After a World Series that almost turned him into a cartoon character — and a roller-coaster beginning to this Cubs season — Kyle Schwarber went to Disney World with his girlfriend to escape during the All-Star break.
Schwarber still “briefly” heard about a rumor that linked him to the Detroit Tigers in a possible deal for All-Star pitcher Michael Fulmer — last season’s American League Rookie of the Year — before Cubs president Theo Epstein made top prospect Eloy Jimenez the centerpiece to the blockbuster Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox.
“After last year,” Schwarber said, “it’s just eyewash until it really happens.”
That’s when Epstein made Schwarber untouchable in trade talks, reassuring the player privately and sending a clear message through the media. Even as Schwarber recovered from season-ending surgery (cough) and the New York Yankees dangled Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller as the final pieces to end the 108-year drought.
“That stuff doesn’t really take a big effect on me,” Schwarber said. “From experiencing it last year — whenever that came up — it was just like in one ear and out the other.
“I know that the game of baseball is crazy. It does a lot of things to you. Trust me, I know.”
Schwarber laughed at that line in the middle of a season where he’s hitting .177 with 14 home runs and thinking about a .000 mental reset after getting demoted to Triple-A Iowa in late June, the Cubs hoping his explosive left-handed power and gung-ho personality can reenergize the lineup and the clubhouse.
“I just take it day to day,” Schwarber said. “I can’t worry about things I can’t control. The only thing I can control is when I’m in the box, and when I’m playing defense. And worry about my teammates — that’s the biggest thing that I can do. I want to be out there every day, cheering this team on and contributing with this team and getting back to the ultimate goal.”
[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]
Jimenez is only 20 years old and still waiting for his first at-bat at the Double-A level, so it’s not like he would have taken Schwarber’s spot in a crowded corner-outfield rotation anytime soon.
But Jason Heyward is a Gold Glove defender with a $184 million contract that runs through 2023. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist has two more seasons left on his $56 million deal. The Cubs have viewed Albert Almora Jr. as their center fielder of the future (but don’t want to play him every day now). Ian Happ might have gone from trade chip to core player with his 13 home runs and the defensive versatility shown during a strong rookie season.
“Look, I think we’ve done no shortage of things to demonstrate our faith in Schwaber over the years,” Epstein said, explaining the Quintana deal. “I’d read that this particular transaction is a show of faith in the group as a whole.
“(Schwarber’s) a significant part of the group. But we like our position-player group. Right now, we’re doing the best we can to juggle and get enough at-bats for guys. If we thought less of this position-player group as a whole — with Schwarber a big part of it — it would have been harder to trade Eloy.
“It’s not as if there’s no scenario in which we could have found a spot for (Eloy) to play. That’s not the case. But we think this group’s going to be here and be together for years to come. It allowed us to entertain the notion of trading (Eloy) if the right deal for a pitcher came along.”
There will be more rumors before the July 31 trade deadline, but nothing should seem quite as daunting or unnerving as recovering from what first looked like a potential career-threatening knee injury, or storming back from a 3-1 deficit in the World Series.
The decision could be “buy, buy, buy” if the Cubs keep playing like this, winning their first four games out of the All-Star break, climbing above .500 and heading into Tuesday night only 3.5 games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers.
“Nothing’s ever going to be easy,” Schwarber said. “It’s not just going to be handed to us. We got to play better baseball. As I know from last year, nothing’s given to you. You got to work your butt off to get what you get. This group that we have here is very, very, very capable of getting back to where we want to be.
“I wouldn’t want to go out with any other baseball team and compete. These guys are one of a kind and we know what we got here. It’s not a panic time. But we know what we need to do.”