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If Ben Zobrist doesn’t return, who can replace him for the rest of 2019?

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And don’t say “Ian Happ”

Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Three weeks ago, Ben Zobrist took a personal leave from the Cubs and was placed on the restricted list. There’s no word on when he’ll return, and in fact, this Sun-Times article indicates the Cubs are preparing for him not to return at all:

And as the Cubs push through the toughest part of their schedule to date without the versatile veteran and significant clubhouse voice, they also are forced to consider the possibility of playing the rest of the season without him.

“I have to think that way, absolutely,” Maddon said Tuesday, exactly three weeks after Zobrist took leave to tend to family issues, which have since involved divorce filings by him and his wife.

“I hope that’s not the case. But he’s at the point now where if he chose to come back, it’s going to take him awhile to get back up to speed, too. We have to mentally be prepared that we will not have him.”

So the purpose of this post is to examine who the Cubs could replace Ben with for the rest of the year. As I noted above, the answer is not “Ian Happ.” If the Cubs had a prospect at Iowa who had not yet played in the big leagues who was hitting .236/.354/.416 with seven home runs and 55 strikeouts in 50 games, would you be clamoring for him to be put on the big-league roster? Of course you wouldn’t; only two Cubs (Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber) have struck out that many times, and both of those guys produce in other ways. If Happ were going to be recalled, he certainly would be here already instead of Jim Adduci, wouldn’t you think?

Personally, I think Happ’s at Iowa all year, maybe to return in September, but not before.

Thus I would think the Cubs are looking around to see who they could trade for who could replace Zobrist’s bat and, possibly, his positional versatility. A couple of these players have been here before, so let’s start with them.

Tommy La Stella

Of course, if TLS hadn’t been traded, we likely wouldn’t be having this discussion. I don’t think anyone thought he would have this good a season (I sure didn’t!). But the Angels are going nowhere and won’t make the postseason, and they very well might want to sell high on La Stella. Reacquiring him would be a popular move in the clubhouse and among the fanbase, though it would cost a lot more than Conor Lillis-White, the minor-league pitcher the Cubs acquired for him (and who has been injured the entire 2019 season).

Starlin Castro

Castro isn’t having a very good year, hitting .232/.272/.291, by far the worst numbers of his career. On the other hand, he’s still just 29 and can play both shortstop and second base. If Zobrist were to retire (and don’t discount that possibility), the remainder of Castro’s contract would be affordable, as he’s making $11.8 million this year, and I’m sure Theo & Co. would not have to give up much in the way of prospects if they took on all the money. He has a 2020 option that the Cubs almost certainly wouldn’t exercise, or a $1 million buyout. This would also be a popular move in the clubhouse, where Castro still has several former teammates, and with the fanbase.

Eric Sogard

Sogard is one of those guys about whom you say, “How does that guy hit?” when he does. He’s hitting .257/.352/.440 with four home runs in 109 at-bats for the Blue Jays, for whom he is making the MLB minimum. That might be a reason they wouldn’t trade him, but they certainly don’t need a 33-year-old guy when they could probably get a prospect for him. Sogard has played all around the infield and also some left field in the last couple of years.

Jonathan Villar

Villar is another former Brewer, now toiling away in Baltimore’s mess of a season. He’s played mostly shortstop and second base, but could fill in at third or in the outfield. He’s currently hitting .262/.317/.430 with seven home runs and nine stolen bases in 55 games for the Orioles, who would certainly deal him if they had the chance. Villar is making $4.825 million this year, which is affordable, and he is arb-eligible in 2020. The Cubs could avoid that by simply non-tendering him after this year.

Howie Kendrick

Kendrick has played all over the field in his career, though this year he has played only first base, second base and third base for the Nationals, most likely because they don’t want to take playing time away from their good young outfielders. Kendrick is hitting .320/.359/.586 with nine home runs in 128 at-bats, pretty good for someone who will turn 36 in July. He is making $4 million this year and is a free agent at the end of the season.

Nicholas Castellanos

This could be a gem of an acquisition. Castellanos is just 27, but has produced very well over his career. This year, he is hitting .268/.312/.454 with 17 doubles, three triples and five home runs in 205 at-bats. He’s a free agent at the end of this season and the Tigers are almost certainly not going to retain him, as they’re still in the middle of a rebuild and he’d likely be very expensive (he’s making $9.95 million this year, his last arb year). He came up as a third baseman, so perhaps he could still play a bit of infield, although he’s been exclusively a right fielder since 2017.

Pablo Sandoval

Wait, hear me out. This isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. Kung Fu Panda is hitting .299/.333/.629 in 97 at-bats with nine (!) home runs and he’s played third base and first base (and pitched!). He’d certainly be a better bench bat than Jim Adduci and vastly more entertaining. The Red Sox are paying most of his contract this year and it would only cost the Cubs a pro-rated portion of the minimum salary, plus a prospect. On the other hand, he’s kind of a Giants franchise icon and they’re having a bad year and Panda is one of the only reasons to go to Oracle Park in 2019.

There are seven suggestions of good hitters playing for non-contenders this year who the Cubs could target. Or perhaps you have another idea. Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Poll

If Ben Zobrist retires, the Cubs should replace him with...

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Nicholas Castellanos
    (139 votes)
  • 19%
    Starlin Castro
    (236 votes)
  • 10%
    Howie Kendrick
    (125 votes)
  • 26%
    Tommy La Stella
    (321 votes)
  • 4%
    Pablo Sandoval
    (56 votes)
  • 1%
    Eric Sogard
    (16 votes)
  • 5%
    Jonathan Villar
    (65 votes)
  • 16%
    No one — they’re fine the way they are
    (196 votes)
  • 4%
    Someone else (leave in comments)
    (59 votes)
1213 votes total Vote Now