Cubs infielder David Bote returned Sunday from nearly two months on the injured list after a lengthy rehab from a shoulder injury.
Which put him the lineup against the Diamondbacks just in time for a few days of showcasing before Friday’s trade deadline if the Cubs decide to add him to an already crammed clearance rack of available players.
At the very least, Bote joins a lineup facing a starkly different reality since he left — one without since-traded Joc Pederson and on Sunday featuring a 2-3-4 row of short-timers Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Báez.
The last game Bote played, the Cubs beat the Reds for a sixth consecutive victory May 29 and were a half-game out of first place.
They went 19-29 since then and sank to fourth in the National League Central, 10 games out of first entering play Sunday.
“It’s hard when you’re not able to help physically on the field,” said Bote, who added that the “coolest thing” was that teammates were “grinding” even through a rough six weeks that included an 11-game losing streak.
“It was fun to — not fun — but it was really encouraging to see a group that when we we were struggling there for a couple weeks, everyone in the clubhouse was like, ‘Hey, let’s find a way to win today.’ “
But champagne wishes only go so far on box-wine budgets and during rot-gut stretches of adversity that every team faces at some point.
And here lie the Cubs. Days before the deadline. Gaze firmly affixed on the future and creating the different shape of whatever comes next.
And here comes Bote, the 28-year-old infielder with some of the hardest contact in the league and a contract that was built for a trade from the moment it was signed — about $13 million left on the final three years of a five-year, $15 million deal that runs through 2024 (plus a pair of club options).
And then he added about 405 feet to his value with a two-run homer in the fourth inning Sunday.
Whether Bote, who opened the season as the Cubs’ starting second baseman, is a serious candidate to be traded, the different team he joined Sunday is certain to be far more different by Friday’s 3 p.m. deadline.
“Like anything in life, there’s no reason to fear something that might happen, that may not even happen,” said Bote of the team emotion of the week — offering a “just going to enjoy today” refrain that has become mantra for those in the clubhouse in recent weeks.
“It’s not just lip service,” said Bote, who played third and batted seventh Sunday. “It’s like, if I worry about what tomorrow is doing or what’s going to happen in two weeks or whatever, I’m going to go out there and look like an absolute fool on the field.
“That might happen anyway,” he added with a laugh. “But you’ve got to at least give yourself a fighting chance.”
Right-hander Trevor Megill was optioned to Triple-A Iowa to make room on the roster for Bote.