Cubs

Why the Cubs feel Ben Zobrist was the most important signing in baseball

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Why the Cubs feel Ben Zobrist was the most important signing in baseball

MESA, Ariz. — When anybody looks at the Cubs' offseason, the easy names to point to are Jason Heyward and John Lackey.

But the Cubs feel Ben Zobrist was the most important signing and not just for them — in all of baseball.

When the Cubs pulled off the Starlin Castro trade with the New York Yankees at the Winter Meetings in December and wound up inking Zobrist to a four-year, $56 million deal, it was a perfect fit.

"There have been signings this offseason that have been more celebrated," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said, "but in my mind, there's no one more important as far as bringing in a guy that can be part of our culture, a switch-hitter, playing in the middle of the field and obviously the experience he was winning in Tampa and winning in Kansas City.

"He has so much to add to our group. ... I think (experience) matters a lot. Anytime you've been through the grind of a season and come out on top, you realize how many twists and turns it's going to take to get there. That experience is invaluable."

[RELATED: New year, new Hammel: Cubs pitcher trying to put 'tale of two halves' behind him]

Hoyer and Theo Epstein have had their eye on Zobrist since they were running the Boston Red Sox.

With the Cubs, Hoyer admitted they had tried to trade for Zobrist last season, after hearing how much Joe Maddon — who managed Zobrist for nine years in Tampa Bay — talked him up.

"Joe's vouched for him from Day 1," Hoyer said. "He felt (Zobrist) was kind of a glue guy in any clubhouse. Great teammate, selfless, all he cares about is winning."

Maddon believes Zobrist brings a certain "matter-of-factness" to a Cubs team filled with young players who just got their first taste of the postseason life last season.

"'Zo' will never get caught up in the crowd," Maddon said. "He'll listen to you respectfully, also, but I promise you, he'll never come back and agree with you just for the sake of agreeing with you and not wanting to present a different concept.

"He will tell you exactly what he's thinking. His motivations are simple in the best ways. Truly, he wants to win. That's it. Period.

"So if he sees something going on that's counterproductive to that, whether it's attitude or just somebody's not working, he will address it in his really nice, calm, spiritual way. ... There's a real strength to his calmness, and I think the players will feel that."

[RELATED: Cubs believe John Lackey and Jon Lester can bring out the best in each other]

Zobrist was the right player at the right time for the Kansas City Royals last year, hopping in midseason and riding the wave all the way to a World Series championship.

"He fit in just like that," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "You know what kind of player Ben is. He fit in with a bunch of players that are exactly like him, so it was a natural fit.

"He was fantastic. He was the last piece to the puzzle that really helped us get to become world champions. ... He's one of the finest players that I've ever had play for me."

Zobrist hit .303 with an .880 OPS in the postseason for the Royals, shoring up second base and the top of the lineup.

Hoyer said Royals general manager Dayton Moore was hellbent on acquiring Zobrist at the trade deadline.

Want to see Moore's face light up? Ask him about Zobrist.

"I think Ben's a perfect player for everybody," Moore said. "I really do. I think he's one of the best players I've ever been around — on the field, off the field.

"Great with the fans, great with the community, great teammate, great husband, great father. He's a leader. He's a winner."

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Zobrist is 34 and back in the Midwest (he is a native of Eureka, Ill.).

There's no guarantee he's going to help lead the Cubs to the promised land the same way he gave the Royals a boost last season, but the Cubs like their chances a lot better with the veteran utility man in tow.

"(Winning a World Series) is incredible," Zobrist said. "It's really satisfying as an individual player. Every player wants to do that.

"But getting the chance to be a part and seeing how that team did that together was something that's invaluable. I couldn't put a price on that.

"And that's something I wanna try and help this team understand."

Reds pitcher Amir Garrett apparently held a grudge against Javy Baez for a year

Reds pitcher Amir Garrett apparently held a grudge against Javy Baez for a year

Baseball players don't forget grudges. Javy Baez and Reds pitcher Amir Garrett gave an example of that on Saturday.

Garrett struck out Baez in the seventh inning of the first game of the Cubs-Reds doubleheader. Garrett showed some excitement with the strikeout and then said something to Baez. They both started jawing at each other and suddenly the benches cleared.

At first glance, it looked like Garrett was a bit too excited to get a strikeout with no one on base. Turns out Baez had his own bit of swag for Garrett last year (Friday was the one-year anniversary) in the form of a grand slam at Wrigley Field.

This time Garrett got Baez and wanted to even things up a bit.

Things didn't get too feisty despite the benches clearing, but Anthony Rizzo did rush to Baez's side at some speed. This could be a matchup to keep an eye out for in the future.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The greatest Cubs moments at Great American Ballpark

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The greatest Cubs moments at Great American Ballpark

Siera Santos, Kelly Crull, and David DeJesus go into the audio archives to break down the biggest games for the Cubs in Cincinnati.

David DeJesus gives us his top 3 ballgames with such gems as The Schwarber Game, The Kris Bryant Game, Starlin Castro’s debut, and Jake Arrieta’s second no hitter.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: