Posted on September 1, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
Most teams aren’t able to add players to their roster for the final month of the season. But the Chicago Cubs are going to be an exception to that, adding utility man Ben Zobrist back to their roster before the calendar flipped to September. Zobrist, who was a World Series hero for the Cubs in 2016, has been away from the club since May but will be back with the Cubs on Sunday and look to help them return to the postseason.
On May 8, the Cubs placed Zobrist on the restricted list while he was going through a divorce. In early August, Zobrist was ready to get back to baseball. He began a minor league rehab assignment, essentially re-doing spring training. With rosters expanding on Sunday, it’s the perfect time to bring him back to the majors. However, the Cubs technically took him off the restricted list Saturday night so that Zobrist will be eligible for the postseason if the Cubs make it.
Before going on the restricted list in May, Zobrist was off to a sluggish start offensively. After hitting .305 in 2018, Zobrist hit just .241 with an OPS of .596 during the early part of 2019. The 38-year-old also hit just .189 in 12 minor league rehab games across four levels. However, he did draw eight walks and had four extra-base hits, helping him produce a respectable .739 OPS during his time in the minors.
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Of course, the Cubs know what they’re getting with Zobrist. He’s a veteran hitter who Cubs manager Joe Maddon has praised for his patient approach and plate discipline. In fact, Maddon may utilize Zobrist in the leadoff spot during the final month of the season.
“Normally, he doesn’t expand the strike zone,” Maddon said of Zobrist. “One thing that we’re getting a little bit better at more recently is to not do that, but he’s always been the guy that sets that example when he leads off the game, and I’ve always loved that.”
In addition to being a professional hitter, Zobrist also gives the Cubs defensive flexibility. However, with the Chicago outfield filled to the brim after the addition of Nicholas Castellanos in late July, Maddon will primarily utilize Zobrist at second base. The Cubs already have several options at second base, including Ian Happ, Addison Russell, and Tony Kemp. But all three can be used at other positions. Also, none of the three have stood out offensively, opening the door for Zobrist to claim the spot if he can get on track offensively.
“Baseball-wise, he’s a great at-bat every time he hits,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said of Zobist. “I don’t care if he takes five years off. He’ll come back and be able to work an at-bat. … We’re getting a very special player back to this organization and city that’s been gone for a while.”
At age 38 and after being away from baseball for nearly three months, Zobrist won’t be an everyday player for the Cubs down the stretch. But he’ll likely get a chance to start a couple of games a week and come off the bench. Zobrist also brings a veteran presence to the Chicago clubhouse. With the Cubs battling to hold onto their Wild Card spot while also trying to catch the Cardinals atop the NL Central, Zobrist could be a key figure in September. In such a tight race, every little bit will help, and the addition of Zobrist for the final month could end up paying off for the Cubs.