We all know how big of a free agent signing Ben Zobrist was for the Cubs this offseason. The 10 year veteran adds an element to the lineup that the young and powerful Cubs didn’t really see last season. For a roster sporting a lot of all-or-nothing swingers, Zobrist provides the stability of a high contact guy that actually had more walks than strikeouts last season between Oakland and Kansas City that can also hit at the top of the order and be an on-base guy for Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant to drive in. While the Zorilla provides a lot of positives at the plate for the Cubbies, the real question is how will the utility-loving manager Joe Maddon utilize him this season?
Looking back on Zo’s career, he has averaged 149 games per season since 2009, playing 58% of his games at the second base position which is the most of any other position on the field. We know that he is locked in at the starting second base position come Game 1 this season, but will he be entrenched there this season or will he bounce around the field like he is accustomed to doing?
The first thing to look at is Zobrist’s age. 35 year old Ben Zobrist is not the same 28 year old Ben Zobrist that sparked his career with his play all over the field. Seeing as that he isn’t getting any younger, I would expect to see closer to the 126 games he played last year rather than the 149 average over the past 9. Although a lot of those absences last season were due to an injury early on in the year, you can’t a flawless year from Ben in that regard. Diving deeper into where Zo will play and that was whittled down to just second base and left field last season (with a handful of games in right). I expect nothing to change in that regard coming into 2016 with more than 75% of his innings played to be at the keystone. With a roster full of guys that can play multiple positions, that means Zobrist won’t have to quite as much. Instead of moving him around the diamond to get him more starts, guys like Javier Baez will take over that role.
In Tampa Bay, Zobrist was needed to be that guy that played multiple positions due to the team’s lack of utility players. Moving to Chicago, that is not a need for these Cubs. With Baez, Bryant, Tommy La Stella, and even Kyle Schwarber able to be thrown into different positions, Zobrist will get the chance to protect his body and play a solid defensive second base while being a catalyst at the top of the order for the 2016 Chicago Cubs.