Cubs veteran Ben Zobrist is slated to begin a rehab assignment, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein tells reporters including ESPNChicago.com’s Jesse Rogers (Twitter link). Zobrist has been on the restricted list for much of the season for personal reasons.
It’s notable news for the Cubs, who are in a dead heat in a tightly contest NL Central. The club has struggled to find consistent production at second base and in the corner outfield — the two spots that Zobrist has appeared at most frequently. He’ll presumably step right back into the mix as soon as he is back up to full speed.
The Cubs likely won’t welcome back Zobrist right away. Though he has been working out, the 38-year-old has been inactive for so long that he’s likely to need a physical ramp-up along with a good bit of time getting back up to game speed. He wasn’t exactly at top form when he stepped away, having compiled 99 plate appearances of .241/.343/.253 hitting to open the season. While he carried a strong 12:14 K/BB ratio in that span, Zobrist managed just one extra-base hit.
There are also some payroll considerations to be accounted for. During his absence, Zobrist has foregone payment of his $12.5MM annual salary. But he’ll start earning again. (Whether that will take place once his rehab assignment starts or once he’s activated isn’t clear.) That means that the club cannot reallocate all of Zobrist’s remaining salary obligations to other players at the deadline.
It seems an early September target may make the most sense for all involved. That’d be an optimal time from a roster perspective, as the Cubs would be able to take advantage of the expansion of the active roster to ease Zobrist back in. He will need to come off of the restricted list by the end of August in order to be eligible for the postseason.