Cubs Expect to Know More on Zobrist in ‘About a Week,’ Plus Health Updates on Hamels, Contreras, Morrow

Theo Epstein joined 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight late Friday morning to discuss a number of Cubs topics, among them the health and readiness of several different players. With so much focus on acquisitions via trade, it’s easy to forget that the Cubs still have a pair of players who could potentially return for the stretch run despite little to no contribution to this point.

Brandon Morrow has been out since last year’s All-Star break with a stress reaction in his right elbow that required offseason surgery to clean up. Subsequent irritation of the surgical site set him back and he even received an injection of synthetic lubricant normally used in arthritic knees to provide additional cushion for the balky joint.

Too bad Morrow isn’t employed by the Houston franchise, since he probably could have scored an Astroglide deal. Anyway…

After numerous delays in his rehab, Morrow has progressed to live BP in Mesa and should have another session soon. Epstein offered no word on a timeline, but it’s possible — not likely, but possible — the righty could move to a competitive setting by the end of the month. Keep this filed in the “Believe it when I see it” folder.

Cole Hamels has also been throwing and will toss another bullpen session “in a couple of days,” with a return expected relatively soon. He’ll probably throw a sim game and might need a rehab start since he’ll have been out a least a month by then.

Willson Contreras should be back much sooner, as he’s still expected to spend only the minimum amount of time on the IL. He was initially set to resume baseball activities Friday, but that has been pushed back to Saturday as the Cubs remain judicious with their All-Star catcher. Having Martín Maldonado in the fold grants them a little more leeway there.

And then there’s Ben Zobrist, who took a leave from the team in early May to attend to his family during divorce proceedings from his wife, Julianna. Zobrist put his kids first and that has remained the case over the last two months, but the possibility remains that the 38-year-old utilityman could yet fulfill the final portion of his contract.

Exactly how well he’ll be able to do that is subject to debate, since Zobrist already got a late start on spring training and was only hitting to a .596 OPS and 68 wRC+ over 99 plate appearances. That all occurred under a pretty dark cloud, though, and it’s possible that being in a better place emotionally will help Zobrist.

But while the Cubs brass had been giving stronger indications over the last few weeks that a return was imminent, Epstein’s latest comments cast a good deal of doubt on it. Whatever the case, he expects to know more very soon.

“We’re going to know something more in about a week,” Epstein said. “That will be the time to ultimately make a decision. We are not counting on this at all. We are not operating under the strong assumption he is going to be back.

“He knows what it takes to perform at a high level at this point in his career. If he’s able, in his life, to give that to us…he’ll let us know soon. He’ll be all in or he’ll be ruled out based on mutual agreement. He’s well aware of that and we are too. We’re not counting on it.”

If you’re keeping score at home, that’s twice Epstein said they weren’t counting on a return. If Zobrist is to come back, you have to think he’ll have to get to work prior to the end of the month just to get back into baseball shape. One assumes that he’s been staying active to some extent, but that’s simply not the same as facing live MLB competition.

All we know for certain is that Zobrist’s decision will be made based on what’s best for his family at this point. Maybe that means getting back to the game and putting the finishing touches on what has been an excellent career, maybe it means just being a dad.

Whatever the case, it sounds as though the Cubs aren’t factoring his contribution into their trade-deadline calculus. Nor should they, since there’s no way to accurately gauge what he can bring to the table even if he does return. Expect more on this in the very near future.

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