One tricky bit of backdrop against which the Cubs have to proceed this month to hopefully add a solid, steady, veteran, short-term bat is that they have a solid, steady, veteran, short-term bat who might be returning to them as soon as one month after the Trade Deadline.
Ben Zobrist left the team earlier this year as his family works through personal challenges tied to a divorce. The Cubs have suggested that Zobrist, who is not currently being paid, might return at some point this year after a ramping back up period, but they’ve been reluctant to put any certainty on it for obvious reasons. In the meantime, the Cubs availed themselves of the additionally available funds to sign closer Craig Kimbrel.
So, then, with funds kinda used and another bat possibly on the way, how exactly does it all work out if and when Zobrist is ready to return? Short answer: don’t worry about it. If Zobrist returns, it’s likely to be in September when rosters have expanded, so there’s virtually no consideration whatsoever about double-dipping on additions. Who knows what Zobrist will be able to contribute at that point, or what might have happened to the Cubs in the interim. Good to have more productive, steady bats than fewer for the stretch run and postseason.
Financially, the Cubs have said there is no connection between the Kimbrel signing and the hoped-for Zobrist return (i.e., now that they’ve signed Kimbrel, Zobrist’s salary returning to the books will not preclude the Cubs from welcoming Zobrist back). Moreover, the Cubs don’t necessarily need to add a lot of salary this month to make useful additions, and I suspect there is still at least some funds reserved for trades.
In other words, I don’t get too worked up thinking about whether Zobrist’s possible future return is going to preclude the Cubs from making necessary moves this month. Certainly, Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein have been crystal clear about wanting to improve the offense sooner rather than later.
With that understanding, then, we can all just root for Zobrist to return as soon as is appropriate for his family situation.
To that end, Epstein still isn’t going to say precisely what will happen with Zobrist, but he’s become more definitive this week than he’s been before (Sun-Times): “We expect him back later this year. We have sort of a soft understanding of when that might be, but I don’t want to put a timetable on it or overly rely on it, either. I think we’re all looking forward to having him back if that’s able to happen.”
ESPN previously reported that the timeline, per a source, was likely September.