MLB

After a season of swings and misses, Cubs hit home run with Zobrist

Ben Zobrist #18 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates in the dugout after scoring a run in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays in game two of the American League Championship Series at Kauffman Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Ben Zobrist #18 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates in the dugout after scoring a run in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays in game two of the American League Championship Series at Kauffman Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

NASHVILLE, Tenn.

Chicago Cubs hitters struck out 1,518 times this year, the third-highest single-season total in major-league history.

Ben Zobrist is one of 13 players with at least 1,100 plate appearances and 140 or fewer strikeouts over the last two seasons.

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If they aren't a perfect match for one another, they're close.

Zobrist, barely more than one month removed from winning his first World Series ring, has joined the foremost quest in North American sports, having agreed to a four-year, $56 million deal with the Cubs, as first reported by FOX Sports MLB Insider Ken Rosenthal.

Zobrist fits offensively, because he's a switch hitter who rarely strikes out. He fits defensively, because -- while ideally the everyday second baseman -- his positional flexibility allows the Cubs to massage Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez into the lineup when matchups are favorable. And Zobrist also fits culturally, because he's universally respected within the game and an all-time favorite of manager Joe Maddon dating back to their days together in Tampa Bay.

Often, contenders make offseason moves in response to (a) their downfall in the previous postseason or (b) the defining characteristic of the ultimate champion. This was both.

Even in these whiff-tastic times, the Cubs had to realize a 1,500-strikeout lineup would be exposed at some point. This year, that happened in the National League Championship Series against the New York Mets' power arms. And while the Cubs were swept away, Zobrist helped the contact-oriented Royals produce a series of comeback rallies in October.

Sometimes, solutions are simple.

But to land Zobrist, the Cubs first needed to make room in their everyday lineup. They accomplished that Tuesday by trading infielder Starlin Castro to the New York Yankees for Adam Warren and a player to be named later, reported to be Brendan Ryan.

The Yankees assumed the balance of Castro's contract -- more than $40 million over four years, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts -- meaning the Cubs can pay roughly three-quarters of Zobrist's salary with the money they've saved by sending Castro away.

Castro has value -- he posted a .917 OPS from Aug. 1 through the end of the regular season -- but his inconsistencies have frustrated the Cubs in recent years, and Zobrist will offer them more in that roster spot. Plus, in Warren the Cubs have a potential No. 4 starter behind their top trio of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey.

Nothing is guaranteed in baseball. Fans on the North Side of Chicago understand that more thoroughly and painfully than anyone else. But the Cubs clearly have a better roster now than 24 hours ago. Zobrist gives them a greater chance of returning to the playoffs -- and to keep winning once they get there.