The Chicago Cubs had a huge offseason, but one particular signing might just end up as the best bargain in all of baseball for 2016 and beyond.
The best free agent signings aren’t always the most obvious ones. The most expensive free agents aren’t necessarily the best players. The Chicago Cubs, however, might have among the better bargains in baseball.
Though there’s no sure way of knowing the fate of free agent contracts immediately, and even thought it might take years into a players’ deal before we can adequately compare contract against performance, I wager to say the Chicago Cubs’ signing of Ben Zobrist might just be the best free agent signing of the offseason.
It’s right up there if it’s not at the very top.
Zobrist is a player who might be making a little more than you’d like to give out for someone at his age—34-years-old making $56 million over the next four seasons—however, it’s far less risky than other contracts we’ve seen; Chris Davis for 7-years, $161 million?
The Cubs signed Jason Heyward to a lucrative 8-year, $184 million contract this past offseason. Another key signing for the Cubs, given the age of Heyward—still just 26-years-old—and the nature of the contract, including more than one opt-out scenario.
Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward…Result of a great winter from the front office. pic.twitter.com/nh1GklYMU1
— Chicago Cub-Times (@ChicagoCubTimes) February 25, 2016
Heyward (Career: .268/.353./431) is an upgrade over Dexter Fowler (Career: .267/.363/.418); Heyward is younger and a plus fielder, while also holding the edge offensively—Fowler struggled to stay on the field prior to his career high in games played in 2015 (156).
Considering the money given to heyward, one would certainly expect the performance on the field to ultimately bring about a positive return on managements’ investment.
Similar to what makes Heyward a valuable addition for the Cubs, Zobrist is attractive to the North Siders for the style of play and dynamics with which he brings to a team who craves veteran, yet winning, leadership.
Add to that for Zobrist, a strong rapport with manager Joe Maddon from their Tampa Bay Rays days, and the particularly unique situation of bringing in a versatile fielder with a steady bat, who’s coming off a World Series winner with the Kansas City Royals.
Like the 2014 Kansas City Royals, the 2016 Chicago Cubs hope for similar results of a Royals team who came just short of the World Series championship before winning it all in 2015.
Zobrist joined a team who got a playoff taste a year prior, played Ben Zobrist baseball, and can now show that ring around the Cubs’ clubhouse.
Looking at Zobrist’s statistics across his career, he hasn’t quite duplicated his 2009 season which he clubbed a career-high 27 home runs, with a slash of .297/.405/.543. But the super-utility player brings more than the adequate bat and gold glove defense. He brings the intangibles winning teams desire. And that’s exactly the value the Cubs paid the premium for as they try to lock down on the next step.
To be the last team standing.
The career WAR of 38.5 over 10 seasons shows what Zobrist has meant to his teams.
Chicago escaped much of 2015 without injuries to several key players, and Zobrist will add to the depth across many positions, including the outfield and several infield spots.
Bottomline: Everything he brings to a baseball team makes not only himself better, but everyone else around him, better, too. As Maddon put it, via Jesse Rogers of ESPN, there’s a “matter-of-factness” about him.
“His motivation is simple. He just wants to win. That’s it. Period.”
Just like when he was brought into Kansas City via a midseason trade from the Oakland Athletics last year, seen as that possible over-the-hump piece, Zobrist fits that role to a tee in Chicago. The teams’ veteran presence with the likes of Zobrist and Heyward lets the kids in Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber…just be the kids.
Zobrist has started, by far, the most games at second base in his career with 551 starts. However, he has started numerous games across the outfield and a handful at first base and shortstop. It’s never a bad thing to have that player who can fill in anywhere.
Said Theo Epstein, President of Baseball Operations, at the time of the Zobrist signing:
“Ben is a winning baseball player. His offense, his defense, his baserunning. He’s been one of the more valuable players in the game for a long time.”
As we look forward to Opening Day, there’s a gaggle of multiple storylines. Yet there’s one underlying story, seemingly all the more fitting. As Maddon helped transform and elevate Zobrist into the player he is today, Zobrist now looks to help elevate Maddon and the rest of the Cubs to the World Series.
It’s like those Hollywood stories in the end. Full circle.