Bote optioned; Cubs activate Cishek from IL
CHICAGO -- When the calendar flips to September and rosters expand around Major League Baseball, the Cubs will have a considerable group of players due to join the team as reinforcements for the stretch run. Infielder David Bote now finds himself among that Minor League mix.
On Monday's team off-day, the Cubs optioned Bote to Triple-A Iowa ahead of the team's upcoming six-game homestand against the Giants and Nationals. In a corresponding move made Tuesday night, the club activated right-hander Steve Cishek from the 10-day injured list.
Cishek rejoins the bullpen, which also recently had setup man Brandon Kintzler and closer Craig Kimbrel return from their own IL stints. On the position-player front, the Cubs also have utility men Daniel Descalso (10-day IL, left ankle) and Ben Zobrist (restricted list) working through Minor League assignments with September as the target for return.
"It's going to be nice to have everybody back," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Sunday at the Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa. "We've had one of those years where as soon as we get our position players healthy, relievers go down or starters go down. So it'd just be really nice if we can get to a point where we have sort of a healthy team and then get some guys locked in at the same time.
"We haven't really gotten hot except for that four-week stretch in late April, early May. It's been awhile. We're not relying on that, but we're looking forward to having our full complement of guys. ... We feel like we haven't really flexed our muscles yet and it's getting late."
The decision on Bote comes after the Cubs also optioned center fielder Albert Almora Jr. to Triple-A so he could get regular at-bats rather than playing sporadically in a platoon role. Following the July 31 trade for Nicholas Castellanos, the promotion of Ian Happ and Jason Heyward's move to center field, Almora was losing at-bats.
Almora was optioned Friday and promptly reported to Iowa -- a decision the Cubs appreciated.
"That was awesome," Epstein said. "We were real clear that the option wasn't punitive at all. It wasn't reactive to anything. It was purely that we felt he would benefit from some everyday at-bats to get locked in, because we know how much he can help us when he's feeling good at the plate.
"I thought it was an important statement for him to get there really quick. He knows he'll be back up Sept 1, so he wants to get his work in and make it count for something."
Like Almora, Bote has struggled against left-handed pitching (.694 OPS) and was at risk of losing playing time around the infield with Happ, Addison Russell and Tony Kemp all currently with the team. Happ can help out at third base, Russell serves as the backup shortstop and both of them -- plus Kemp -- have been worked in at second.
In 106 games this season, the infielder had hit .257 with 10 homers, 16 doubles, 40 RBIs and a .781 OPS. Bote had a .217 average and .658 OPS since June 15.
"It's been a respectful process," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of his conversations with Almora and Bote. "It's going to benefit everybody moving forward. We've added guys during this time also. Tony Kemp's done a wonderful job -- so has Castellanos. So all this stuff has made it a little bit different to fit everybody in right now. They're all going to be back. They're all going to be part of the Cubs' future."
The 38-year-old Zobrist, who played three games with Iowa over the weekend, will take a few days off before continuing his Minor League assignment with Double-A Tennessee on Thursday. Barring any setbacks, the utility man would then move back to Triple-A Iowa on Friday and Saturday.
"He understands where he is, what he needs to do to succeed and how to get that work in," Epstein said. "He understands his own limitations. Those things will all help him on this path back."
Epstein also noted that All-Star catcher Willson Contreras (10-day IL) is progressing well in his comeback from a right hamstring injury.
"He's doing really well," Epstein said. "He's beyond [the] discomfort to this point. He's kind of just focusing on appropriate build-up, stamina."