As Joe Maddon suggested earlier this week, the Cubs are operating without a sense on the timing of any possible return this year from Ben Zobrist, who is currently away on the restricted list as he deals with a personal matter.
GM Jed Hoyer confirmed as much on The Score today, explaining that Zobrist has not given any indication either way about not returning at all, but that, “He needs the time right now to be with his kids and his family. It’s not really on our timetable. We’re in communication with him. Obviously, we support him, but as far as a sense of timing, we don’t have that at this point. And I do feel like it’s a hard one. Because with a player on the injured list, you have a sense of what’s going on. In this situation, we’re just being respectful of Ben and we just want the best for him and his kids. Hopefully he can come back and help us. But I think we just have to give him his time and talk to him when he wants to talk and just be there for him.”
It genuinely seems like a situation where everyone involved on the outside of Zobrist’s family is simply trying to afford him the space to work through this period in his life, and no one knows anything about what exactly that will look like or how long it will take.
In the meantime, the Cubs have to proceed as though Zobrist will not return (hence, among other things, bringing in extra veteran depth in the form of Carlos Gonzalez), but they are not going to get into the financial details about how Zobrist’s absence will impact the budget.
Hoyer deflected when asked by The Score whether an early retirement by Zobrist would mean extra money for the Cubs to spend on other team needs this year:
Jed Hoyer pushes back at the notion of the #Cubs saving money on Ben Zobrist's contract and turning around and using it on bullpen help: "I don't think people should connect those issues."
— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) May 30, 2019
Once again, there is so little we really know about the situation, and the subject of a player’s salary at a time when he’s in the middle of divorce proceedings, is a particularly thorny topic.
Even if Zobrist being on the restricted list or retiring would mean a significant difference in the Cubs’ 2019 baseball operations budget, there’s just no way Hoyer was going to get into it today. It could risk sounding like he’s cheering on the opportunity for the Cubs to have more flexibility, which is absolutely not something they would actually put out there (or even feel, necessarily, as a healthy and effective Zobrist is such a key piece of this team). Heck, even if you were a cynical monster, you would say that it doesn’t benefit the Cubs in any future negotiations to tell the world that they now have more financial flexibility than they thought they were going to have.
As for us, I do think it’s important to note that there are potential financial ramifications to all of this for the Cubs, but I am reluctant to suggest to you that we’re ever really going to know what’s what as things proceed. It remains vastly more important that things go well for the Zobrist family, including their small children, and we all might just have to resign ourselves to that position, almost exclusively. In other words, the financial questions matter to the Cubs, but we may never know how much or in what direction they cut, so let’s just hope things work out well for Zobrist and his family, such as it can.
And if, in conjunction with that process, Zobrist is able to return and contribute to this year’s Cubs team, all the better.