Ben Zobrist could provide a spark in the second half, but the Chicago Cubs can’t bet on him being the missing piece after so long away from the team.
At long last, we know the fate of veteran utilityman Ben Zobrist. Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein spoke to reporters before Friday’s eventful loss in Milwaukee, laying out a tentative course of action for the 38-year-old.
"“We have complete and utter trust in Zo as a person and Zo as a professional,” Epstein said. “He knows everything that it takes, especially at his age, to play at a high level. Everything that it takes physically, everything that it takes mentally. If he tells us that he thinks he can give this a shot and that he has a chance to return and play at a high level, then we trust him.”"
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Zobrist could begin a minor league rehab assignment next week – with the only deadline that matters being Aug. 31. He must be reinstated by that day in order to be eligible for the Cubs’ postseason roster.
The announcement ended months of speculation and rumors that came in the wake of he and wife Julianna Zobrist filing for divorce. All season, Chicago has felt his absence in a big way, desperately needing depth at second base and in the outfield.
Even before his departure from the team, the two-time World Series champion looked like a shell of his former self, mustering just a .241 average – one year after he set a career-high .305 mark. Still, he posted a .343 on-base percentage in 99 plate appearances – which ranks sixth amongst Cubs players this season.
There’s no doubt that if he comes back and plays at a high level, having Zobrist back in the fold immediately makes this a better ballclub. But after months away from the diamond, it’s hard to know what we’ll see when he’s back on the field and facing live pitching.
With just days until the July 31 deadline, the Cubs, thankfully, don’t seem to be putting their eggs in one basket when it comes to Zobrist. Epstein is factoring in a potential return but is continuing to keep his eyes peeled for potential improvements.
"“There’s still some things that need to happen,” Epstein said. “He needs to have a successful rehab assignment and stay healthy. We factor it in. We hope to have great depth and that he’ll be a big part of that, but it’s not something we’re going to hang our hat on and say our position-player mix is completely settled because Ben’s going to attempt to come back for us."
Robel Garcia has been a pleasant surprise since coming up from Triple-A, but, all told, the Cubs bench has been a disappointment this year. David Bote has struggled, Addison Russell is now back in Iowa after a demotion and Daniel Descalso is essentially a waste of a roster spot at this point.
Hopefully, Ben Zobrist returns and has the chance to write the perfect ending to his big league career. That being said, you can’t bet on him to come in and hit .300 down the stretch. Chicago still needs to add to its bench depth to get back to October. Zo is just the icing on the cake.