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How Gold Glove defense could help Brett Anderson fulfill his potential with Cubs

How Gold Glove defense could help Brett Anderson fulfill his potential with Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Brett Anderson saw and heard enough at Wrigley Field in October to send Cubs fans a "Stay classy f------ idiots" message on Twitter – and eventually realize that this is exactly the type of team he wanted to join.  

It says something when Javier Baez – a defensive wizard and the co-MVP from that National League Championship Series – essentially reported to spring training as a super-utility guy without a guaranteed everyday role in the lineup.  

"There's talent across the board," Anderson said. "You see a guy like Ian Happ and there's no spot for him and he's hitting a million in spring training. It's just a testament to the front office, to the depth and the talent that's here, 1 through however many people are left in camp. 

"Hopefully, I can go out there and do my part and have fun watching the rest of the guys play."

That Anderson didn't make the playoff roster in either round – and only threw 11-plus innings for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season – speaks to the injuries that stunted his career and framed a one-year, $3.5 million incentive-laden deal.  

But if Anderson stays healthy – this is someone who's been on the disabled list nine times since 2010 – he appears to have the inside track for the fifth-starter job and a chance to fulfill his vast potential at a place where the manager hawks D-PEAT T-shirts.            

"He plays right into our team," Joe Maddon said. "He puts the ball on the ground. We catch the ball on the ground. It's a very exciting matchup." 

As someone who led the majors with a 66.7 groundball percentage in 2015, Anderson can point to the Gold Glove first baseman (Anthony Rizzo), a World Series MVP (Ben Zobrist), an All-Star shortstop (Addison Russell) and an NL MVP known for his defensive versatility (Kris Bryant) and say: "You couldn't ask for better people behind you."

"That was another factor," Anderson said of his free-agent decision. "Who can make the plays behind me? The defense last year was at historic levels. For what I do when I'm going right, it's groundballs, and you couldn't have a better tandem up the middle."

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The clips from Tuesday afternoon's 7-7 tie with the Milwaukee Brewers at Sloan Park won't be in next year's Cubs Convention highlight film. Anderson admittedly gave up "some crappy groundball hits" (six overall plus two runs in three innings), the Cubs committed two errors and this is supposed to be the most optimistic time of the year.  

But Anderson says he's feeling good – knock on wood – and the Cubs can assemble the best defensive unit in The Show.

"The most obvious thing this whole camp is us playing defense the same being our key to success and getting back," Maddon said. "That's the separator right now."

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: An ode to Joe Maddon and looking to the next era

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Tony Andracki, Kelly Crull, Scott Changnon and Jeff Nelson give us their memories of Joe Maddon's time with the Cubs and discuss David Ross and Joe Espada's candidacy to be the next manager.

01:30 Kelly's memories of Joe from the perspective of a reporter

06:00 Going back to Hazleton with Joe

07:45 Joe's legacy as manager of the Cubs

16:00 How Joe impacted Javy Baez' career

18:00 David Ross and Joe Espada may be the leaders to replace Joe Maddon.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

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Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.