Ben Zobrist will begin his comeback on Friday night by playing with the Class-A South Bend Cubs.
Ben Zobrist will begin his comeback to the Cubs on Friday night with Class-A South Bend, but president of baseball operations Theo Epstein suggested this might be the utility man's final season.
"The plan is for him to play games on and off for the month of August to get ready," Epstein said, per the Chicago Tribune. "I don’t think he’ll play straight through. He's going to take some time off in between these [minor league] stints to continue to get his body in shape, to continue to practice.
"He's not going to be an everyday player anyway, so it makes sense to get him ready this way."
According to the Tribune, Epstein "hinted" that this could be Zobrist’s final year.
"I think guys want to see him with a happy ending and to go out in a way that's befitting of the great career he's had," Epstein said. "That's what we're all shooting for. It could be a nice jolt for him to come back. It's going to be a lot of work."
Zobrist is a free agent after this season, which marks his 14th in the majors. He hasn't played since May 6 after taking an indefinite leave of absence amid filing for divorce from his wife Julianna.
On Friday night, Zobrist will be South Bend's designated hitter and spend the weekend with the team before eventually playing with Triple-A Iowa. He must return to the Cubs' 25-man roster by Aug. 31 to be eligible for the postseason.
"He's been putting the work in and the process will continue this month, and then he’ll make a good decision," Epstein said. "He's not going to embarrass himself. If he can't get to the point where he feels like he can play this game at a high level, we'll go in a different direction. But we're full speed ahead, trusting the person. If this month goes well, he can get himself in position to come back and help us win."
Epstein said Zobrist would not address the media all weekend in South Bend but plans to before returning to Chicago.
Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said he hasn't talked with Zobrist to respect "his space" but admitted the veteran's presence is missed in the clubhouse.
"We need that sometimes," Bryant said. "We've certainly missed him. Not just what he does on the field but what he does in here, and we can't wait to have him back."