Are Cubs turning Ben Zobrist into a part-time player?


Are Cubs turning Ben Zobrist into a part-time player?

Joe Maddon believed in Ben Zobrist when he broke in with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and found all these different ways to use a multifaceted player. Zobrist bought into the super-utility concept – though he didn’t really have a choice – and helped create Maddon’s aura as a cool manager.

The Cubs used that relationship – and the chance to make history in his home state – to win a bidding war for a coveted free agent without offering the most guaranteed money. As last year’s World Series MVP, Zobrist helped absolve Maddon for his questionable Game 7 decisions.

But Maddon’s camera-friendly personality and deep-rooted connections to Zobrist has limits. Maddon didn’t worry about personal feelings during that playoff run, when he benched $184 million outfielder Jason Heyward, froze out relievers and started Javier Baez over Zobrist at second base for all 17 games.

You can already see the possibility of Zobrist becoming a part-time player down the stretch when hot-hitting Tommy La Stella starts at second base – like “3 a.m.” did during Monday’s 6-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field – and shortstop Addison Russell (strained right foot/plantar fasciitis) begins his rehab assignment the same night with Triple-A Iowa.            

Play out the decisions from here, the way Maddon does with Jeremy Greenhouse, the assistant director of research and development, and Theo Epstein’s front office. The 2016 Cubs won two playoff rounds without Kyle Schwarber. Ian Happ hadn’t made his big-league debut yet. Jon Jay emerged as a leadoff solution. Heyward has bounced back from the worst offensive season of his career and still provides Gold Glove defense in right field.  

“There are a lot of options,” Maddon said. “Honestly, that’s one thing I was just mulling over. I was just talking to Greenhouse about that. I like a bunch of different scenarios presented to me, beyond what I can just conjure up in my own mind.

“What does it look like from the outside looking in? Give me some more thoughts, so that I can make my best decisions going into this whole thing.

“When Addison comes back, that compounds things, obviously, because now all of a sudden – with Javy playing at the level that he is and what it does to your defense with those two guys in the middle – that can be very pertinent going down to the latter part of the season.”

Maddon came into this season focusing on rest and recovery, particularly with Zobrist, who won a World Series ring with the 2015 Kansas City Royals and then played into early November last year, cementing his reputation as a clutch switch-hitter who can change the dynamics of an entire playoff lineup.

[MORE: Cubs watch Jon Lester take another step toward the pennant race] 

On his 36th birthday, Zobrist hurt his left wrist on an awkward swing at Dodger Stadium, part of a series of injuries (neck, back) that broke his kinetic chain, sapped his hand speed and limited his ability to work in the batting cage. Zobrist went six weeks between his last two home runs – the first game after the All-Star break and over the weekend in Philadelphia – and has struggled to push his OPS above .700.     

“It might relegate different guys – not just (Zobrist) – to becoming more on-off, on-off,” Maddon said. “Maybe on-on, then off, something to that effect. I don’t know yet. But I’m looking forward to Addison being well.

“And then we’re talking about Javy’s at-bats. If he continues that trend right now – where he’s not expanding his strike zone, which we’ve all been waiting for – if that happens, heads up. Heads up, he could be a real force the last month.”    

The first-place Cubs can also afford to be patient with Zobrist, knowing that he is such a good teammate and hoping for another huge payoff in October.

“I’m just thankful that we’re in the place we are right now as a team, and that we have other capable guys,” Zobrist said. “Because if we didn’t, it would be a much worse place for me to have struggled for as long as I have (this) season.”

Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?


Scouting the Cubs' competition: Can anybody dethrone the Dodgers?

The expectations couldn't be any higher for the 2018 Chicago Cubs. 

It's 2016 all over again. The goal isn't just a trip to the playoffs or another NL pennant. It's World Series or bust for this group of North Siders.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

Los Angeles Dodgers

2017 record: 104-58, 1st place in NL West

Offseason additions: Matt Kemp, Scott Alexander, Brian Schlitter (former Cub still in the league), Pat Venditte (switch-pitcher), Hamlet Marte (only included because his name is "Hamlet")

Offseason departures: Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Andre Ethier, Franklin Gutierrez, Scott Van Slyke, Brandon McCarthy, Luis Avilan, Scott Kazmir

X-factor: Chris Taylor/Alex Wood

Cheating a bit here and going with two guys.

Wood has been a very good and very underrated pitcher for his entire career, but he also has struggled to stay healthy. He made just 27 appearances (25 starts) last season and has pitched more than 172 innings in a season just once (2015).

Wood has a career 3.20 ERA and led the league in winning percentage last season after going 16-3. We all know Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet (again, when healthy), but if Wood can take the ball every fifth day, it takes so much pressure off Kershaw and makes the Dodgers that much more formidable.

Taylor came from out of absolutely nowhere last year to turn in a heck of a season - .288/.354/.496 slash line, 21 HR, 72 RBI, 85 R, 17 SB - and sat atop the Dodgers order as they marched all the way to Game 7 of the World Series. 

The power was a huge surprise, but he's always had speed, hit for a high average and drawn walks, so if the power plays again, he's a huge weapon, especially with Justin Turner down with a wrist injury now. And the power actually looks legit after a swing and philosophy change.

Projected lineup

1. Chris Taylor - CF
2. Corey Seager - SS
3. Cody Bellinger - 1B
4. Yasiel Puig - RF
5. Yasmani Grandal - C
6. Joc Pederson - LF
7. Logan Forsythe - 3B
8. Chase Utley - 2B

Projected rotation

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Alex Wood
3. Kenta Maeda
4. Rich Hill
5. Hyun-jin Ryu


Turner's broken wrist is a huge blow to the Dodgers before the season has even begun, especially when he's suddenly like the best right-handed hitter on the planet not named Mike Trout or Kris Bryant. 

Turner was always a solid utility player for the Mets but not much of a hitter (.696 OPS in 301 games with the Mets). In L.A., however, Turner has an .881 OPS in four years, including an incredible .945 OPS in 2017.

He's the anchor of their lineup and any time he misses is a big loss. But this Dodgers team is so talented around him that they'll be fine getting into the playoffs. Turner was bound to miss time anyways - he's played in more than 130 games in a season just once in his career.

The only thing that could slow this team down would be more injuries, especially if Kershaw's balky back rears its ugly head again. 

This may be the most talented roster in the National League (once Turner returns), so even in an NL West where four teams may be competing for the division title, the Dodgers should take the cake once again.

But will they have enough left in the tank to get past the Cubs or Nationals to represent the NL in the World Series once again?

Prediction: 1st in NL West

Complete opposition research

Los Angeles Dodgers
San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres

Here are the sharp holiday and special event uniforms that the Cubs will be rocking this season


Here are the sharp holiday and special event uniforms that the Cubs will be rocking this season

MLB will once again commemorate several holidays and special events during the 2018 season.

Monday, the league revealed the uniforms teams will don on Jackie Robinson Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, and during Memorial Day weekend and Independence Day weekend.

The Cubs' regular uniforms are great, of course, but their special event uniforms are solid as well. Take a look:

Not too shabby, eh? In addition to the special caps and jerseys, MLB teams will be rocking unique socks and patches for each occasion. A complete collection of the uniforms can be found here.