NEW YORK – Let’s start with this boilerplate Theo Epstein quote and file it away for the next time Kyle Schwarber’s name appears on MLBTradeRumors.com or a fantasy-baseball proposal for the New York Yankees.
“I’m looking forward to Kyle Schwarber — who got hurt in a Cubs uniform and is working his ass off in a Cubs uniform — coming back and hitting a very big home run in a Cubs uniform sometime very early next season,” Epstein said.
The president of baseball operations clearly has a special bond with Schwarber, selecting the Indiana University catcher/outfielder with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft, back when the industry consensus made it sound like a reach. Schwarber helped ignite those champagne celebrations last year by setting a franchise record with five postseason home runs. Epstein felt sick watching Schwarber wreck his knee in an outfield collision during the first week of this season, allowing him to rehab in Chicago and hang out in the draft room, essentially viewing him as an untouchable player because of his left-handed power and leadership qualities.
The Mets are the defending National League champs — with all due respect, as Joe Maddon might say, quoting Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby character in “Talladega Nights.” But the Yankees might be the New York team the Cubs should focus on now.
While the Mets returned home to Citi Field on Thursday as a third-place team — six games behind Washington after getting swept at Nationals Park — the Yankees will be in no man’s land on July 1 at 39-39.
The Bronx Bombers now have another month to decide whether or not they will become trade-deadline sellers for the first time in a generation, how breaking up the Andrew Miller/Aroldis Chapman/Dellin Betances bullpen could set them up for the future. And what surrender would mean for a YES Network/Yankee Stadium/27 World Series titles business plan.
Epstein viewed Thursday’s action – the San Diego Padres flipped closer Fernando Rodney to the Miami Marlins while the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired right-hander Bud Norris from the Atlanta Braves – as more of a reaction to the July 2 international signing period (and Clayton Kershaw’s back injury) than a sign that the market would start to move quickly.
“We’re talking to clubs, just trying to see who might be available and where we might have matches,” Epstein said. “But there’s nothing real imminent. There’s usually a flurry of activity around (this time). Despite the trades today, I think it might end up being more of a slow-developing market. We’ll see. We’re not close to anything.”
Remember, the Cubs rebuilt their bullpen on the fly last summer with Clayton Richard (acquired for a dollar from the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate), Trevor Cahill (released by the Braves and Dodgers before signing a minor-league deal) and Rodney (a two-time All-Star the Seattle Mariners had designated for assignment).
While Schwarber-for-Miller buzz is great on talk radio and Twitter, for now the Cubs will go with the grab-bag approach, looking at internal options like Carl Edwards Jr. and Joel Peralta, hoping for good news on their Tommy John cases (Joe Nathan, Jack Leathersich) and waiting for Justin Grimm to get locked in again.
“It’s pretty rare that you rebuild a bullpen midseason through big-ticket items,” Epstein said. “Last year was actually more typical. They don’t all work out — that’s not what I’m saying. But if you have a plan and a process — and you’re willing to kind of cycle through guys (and) ride things out — you often get rewarded in the end.
“For a postseason bullpen, if you’re thinking that far in advance, you’re not talking about eight guys. You’re talking about three or four guys that you can lean on heavily. It’s being open-minded, being willing to let guys ride through their downturns and make adjustments, so that they can find it.”