Cubs

As Yankees consider selling, 'no question' Cubs see Kyle Schwarber as part of their 2017 plans

As Yankees consider selling, 'no question' Cubs see Kyle Schwarber as part of their 2017 plans

As the national media keeps driving the speculation about Kyle Schwarber and the New York Yankees, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer echoed Theo Epstein’s essentially untouchable comments. The president of baseball operations went out of his way on June 30 to tell reporters that he expects Schwarber to hit a big home run in a Cubs uniform early next season. It’s extremely difficult to see that fundamentally changing between now and the Aug. 1 trade deadline.  

“No question,” Hoyer said before Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the New York Mets at Wrigley Field. “That’s how we feel about it.”

The Cubs are still 19 games over .500, even with Schwarber only getting five plate appearances before shredding his left knee during an outfield collision in early April. As he recovers from the surgery that reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL, the Yankees have quietly pushed Schwarber’s name out there as they try to gauge the market and potentially start a bidding war for All-Star reliever Andrew Miller.

USA Today also floated the concept of the Yankees packaging Miller and 100-mph closer Aroldis Chapman – who’s positioned to become a free agent this winter – in a blockbuster deal for Schwarber.

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“You guys know how we feel about Kyle, and he knows how we feel about him,” Hoyer said. “It’s a shame (with the injury). We’ve had a lot of guys play really well in his stead that have really helped. But, yeah, I think we all miss writing his name in the lineup every day and seeing that kind of left-handed power. 

“We look forward to seeing that next year.”

As much as Epstein’s front office treats players like assets and tries to stay emotionally detached, the Cubs feel a personal connection with Schwarber, drafting him fourth overall out of Indiana University in 2014, believing in his ability to catch at the big-league level and seeing his potential as a dynamic clubhouse leader.  

Plus, the Cubs built a first-place team and their future around young, offensive players like Schwarber, who hit 21 homers (including the playoffs) in less than 80 games last season, believing that pitching health is too unpredictable to long-term plan for and staffs can be patched together from one year to the next.   

“This guy’s an elite middle-of-the-order bat with the kind of makeup we look for,” Hoyer said. “We kind of let that stand for itself.”  

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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