MILWAUKEE - The Cubs are expecting Ben Zobrist to return to the team in 2019, Theo Epstein confirmed Friday evening at Miller Park.
The organization doesn't have it all mapped out in stone, but the plan is for Zobrist to start playing in minor-league games sometime next weekend.
"He's still figuring out exactly when he'll be ready, but he's been working out, he's been getting mentally ready," Epstein said. "We're excited he's gonna give us everything that he has to try to come back and help the team down the stretch and hopefully into October."
Nothing is guaranteed - "I don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves," Epstein said - but if all goes according to plan, Zobrist would need a few weeks of minor-league action before getting to a point where he could return to Chicago. With the timeline starting next weekend, that figures to be right around Sept. 1, when big-league rosters expand.
"He's been working out quite a bit - not just in the gym, but baseball activities," Epstein said. "We have complete and utter trust in Zo the person and Zo the professional. He knows everything that it takes, especially at his age, to play at a high level - everything it takes physically, everything it takes mentally.
"If he tells us that he thinks he can give this a shot and he has a chance to return and play at a high level, then we trust him. And suffice it to say, he's been doing everything at this point and he'll make great use of the last month. He's not one to take this lightly and if he can't play at a high level, he's not gonna try to fool anybody, that's for sure."
If all goes according to plan, Zobrist would be eligible for the postseason if he's activated off the restricted list by Sept. 1.
Zobrist, 38, was hitting only .241 with a .596 OPS in 26 games with the Cubs before he went on leave to address a family issue, but he brings a calming presence to the clubhouse and a professional at-bat whenever he's in the lineup. Plus, he can play a variety of positions and switch-hit, giving the Cubs a multitude of options down the stretch if all goes well with his road back to the big leagues.
However, even with all Zobrist brings to the table and the confirmation that he intends to return, it's still won't affect much of what Epstein and the Cubs front office do ahead of the MLB trade deadline.
"There's still some things that need to happen," Epstein said. "He still has to have a successful rehab assignment and stay healthy. We hope to have great depth and he'll be a big part of that. It's not something we're gonna hang our hat on and say our position player mix is completely settled because Ben's gonna attempt to come back for us.
"We're thrilled by the news - happy for him, happy for us. We understand there's still a lot of steps that have to happen and we think there's a chance he can come back and really add to our depth. He brings unique things to the table in the clubhouse and on the field.
"We hope for our sake and for his, he's able to complete the process, come back and really contribute. It would be great for everybody if that happens."
Ben Zobrist intends on returning to Cubs this season: 'We're thrilled' originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago