After season of swings & misses, Cubs hit home run with Zobrist
When Ben Zobrist swings, he hits the ball. And when the ball comes to him, he makes the play -- regardless of the position he is playing at the time. In other words, he's just what the doctor ordered for the Cubs.
Zobrist fits offensively, because he’s a switch hitter who rarely strikes out. He fits defensively, because — while ideally the everyday second baseman — his positional flexibility allows the Cubs to massage Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez into the lineup when matchups are favorable. Zobrist also fits culturally, because he’s universally respected within the game and an all-time favorite of manager Joe Maddon dating back to their days together in Tampa Bay.
Often, contenders make offseason moves in response to (a) their downfall in the previous postseason or (b) the defining characteristic of the ultimate champion. This was both.
Even in these whiff-tastic times, the Cubs had to realize a 1,500-strikeout lineup would be exposed at some point. This year, that happened in the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets’ power arms. While the Cubs were swept away, Zobrist helped the contact-oriented Royals produce a series of comeback rallies in October.
Sometimes, solutions are simple.
But to land Zobrist, the Cubs first needed to make room in their everyday lineup. They accomplished that Tuesday by trading infielder Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees for Adam Warren and a player to be named later, reported to be Brendan Ryan.
The Yankees assumed the balance of Castro’s contract — more than $40 million over four years, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts — meaning the Cubs can pay roughly three-quarters of Zobrist’s salary with the money they’ve saved by sending Castro away.
Castro has value — he posted a .917 OPS from Aug. 1 through the end of the regular season — but his inconsistencies have frustrated the Cubs in recent years, and Zobrist will offer them more in that roster spot. Plus, in Warren the Cubs have a potential No. 4 starter behind their top trio of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey.
Nothing is guaranteed in baseball. Fans on the North Side of Chicago understand that more thoroughly and painfully than anyone else. But the Cubs clearly have a better roster now than 24 hours ago. Zobrist gives them a greater chance of returning to the playoffs — and to keep winning once they get there.