McNutt, who played at Double-A Tennessee last year, was caught off guard by the rumors.
"My agent called and told me I wasn't going to get traded, and a week later, said I was getting traded," McNutt said Monday at Fitch Park, where he's still in a Cubs uniform. "I didn't know what to think. It was kind of crazy. You just never know what's going to happen in this game. Anything can happen at the last minute."
It still could happen. The Cubs and Red Sox have yet to resolve compensation, having turned the matter over to Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig in mid-January. By that time, Epstein had revamped the Cubs front office, bought a home in Chicago and traded Carlos Zambrano, among other things.
"Who knows who they'll have to give them?" McNutt said. "It could be anybody in here."
The right-hander isn't afraid to check his phone for messages.
"My agent was like, 'Just wait it out. If it happens, it happens. You'll either be pitching with a 'C' on your cap or a 'B,''" McNutt said.
When Andy MacPhail left the Twins to join the Cubs, the Cubs sent Class A pitcher Hector Trinidad as compensation. Trinidad never made it to the big leagues.
When McNutt first heard the rumors, he admits it was a little hard to focus during the AFL.
"I tried to block most of it out," he said. "I just wanted to know where I was going to be. It doesn't really matter. I finished the Fall League strong. I hope to pick up where I left off and keep going."
In his last start Nov. 14 for the Mesa Solar Sox, McNutt went four innings and gave up two hits while walking a pair. What was most encouraging, and what McNutt is carrying into this spring camp, is that he's healthy. He had a blister problem in his first start with Tennessee. Three weeks later, he had another blister. Some of his outings were shortened because of rain.
"Just a lot of things didn't go my way and there's nothing you can do and there's nothing you can control about it," McNutt said.
It's not as if McNutt broke a mirror or walked under a ladder; it was just bad luck. He bruised his ribs in a freak collision with Josh Vitters on May 28.
"It was my best outing of the year," McNutt said of the game against Mississippi when he gave up three hits over seven scoreless innings.
But there was a popup and the first baseman called McNutt off, so the pitcher went to the third-base side of the mound to get out of the way. Then he ran into Vitters, who was playing third.
"I didn't know I was that hurt until the next couple days and I couldn't move," McNutt said. "I could barely throw. It was terrible."
He tried to pitch despite the pain, an act he now admits was because he was a little hard-headed.
"Everything I could hurt is out of the way," McNutt said.
For the season, he was 5-6 with a 4.55 ERA. In 2010, McNutt got the Cubs' attention by posting a combined 10-1 record and 2.48 ERA in 25 starts at three levels of the Minors.
His name hasn't been the only one mentioned as possible compensation for Epstein. The Red Sox have reportedly asked for starter Matt Garza, outfielder Brett Jackson and Vitters. McNutt, a 32nd-round pick in 2009, just shakes his head.
On Sunday, McNutt threw a side session and, coincidentally, Epstein was standing behind him, watching the right-hander.
"He's a good dude," McNutt said. "I met him [Sunday]. I like him a lot. He's a pretty good guy. All of them -- [general manager Jed] Hoyer, all of the front-office guys are real good dudes."
Did they talk about whether or not McNutt needed to pack his gear?
"[Epstein] said, 'Don't worry. If it happens, it happens. It's going to work out for the best for you, it's going to benefit you,'" McNutt said. "That's a good thing."
This spring, McNutt's goals are simple.
"I'm going to try to stay off the DL all year this year," McNutt said. "That's my goal. Stay off the DL and get 150-plus innings."
"I don't care if it's a 'C' or a 'B' [on the cap]," he said. "Whatever works out for them. It's not my choice. It's their decision, not mine. Well, it's Bud Selig's decision now."