Zobrist reports to Chicago Cubs camp ready to provide leadership

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • The Chicago Cubs' Ben Zobrist, at right celebrating with Kyle Schwarber late last season, reported to the team's spring-training camp Friday ready to help with some veteran leadership.

    The Chicago Cubs' Ben Zobrist, at right celebrating with Kyle Schwarber late last season, reported to the team's spring-training camp Friday ready to help with some veteran leadership. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 2/22/2019 5:59 PM

MESA, Ariz. -- To watch Chicago Cubs veteran Ben Zobrist go about his day is to watch a professional at work.

Zobrist arrives each day, gets after his pregame routine and then plays. After the game, it's into the weight room for more work.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

There's nothing showy about it, and Zobrist says few words while he's at it.

Those kind of players have always been important to baseball teams, but the 37-year-old Zobrist feels teams aren't placing enough value on them.

"I think that the veteran leadership in clubhouses is potentially being undervalued in this point in the game," he said Friday as he reported for spring training. "I hope I can provide something and they can see something that guys with experience, guys that can move around the field … there's a lot of guys still out there on the open market that aren't being picked up yet.

"And there's a lot of value they can bring to a clubhouse that people won't necessarily see and may not show up on Statcast necessarily. But I believe that, yeah, I have something else to offer besides just bat and glove."

Zobrist said all is well after he missed the first part of spring training with an excused absence for personal reasons.

Of course, there's an economic aspect to so many free agents still being on the market. Zobrist noted that and said he's talking about all aspects, including clubhouse culture and leadership.

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"I think the value of the player is being minimized a little bit over the course of the entire spectrum of what they're able to bring to the table," he said. "We're looking at specific numbers and specific value that those numbers bring on the field.

"There's a human element here that we really have to continue to recognize. Otherwise it's going to get lost in the numbers.

"You kind of see that happening a little bit over the last few years. We just have to be aware of it and continue to remember that these guys are growing and developing and the numbers will change over time in a good way. We tend to be judged on what we've done recently, but there's also that human element where the guys are going to get better."

Zobrist, an infielder-outfielder, is in the final year of his contract, and he is coming off a solid comeback season, during which he put up a line of .305/.378/.440 with 9 home runs and 58 RBI in 139 games.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon knows full well Zobrist's value, having managed him in both Tampa Bay and Chicago.

"Zo has always had this quiet leadership about him," the manager said. "He's not really a vocal guy. I don't even know if he's going to be able to get to that point. He really sets a great example. After the game he'll be in the weight room until at least an extra hour before he ever goes home.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"A lot of it's dependent on whether he's going to play the next game or not, but he has, by example, been a wonderful leader as far as I'm concerned."

Zobrist said he will speak up when he feels the need this season but that he's ready to move on from 2018, when the Cubs won 95 games in the regular season but lost in the wild-card game.

"Everybody feels excited to just move beyond where we've been, even beyond the last few years and kind of take the next step in progression as far as the organization goes, get back to the top of that mountain," he said. "I think everybody, without looking back too much, we recognized immediately in the off-season there was a lot of work to be done and we believe that everybody's kind of dedicated themselves to that end, and we're going to get out there and get after it."

Zobrist also said team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer sought the input from veterans on how to get back to the top.

"We've had some very candid conversations with the leadership," he said. "I was really grateful to see how Theo and Jed sat us down, several of us, and just asked a lot of questions to us -- what do we think? When you feel like you get to have a voice and you get a chance to potentially have a say in what could happen, as the new year comes, you jump in.

"So I've thought about it a lot over the course of this off-season. I'm excited about the potential of how things will change and the mindset going forward."

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