Versatile Zobrist gets second base for Chicago Cubs
Here's the deal with playing for Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon: You're likely going to play all over the place and usually end up liking it.
Ben Zobrist knows this. He played for Maddon in Tampa Bay from 2006-14, and he played all four infield positions and all three outfield spots.
Zobrist and Maddon are back together with the Cubs after Zobrist signed a four-year, $56 million contract Tuesday. Also that night, the Cubs traded Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees to open second base for Zobrist.
"I think it's also going to help to kind of find a home a little bit more on the diamond," Zobrist said Wednesday during an introductory news conference at the winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee. "We'll talk more about that as time goes on, but I know Joe loves to move us around."
Indeed he does. Third baseman Kris Bryant also saw time in the outfield. Javier Baez, a natural shortstop, played second, third and even first, and he'll play center field in winter ball.
Although the 34-year-old Zobrist would like to settle in at second, he has been valuable all over the diamond -- recall Mark DeRosa with the 2007 and 2008 Cubs. Those types of players often are "victims" of their own versatility, but they also can carve out nice careers for themselves, if they learn to accept the challenge.
"I think you have to have a mindset of just being willing to do it, first off," Zobrist said. "I think a lot of guys, it's out of the comfort zone, especially when you first start doing it. And most guys have grown up playing one position or been a prospect at one position.
"So they come to the big leagues and they are like, 'This is what I do.' Then they are getting put out of their comfort zone at the big-league level, it's tough to do, and I think you have to be willing to do that. I also think a lot more guys can do it if they just put their mind to it. And you're seeing that across the game, really.
"Joe kind of coined the phrase 'super utility,' and there are a lot more guys around the league that are doing it and understanding the benefit it can have to both the team and their career. So it's becoming more of a position."
Along those lines, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said moving Castro was more about finding Zobrist a set position -- such as those are under Maddon -- than it was about money. Castro has a guaranteed $38 million (including a buyout option) remaining on his contract through the 2019 season.
"It was really important for Ben to have a spot on the diamond," Hoyer said. "We were intrigued by the possibility of having him and being able to move him around the diamond, and I think Joe still will.
"But it was important to him to have a position, and so being able to have second base as a position for him was something that we worked to provide for him, and that was a big part of it. So the motivation was more positional than it was financial."
Although the Cubs' young players are mature for their ages, Maddon said he likes the veteran presence Zobrist brings to go along with incumbent veterans such as backup catcher David Ross.
"Among our team, primarily among the position players, it's been mostly young guys," Maddon said. "Zo shows up as more of a veteran presence among the position players, and that's something we haven't had. The veteranship has been more among the pitching staff.
"When he shows up into our clubhouse, you can already recognize and feel the kind of impact he's going to have among our guys … Zo is only about one thing. He's the consummate team-player professional. The kind of impact he can have on our young position players to me is going to be phenomenal. He does take care of himself great. Just the example to be set is going to be perfect I think for our young players."
Zobrist played in the 2008 World Series for Maddon and the Rays, and he was part of the Kansas City Royals' world-championship team this past fall. This native of Eureka, Illinois, talked about winning one with the Cubs.
"I don't think you really ever know what it takes fully to win a championship until you do it," he said. "You kind of see it played out.
"And I got a front-row seat to watch it happen on my teammates, in their hearts and in my own, as we made the journey in the postseason and won those critical games and those tough games where you're coming back from being down.
"All that stuff, I think it builds a kind of sort of mettle in you and a confidence that even when things aren't going well, you can turn it around. You kind of know the attitude you need to take into that. And, for me, that's the whole goal here.
"I'm not going to be satisfied until we … I'm not going to be satisfied with making the playoffs here. I'm not going to be satisfied with winning the NLCS here. It's the championship. That's what it's all about."