Ben Zobrist went on a personal leave of absence and was placed on the restricted list May 8, almost five weeks ago.
Thursday in Los Angeles, Theo Epstein was asked about an update to Zobrist’s status, and he hinted about a return:
“There’s been a little definition added to how he hopes this thing might go,” Epstein said on Thursday before the Cubs played the Los Angeles Dodgers. “I’ve been in constant touch with Zobrist. He knows the door is open. I think he’s got an idea in mind on how he would like this to go, but his priorities are clear -- that’s family first.”
Theo went on to say that “the door is open and the possibility of a return is there for him later in the season,” and the linked article by Jesse Rogers suggests the return could be in September, when roster limits increase (though Zobrist, who is not currently on the 40-man roster, would have to be added back to that first).
At this point I’m viewing this as a tease. I have no inside information but it seems to me that Zobrist is, correctly, focusing on his family and if he stays away from the game until September, he’d need to have quite a bit of time to ramp back up into baseball shape, especially at age 38.
The Cubs have saved some money while Zobrist is out and there have been suggestions that some of that savings went into the signing of Craig Kimbrel. Right now, though, the important thing for Ben Zobrist is his family and if that means he retires from baseball, so be it. He’ll still be loved by Cubs fans and he is an important figure in the history of the Cubs franchise.
In this article on the topic of Zobrist at The Athletic, Patrick Mooney suggests the Cubs could possibly use some of the savings on Ben’s contract on more relief help:
The Cubs will continue to search for bullpen help — because that’s what all contending teams do — without rushing Kimbrel.
The Cubs believe that they’ve already addressed their biggest need and can now target left-handed relievers.
MLB Trade Rumors lists some of the lefty relievers the Cubs could potentially go after:
As for lefty relievers that can be expected to become available, the market should bear plenty of options. Giants southpaw Will Smith will headline the rental class, though his teammate, Tony Watson, is a highly appealing alternative. Kansas City’s Jake Diekman is in the midst of a strong season and should be available, too. Depending on how the next several weeks play out for their respective clubs, either Sean Doolittle or Brad Hand could become available, though each would have a substantial price tag attached to his name in negotiations. Either San Diego’s Robbie Erlin or Seattle’s Roenis Elias could be more affordable alternatives. Both are controlled beyond the 2019 campaign and in the midst of solid seasons.
The question regarding any of those is whether the Cubs have the minor-league pieces that would be needed to acquire any of them. The salary cost wouldn’t be too much for any of those guys — particularly Doolittle, who is under contract through 2020 at a reasonable salary (a $6.5 million team option that would almost certainly be exercised if he pitched well).
As always, we await further developments.