The Cubs have been without utilityman Ben Zobrist since May 8 as he deals with a divorce, but they’re “open” to welcoming him back “later in the season,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein told Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago.com and other reporters Thursday.
If the 38-year-old Zobrist does return in 2019, it’s “likely” to come toward the end of the season – possibly in September – a source tells Rogers. Notably, the Cubs won’t have to pay Zobrist for however long he stays away from the team. The club has already saved upward of $2MM since Zobrist’s leave began, and it’ll continue to pocket the same amount per month while he’s out. The money the Cubs haven’t had to shell out for Zobrist helped them sign free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel to a three-year, $43MM contract last week.
The Kimbrel addition has been a benefit of Zobrist’s disappearance, yet it’s not surprising that Epstein is hopeful the respected veteran will return. The four-year, $56MM contract the Cubs handed Zobrist entering the 2016 season likely stands as one of the smartest moves Epstein has made atop their baseball department. The switch-hitting, defensively versatile Zobrist has been one of the Cubs’ MVPs for a sizable portion of his tenure, and he played an important role in their drought-breaking World Series championship during his first year in their uniform.
Now in the last season of his deal, Zobrist did get off to a slow start on the field while dealing with a distracting situation off it. He opened 2019 with a .241/.343/.253 line (69 wRC+), no home runs and a nearly nonexistent .012 ISO in 99 plate appearances before going on the restricted list. If Zobrist does return toward year’s end and the contending Cubs are in position to clinch another postseason berth, he may need to log much better numbers than he has so far in order to earn a spot on their playoff roster. Fellow Cubs second basemen David Bote and Addison Russell have recorded far superior production to Zobrist in 2019, while the same holds true for the corner outfield-capable group of Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber and even the just-added Carlos Gonzalez.