Cubs

Ben Zobrist takes another step toward return to Cubs

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Cubs

Ben Zobrist takes another step toward return to Cubs

Ben Zobrist's rehab continues to progress toward a return to the big leagues.

The 38-year-old veteran will move up to Triple-A this weekend, playing with the Iowa Cubs Thursday through Sunday, as The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma reported Tuesday afternoon:

The Cubs always said they wanted Zobrist to get some action in Triple-A before he returns to a major-league diamond because it is the highest level of competition available. The fact that it's coming in mid-August doesn't mean Zobrist's timeline has been advanced, as Sharma said:

Memphis is close to Zobrist's home in Nashville, so that very well may have played a role in where he played this weekend. As he works through his family issues, he will continue to get time off in between minor-league stints.

So far, he has played three games each for Class-A South Bend and Advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach. Between the two levels, he's picked up 4 hits in 19 at-bats, including a pair of homers last weekend. 

The plan all along has been for Zobrist to return to the Cubs sometime just before rosters expand on Sept. 1. As long as he's off the restricted list and on the active roster before the end of the day on Aug. 31, he will be eligible for playoffs.

When he does return, Zobrist can provide a huge lift for this team just by walking into the clubhouse, but his ability to lead off, play multiple positions and command of the strike zone would be welcome additions to the Cubs on a part-time basis down the stretch.

"We've all said it before — he's been a big part of this team, a big presence," Kris Bryant said on the Cubs' last homestand. "A veteran guy, just a smile in the clubhouse — you need that sometimes. We certainly have missed him, not just what he does on the field but what he does in [the clubhouse].

"The conversations I've had with him are ones I always take something from. Just extremely calming. You know that he knows what he's talking about. I always take what he says to me to heart. 

"It's gonna be really nice to have him back. I look at his locker every day. It's kind of a bummer that we've missed him for so long."

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How Cubs affiliates are tackling financial challenges of coronavirus pandemic

How Cubs affiliates are tackling financial challenges of coronavirus pandemic

The Myrtle Beach Pelicans were scheduled to host a happy hour on Thursday. But Tropical Storm Bertha, which hit the South Carolina coast Wednesday morning, had different plans. General manager Ryan Moore rearranged his schedule, pushing back an interview 15 minutes, to address the fallout.

“So 2020,” he posted to Twitter.

The Cubs Class A Advanced affiliate postponed happy hour until next week.

With the Minor League Baseball season suspended indefinitely, and an increasing number of states reopening their economies, the Cubs affiliates are relying on other activities to help weather the blow of the coronavirus pandemic. The MiLB season hasn’t been officially cancelled, but it’s expected to be.

Officials from all four of the Cubs full-season affiliates wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a minor league season, but all four acknowledged that their optimism was fading.

“Personally, I don’t think we’ll have a minor league season,” said Chris Allen, president of the Double-A Tennessee Smokies. “I hope we do; I hope I’m wrong. It just seems like there are too many moving parts to put this together. I see what they’re trying to do at the Major League level, and it seems like it’s just too much to pull off with every state and municipality having different rules and regulations.”

The Oakland A’s actions this week supported Allen’s suspicions.

MLB announced in March a league-wide commitment to providing minor league players with $400 weekly stipends and medical benefits through the end of May. The White Sox and Rangers have promised to extend that support through the month of June. As of Wednesday evening, the Cubs had not announced their plan. But on Tuesday, the A’s reportedly informed their minor league players that their stipends wouldn’t continue past May 31.

“When you're reading articles like that,” said Joe Hart, president of the Class-A South Bend Cubs, “I think that just kind of further lessens my optimism about having a season because you're not going to stop paying guys if you're going to actually have a season.”

MLB’s official decision on the fate of the minor league season has taken a back seat to negotiations with the MLBPA. Until the league delivers its final word, the Cubs affiliates are scheduling what events they can.

“The timing of this couldn't be any worse for Minor League Baseball,” Moore said. “We've incurred the majority of our expenses already, ramping up for the start of the season, and have zero revenue.”

Players and coaches are on the parent clubs’ payrolls, but the affiliates are responsible for most of the other costs associated with running a baseball team. Unlike MLB, which has lucrative TV deals, the minor leagues’ business plans rely on fans in the stands.

“I don’t have any revenue if I can’t sell tickets, and I can’t sell Cokes and beers and hot dogs and souvenir hats,” said Sam Bernabe, president of the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. “That’s how I make my money. I don’t have any other revenue sources.”

Even sponsorship money disappears when there’s no one to see the advertisements in the ballpark.

“Given the opportunity to play games without fans, we would actually lose more money,” Hart said, “because now you're turning on lights, you’re trying to maintain the field on a daily basis to play at that level.”

Minor League teams are already practiced in fan and community engagement – that’s often a key piece to drawing crowds – but they’ve had to get even more creative since the season suspension.

The I-Cubs, Smokies and Pelicans all plan to host high school baseball events this summer. The South Bend Cubs are scheduled to host travel ball tournaments in June. All four are poised to welcome fans into their ballparks for those games, with health-and-safety restrictions like social distancing in place.

The teams are considering non-baseball events as well, like company picnics, outdoor religious services, food and beer festivals.

The Pelicans also obtained a Paycheck Protection Program loan, according to Moore, but he describes it as a “Band-Aid.”

“Where we need a tourniquet,” he said.

That is the case for many of the minor league teams’ workarounds this summer. Bernabe estimated that the Iowa Cubs would still need a least the next two years’ revenue to cover the losses from this season. If the U.S. is hit with a second COIVD-19 peak, it will take longer to recover.

Even layers of Band-Aids can’t do the job.

Jason Kipnis: Playing for Cubs is a 'mindf*** at times' after Indians tenure

Jason Kipnis: Playing for Cubs is a 'mindf*** at times' after Indians tenure

Jason Kipnis joined the Cubs last winter after nine seasons with the Cleveland Indians, and sometimes, he finds himself feeling a strange way.

In 2016, Kipnis and Cleveland lost the World Series to the Cubs in seven games. A fan pointed out on Twitter how surprising it is to see Kipnis in Cubbie Blue a few years later, and the 33-year-old's reaction was nothing short of genuine.

RELATED: Jason Kipnis airs concerns over challenges players will face when MLB returns

Kipnis is a native of Northbrook and grew up a Cubs fan, and as he points out in his tweet, it's a lot of players' dreams as kids to play for their hometown teams. Still, the sting of losing the Fall Classic three years ago hasn't gone away. And, heck, it may never go away. It's not easy to get to the World Series, let alone win it. 

Can't blame the man for that. Make no mistake, though, Cubs fans. Kipnis is ready to help his new team win.

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