Chicago Cubs: What to do with Ben Zobrist beyond 2019

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs utility man Ben Zobrist will be a free agent after this season. He had arguably the biggest hit in franchise history, so should the Cubs consider bringing him back?

The Chicago Cubs were missing something after they saw their miraculous 2015 season come to an end in the NLCS when they were swept by the New York Mets. Fans came into that season with little expectations, but as prospects were being called up and the wins kept racking up, something special was brewing on the north side of town.

That missing piece was super-utility man Ben Zobrist, who helped the Kansas City Royals defeat the aforementioned Mets in the World Series. Zobrist came over to the Royals near the trade deadline from the Oakland Athletics and was a free agent entering the 2015 offseason. The Cubs wasted little time adding Zobrist in December 2015 to a four-year deal worth $56 million.

He was everything the Cubs could have asked for in 2016, slashing 0.272/0.386/0.446 and had, arguably, the franchise’s biggest hit. In the top of the 10th inning of Game seven of the World Series, Zobrist lined a double down the third base line scoring Albert Almora. Jr. who was brought in to pinch-run for Kyle Schwarber. The Cubs would go onto win their first World Series since 1908, and Zobrist was named the Fall Classic’s Most Valuable Player for his efforts.

"“I was looking for a cutter out over the plate,” he said afterward. “He throws a really tough pitch to hit, and I was trying to stay inside of it. I wasn’t able to do it early in the at-bat. It was a tough at-bat and I was just battling, grinding up there. Fortunately, that last one he left over the plate and up to where I could just slap it down the line and that’s all I was trying to do — and just out of the reach of the third baseman.”-"

In 2017, Zobrist had a down year, which was attributed to a nagging wrist injury. He slashed just 0.232/0.318/0.375 with twelve home-runs and 50 runs-batted-in.

"“It’s not getting better as fast as it should be,” Zobrist said. “If it’s going to take another three, four days from now for it to feel great, then we’re getting close to 10 days anyways. You might as well give the team the other option off the bench. It probably needs total rest.” –"

How did he come back from the injury? He only had a career best 0.305 batting average in 2018 to go along with an on-base percentage of 0.378.

Zobrist has been worth every penny the Cubs have paid him and is one of the best free agent signings in franchise history. He will be a free agent after this season. With guys like David Bote and Daniel Descalso now in the mix for playing time, and with the former recenty signing a five-year contract extension, it’s hard to imagine Zobrist being re-signed.

Do the Cubs owe Zobrist anything? He will turn 38 years old in May and has steadily seen less at-bats since he signed with the team. In 2016, Zobrist was averaging 4.3 plate appearances per game and is down to just 3.8 this season. Some of that has to do with where he has hit in the lineup, but some of it was for reasons I mentioned earlier.

Descalso is signed through the 2020 season with a club option of just $3.5 million in 2021 (via Spotrac). David Bote is signed through the 2024 season with two club options in 2025 and 2026, so the infield is getting crowded. Nico Hoerner also figures to be on the fast track to the big leagues, so there might not be a spot for him to play.  The Cubs just can’t let him walk, can they?

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He likely received his last big payday, but if the Cubs offered Zobrist a one-year deal in the neighborhood of $5-$8 million, would you be ok with him returning for the 2020 season?