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Ben Zobrist's nameplate remains above his locker at Wrigley Field, but the doors to the space are closed and his jersey is hanging out front.

The former World Series MVP has now been away from the team for exactly a month and it's unknown when - or if - he will return to the Cubs.

Zobrist is on leave to deal with personal matters as he and his wife, Julianna, go through a divorce. He is on Major League Baseball's restricted list, which means the Cubs do not pay his salary while he's away. Over the last month, the team has saved approximately $2 million of his $12.5 million salary and that number would only increase as time goes by with Zobrist's status for the rest of the season uncertain.

The Cubs clearly miss Zobrist, a valuable utility player and respected voice within the clubhouse. But the money saved from his absence has also directly led to more funds available for the front office to go out and sign Craig Kimbrel.

"There are always unknowns that come up during the season that can impact your financial picture," Theo Epstein said Wednesday evening before news broke that the Cubs had reached a $43 million agreement with Kimbrel. "This year in particular, there have been some unexpected variables that could possibly give us a little bit more flexibility than we had imagined, but we don’t talk in detail about our financial situation."

Manager Joe Maddon hasn't spent much time thinking about the connection between Zobrist's absence and the increased funds for a front office that did not have much financial flexibility to work with over the winter.

 

"It's just the way this world rotates sometimes," Maddon said Thursday morning. "I haven't really pieced it that way. It's just a matter of what's happening right now with us. It's obviously horribly unfortunate what Zo is going through right now, but I haven't really tied those two things together. It's just the way it is.

"Maybe [it's being in] the present tense, maybe the ability to accept what's happening - that's where I'm at with all this. Of course, there is a correlation, I would imagine. But we're still hoping for the best for Zo and if Kimbrel's here partly because of that, so be it. But that's just the way the world's rotating on June 6. That's pretty much it."

As for Zobrist's situation, nobody around the Cubs can say whether or not the veteran will be back in a Cubs uniform again. He's currently in the final season of a franchise-altering four-year deal and he will be immortalized in Cubs lore forever with the World Series-winning hit in 2016.

But Zobrist has been so much more than just that one hit during his time in Chicago. He's given the Cubs a much-needed veteran presence in the lineup on a near-daily basis for three-plus seasons, providing professional at-bats and a great example for the young players while also sounding off as a veteran who has spent 14 seasons in the game.

He's done everything the organization has asked - from hitting cleanup and providing lineup protection to Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to sliding into a role as a table-setter in the leadoff spot to playing just about every position on the diamond.

"We miss Ben Zobrist a lot - his presence in the clubhouse was pretty important," Willson Contreras said. "Like Theo said, family comes first. I hope everything's OK with Zobrist and let him know that we miss him."

Epstein said he's been in touch with Zobrist, but the Cubs president of baseball operations did not want to speak for the veteran player and wouldn't provide a specific update on Zobrist's situation.

"Our thoughts are just with him and his family and his situation," Epstein said. "He’s been in great touch and I don’t feel like he owes us anything."

At this point, even if Zobrist was ready to return to the team, he would need time in the minor leagues to get his timing and rhythm back. So even in a best-case scenario, it's hard to envision him back in the lineup until at least July 1, or about the time Kimbrel will be ready to join the Cubs bullpen.

There's also obviously the possibility Zobrist does not return at all this season, which is part of the reason why the Cubs went out and added another veteran bat this week in Carlos Gonzalez.

"I don't think you should operate under that assumption [Zobrist will not return]," Maddon said Thursday. "I have not been in contact with him a lot. A little bit more recently - I texted him a couple days ago. Theo's spoken to him more consistently.

 

"I think it's anybody's guess, really. It's him as a family man, him worrying about his kids, making sure this all comes together properly for them. It's all honorable on his side. Whatever he decides to do, we're gonna definitely be on board. Of course we'd love to have him back, but I have no idea how that's gonna play out.

"My point was earlier - I think we have to be prepared mentally that he's not going to, but that doesn't mean that he's not going to."

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