CubsTalk Podcast Scott Changnon and Tony Andracki discuss the state of the Cubs offense, the value of Javy Baez and Addison Russell and what it means now that the starting rotation looks to be finding its form.

With 17 games in 17 days (most of which come against contending teams), the Cubs started things off right with a series victory in St. Louis.

Listen to the entire podcast here:

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

ST. LOUIS — It's night and day watching the 2018 Cubs compared to the 2017 version.

Even with the injury to Javy Baez Sunday night, the Cubs are in a way better spot now than they were a year ago.

On June 17 of last season, the Cubs sat at 33-34 with a run differential of just +6.

They looked flat more often than not. "Hangover" was the word thrown around most and it was true — the Cubs really did have a World Series hangover.

They admit that freely and it's also totally understandable. Not only did they win one of the most mentally and physically draining World Series in history, but they also ended a 108-year championship drought and the weight of that accomplishment was simply staggering. 

The 2018 iteration of the Cubs are completely different. 

Even though they didn't finish off the sweep of their division rivals in St. Louis Sunday night, they're still only a half-game behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and for the best record in the league. A +95 run differential paced the NL and sat behind only the Houston Astros (+157), Boston Red Sox (+102) and New York Yankees (+98) in the AL.

Through 67 games, the Cubs sat at 40-27, 13 games above .500 compared to a game below .500 at the same point last summer.

What's been the main difference?

"Energy," Joe Maddon said simply. "Coming off the World Series, it was really hard to get us kickstarted. It was just different. I thought the fatigue generated from the previous two years, playing that deeply into the year. A lot of young guys on the team last year.

"We just could not get it kickstarted. This year, came out of camp with a fresher attitude. Not like we've been killing it to this point; we've been doing a lot better, but I didn't even realize that's the difference between last year and this year.

"If anything, I would just pinpoint it on energy."

Of course the physical component is easy to see. The Cubs played past Halloweeen in 2016 and then had so many demands for street namings and talk shows and TV appearances and Disney World and on and on. That would leave anybody exhausted with such a shortened offseason.

There's also the mental component. The Cubs came into 2018 with a chip on their shoulder after running into a wall in the NLCS last fall against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have a renewed focus and intensity.

But there's still plenty of room for more. The Cubs aren't happy with the best record and run differential in the NL. They know they still haven't fully hit their stride yet, even amidst a 24-13 stretch over the last five weeks.

"I think we've been pretty consistent," Jon Lester said. "We've had some ups and downs on both sides of the ball as far as pitching and hitting. But the biggest thing is our bullpen and our defense has been pretty solid all year.

"That's kept us in those games. When we do lose — you're gonna have the anomalies every once in a while and get blown out — we're in every single game. It's all we can do. Keep grinding it out.

"Our offense will be fine. Our defense and the back end of our bullpen has done an unbelievable job of keeping us in these games. And if we contribute as a starting five, even better. 

"You have the games where our guys get feeling sexy about themselves and score some runs. That's where the snowball effect and we get on that little bit of a run. I feel like we've been on a few runs, it just hasn't been an extended period of time. I don't have any concerns as far as inside this clubhouse."

Lester hit the nail on the head. The Cubs sit at this point with only 1 win from Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood struggling with command and low power numbers from several guys including Kris Bryant.

Throw in the fact that Joe Maddon's Cubs teams always seem to get into a groove in August and September when they're fresher and "friskier" than the rest of the league and this team is currently in very good shape for the remainder of the year. 

If they can get 3 wins away from the World Series after going 33-34, the sky should be the limit for a 2018 squad that's in a much better position 67 games in.