The Cubs placed utility player Ben Zobrist on the restricted list May 8 because of a personal matter, though it wasn’t clear whether they were still paying him. Almost a month later, Zobrist still hasn’t returned to the Cubs, but we now know the 38-year-old hasn’t counted against their books in his absence.
With Zobrist on a $12MM salary in 2019, the last season of a four-year, $56MM contract, Chicago has saved just over $2MM since he left the team, per Steve Greenberg of the Chicago Sun-Times. The Cubs will continue to save the same amount for each month Zobrist spends on the restricted list, Greenberg notes.
There’s still no word on whether Zobrist will return this season, but president of baseball operations Theo Epstein spoke about him Wednesday, saying (via Greenberg): “He’s been communicative with us. We have an understanding of what’s going on with him.”
“Families and personal lives come first — that’s the rule we run our organization by,” continued Epstein, who added that Zobrist “[doesn’t] owe us anything.”
If we judge Zobrist solely by the on-field value he has provided during his run with the Cubs, he truly doesn’t owe the club anything. Although he got off to a subpar start this season before he went on the restricted list, Zobrist has been one of the Cubs’ most valuable players for a large portion of his tenure with the team. And if Zobrist never suits up for the Cubs again, he may have indirectly left them a parting gift in the form of all-time great closer Craig Kimbrel.
The Cubs were able to reach an agreement on a three-year, $43MM deal with Kimbrel on Wednesday, in part because they’re not paying Zobrist. Chicago shied away from big-money additions in the offseason because of luxury tax ramifications, but Zobrist’s exit – whether temporary or permanent – helped give the World Series hopefuls the necessary spending room to win the long-running Kimbrel sweepstakes.