CHICAGO – Theo Epstein addressed the Cubs’ need for a left-handed reliever Friday by acquiring veteran Derek Holland from the San Francisco Giants. But, the team’s biggest acquisition could arrive by later this month.
Epstein noted versatile veteran Ben Zobrist, who has been on the restricted list since May 8, will start a minor-league assignment this weekend with the intention of rejoining the team.
“We’re excited he’s going to give us everything he can to try to help the team down the stretch,” said the Cubs’ president before the team faced the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. “We’re thrilled by the news, happy for him, happy for us. We understand there are still a lot of steps that must happen. We think there’s a chance he’ll come back and help our depth.
“He brings unique things to the table in the clubhouse and on the field. We hope for our sake and his he’s able to complete this process and contribute.”
The 38-year-old Eureka product has performed baseball activities duties since he and his wife, Julianna Zobrist, filed divorce papers in separate states in early May. Zobrist, who has not played since May 6, will remain on the restricted list, but can play on a minor-league assignment for up to 30 days.
The Cubs merely need to add Zobrist to the 25-player roster by Aug. 31 for him to be eligible for the playoffs.
The ex-Eureka standout was batting only .241 in 83 at-bats when he left the Cubs.
The announcement of Zobrist’s plans to return occurred on a news-packed day that included the Holland acquisition and Ian Happ’s return to the Cubs as part of a radically different lineup that they hope generates enough offense to alleviate some of Epstein’s need to add a hitter for the stretch run.
“They’re big games,” said Epstein, referring to the stretch of nine consecutive matchups against the Brewers and Cardinals, including the first six on the road. “We only have a couple months left and we’re in a tight race. Those games really matter. The team that plays the best against the division the rest of the way probably wins the division.”
The Central appears to now be a three-team race between the Cards, Cards and Brewers.