After a long Tuesday filled with rumors of signings and trades, a big one finally came to fruition for the Chicago Cubs who were able to land the highly coveted Ben Zobrist for $56 million over four years. Zobrist had been courted hard by the Mets who saw him as an important piece to stabilizing their infield but the Cubs, who failed to beat the Mets on the field in the NLCS, were able to best their National League competitors with not only a solid offer but also closer proximity to Zobrist’s off-season home in Nashville, TN and the chance to be reunited with Joe Maddon who managed him in Tampa Bay for the majority of his career.
This was a huge coup for the Cubs who seemingly came out of nowhere to steal Zobrist from the Mets, Nationals, and Giants who allegedly offered the free agent more money but not enough of the intangibles that the Cubs did. Zobrist, who has been known in the past as super-utility man and bench weapon, will assume the starting second basemen duties recently vacated by Starlin Castro. Zobrist has a career .265 batting average and figures to slot somewhere near the top of the Cubs lineup, possibly even lead off. His presence alone should help cut down on the Cubs strikeouts next season and one can only hope his discipline is contagious. There is some concern given his age (34) and the fact that he has a no trade clause through the first 3 years of the contract but the Cubs are betting that his impact these first 2-3 years will far outweigh any drop off he suffers by age 38.
This was an outstanding move by the Cubs and gives them another veteran presence to guide these youngsters through their “sophomore” year. He is also a proven winner having been a major contributor on the World Series Champion Kansas City Royals last year after coming over at the deadline from Oakland.
“Ben is a winning baseball player,” Theo Epstein said. “His offense, his defense, his baserunning. He’s been one of the more valuable players in the game for a long time.”
Maddon has to be overjoyed at the versatility Zobrist brings to this roster being capable of playing multiple positions infield and outfield, as well his ability to lead off and get on base. Combine that with Javy Baez’ flexibility and the Cubs have a plethora of situational substitutions that should prove to be a great advantage day in and day out over the course of the season and the variety of match-ups they will face.
In acquiring Zobrist it became clear that someone had to be moved given the cluster of infielders on the roster. The math just didn’t add up and Epstein found a suitable trade partner for the longest-tenured Cub on the team, Starlin Castro. Yes, it was sad to see Castro go given his desire to play for the Cubs and his strong finish last year but the math just didn’t add up. Castro may have never fully realized his potential in Chicago and with so many options, his skill set became expendable. His rebound after being benched and moved to second base did allow him to bring some pretty decent talent back in the form of pitcher Adam Warren and second basemen Brendan Ryan from the Yankees. This may seem paltry given what Castro was projected to do in his career but realistically it is just about right. Warren is no slouch going 7 – 7 last year with a 3.29 ERA splitting time as a starter and in the bullpen. He provides great depth for the Cubs as a possible #5 starter or “long” man out of the bullpen. This is precisely what the Cubs need given their shortcomings in the NLCS this past year. With Lackey also in the fold, Hendricks and Hammel get bumped back a spot and possibly into competition with Warren for the #5 starter position. Competition and depth are two great things to have.
So while Castro could return to All-Star form in New York, the Cubs essentially got Zobrist and Warren for the price of his salary which is not a bad return at all. It clearly signals that 2016 is an “All-In” year with the Cubs aggressively tackling their deficiencies to reach the next level. Castro’s contributions through the lean years and positive clubhouse presence will truly be missed and he deserves a curtain call for his accomplishments these past six years in Chicago but the future is now on the North Side and the Cubs cannot afford to be sentimental with the stakes raised to staggering heights this year.
So a big day for the Cubs and it sounds like they may not be done. No, this move does not preclude them from signing Jason Heyward but the math on that will have to be incredibly creative. Still, no one really saw Zobrist coming so it’s safe to say that no one really knows what Theo is capable of. This ain’t over by a long shot but Cubs fans have to be happy with the early returns. They are acting like a big market contender for the first time in years and for the fans it has to feel like Christmas cam early. They have also been able to hold on to the majority of their young talent so far while continuing to better their roster. They have done all this without sacrificing the future.
Go Cubs Go!