With the trade deadline approaching rapidly, Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs needed a response from their 2016 World Series MVP Ben Zobrist. They needed to know whether or not he would be returning to the team. This season has been rough on the veteran as he took an extended leave of absence due to personal life issues.
According to Theo Epstein, they’ve received the answer they were looking for. Ben Zobrist will be starting a rehab assignment as early as next week and the plan is for him to make a return towards the end of August. To qualify for the postseason, Zobrist will have to be put on the roster prior to September 1st. It sounds like that will happen, as long as everything goes smoothly in his rehab assignment.
The other big in house additions are Willson Contreras and Ian Happ. Contreras returned on the 24th from the Injured List, a move that sent Addison Russell to Triple-A Iowa. Happ made his 2019 MLB debut Friday night after Tim Collins was designated for assignment.
Contreras, so far, is having his best offensive season, slashing .281/.376./.552 with 19 HRs and 55 RBIs. He made the all-star team for the second consecutive year and ranks 24th among all hitters with at least 100 plate appearances with a .928 OPS. Among all catchers with 100 plate appearances or more, Contreras ranks second in OPS and third in both wOBA (.384) and wRC+ (138).
Although he’s only 1-8 since his return to the lineup, his presence will pay huge dividends in the long run. The Cubs even tinkered with him at the top of the lineup Friday night, in an effort to have more success against left-handed pitchers.
As for Happ, the Cubs feel he has made the improvements necessary to succeed in the majors. After a lackluster 2018 season and 2019 Spring Training, the Cubs optioned Happ to Triple-A Iowa to begin the season.
Things started slow for him there and he was still striking out a lot. Something the Cubs were hoping he’d cut down on after striking out 36.1% in 2018. However, he had been heating up in Iowa. Over his last ten games, Happ hit .333 with three homers. His strikeout rate is also down to 26.3% for the season. A number the Cubs could live with if he maintains his power and 15.2% walk rate.
If Happ can come up and be the prospect the Cubs think he still can be, they might not need to make as many moves as some originally thought at the deadline. They definitely still need more relief pitching help, but maybe not as big of a splash for a hitter, if Ben Zobrist and Ian Happ can return to their full potential.
The Cubs did make a move Friday, trading for Giants left-handed pitcher Derek Holland for cash considerations. Holland has an ERA near six for the season, but has pitched much better versus left-handed batters and is expected to be utilized as a specialist. In 21.1 innings pitched versus lefties this season, Holland has a 0.84 ERA against left-handed batters. Lefties are also hitting only .182 against him, which is the sixth-lowest batting average against left-handed batters, among left-handed pitchers with at least 15 innings pitched.
This will not be the only move and is most likely only a flier, but if used the proper way could wind up being very underrated.
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