In versatile Zobrist, Chicago Cubs hope to find stability at second base
Quick, can you name the players who started at second base for the Cubs in the first two games of last season?
If you answered Tommy La Stella in Game 1 and Arismendy Alcantara in Game 2, you'd be correct.
Jonathan Herrera also got starts at second base last April before the Cubs called up shortstop Addison Russell to man second on April 21.
Second base didn't become settled once and for all until late in the season after the Cubs had moved Russell to short and brought erstwhile shortstop Starlin Castro back from exile on the bench to try him at second.
The arrangement worked well enough the rest of the way, but the Cubs traded Castro to the Yankees in the off-season.
They seem to have settled on some stability for 2016 with Ben Zobrist, a guy who has made his name by being able to play several positions.
For now, second base is his.
The Cubs signed the 34-year-old Zobrist to a four-year, $56 million deal in December, reuniting him with manager Joe Maddon, who guided him in Tampa Bay from 2006-14.
Although Zobrist is the Cubs' second baseman, he has seen action on the diamond at every position except pitcher and catcher.
"I think it's important for everybody in here to be flexible and willing to try new things, even at this level, because there are a lot of guys who have incredible talent and ability," Zobrist said recently at the Cubs' spring-training camp in Mesa, Arizona. "You think of pitchers who have to go back and forth between starting and relieving, that's as difficult of a transition as any with the workload they deal with."
Zobrist brings several other things the Cubs need in addition to versatility. He's considered a solid clubhouse guy, and he has played on World Series teams, both in Tampa Bay in 2008 and Kansas City in 2015. The Royals obtained him from Oakland in a trade last July, and he wound up celebrating in Kansas City.
"It's incredible," he said. "It's really satisfying as a player, an individual player. Every player wants to do that. But getting a chance to be a part of a team and how that team did that together was something that's invaluable. I couldn't put a price on that. And something I want to try to help this team understand, guys who haven't experienced it. There are other guys in this clubhouse who have, and they know what that's like."
Between his two teams last year, Zobrist compiled a batting line of .276/.359/.450 with 13 homers and 56 RBI. For his 10-year career, he's at 265/.355/.431 with 127 homers and 567 RBI.
Last year, Zobrist was second in the American League in walks-to-strikeouts ratio, at 1.11. He was tied for ninth in walks percentage, at 11.6.
With Maddon as manager, there's little doubt Zobrist will move around. La Stella is back in camp and healthy after missing much of last season with a rib-cage injury. He also brings on-base skills at the plate.
Javier Baez, another shortstop, won't find much playing time there provided Russell remains healthy, so he also may see time all over the field, including at second base.
Top NL second basemenBruce Miles ranks the top National League second basemen:
1. Dee Gordon, Marlins
2. DJ LeMahieu, Rockies
3. Neil Walker, Mets
6. Ben Zobrist, CUBS