Chicago Cubs: Is Addison Russell ready to be the guy we thought he was?
By Jake Misener
Once one of the most-hyped prospects in baseball, Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell has yet to consistently put it together at the big-league level.
The day the Chicago Cubs sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for Addison Russell still stands out in my mind. I was floored for two reasons: one, Oakland went for a win-now approach instead of long-term building. Two, Russell was widely regarded as one of the best young talents in the game.
Somehow, Chicago picked him up for a half-season of two pitchers. And, come the next offseason, the Cubs actually re-signed Hammel to a new contract, making the deal even sweeter. Heading into the 2015 season, Russell ranked as the third-best prospect in the game, according to Baseball America.
The young infielder appeared in 142 games for Chicago in 2015. His on-base percentage barely broke .300 and his .696 OPS remains the worst of his career. He split time between second base and shortstop, defensively. After suffering a sweep at the hands of the Mets in the NLCS, the front office shook things up.
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Former franchise cornerstone Starlin Castro was on the move. Chicago sent Castro to the Yankees in exchange for Adam Warren and a player to be named later. This move cleared the path for Russell to take over at shortstop – his natural position.
An offensive breakout?
At first glance, it appears as if this change helped Russell take a big step forward at the dish. During the Cubs’ 2016 World Series championship season, he put up some impressive numbers. He hit 21 home runs and drove in 95 runs, appearing in 151 games for Chicago.
That’s all fine and dandy. With his 95 RBI, he became the first Cubs shortstop to hit that total since Ernie Banks. Not too shabby a name to be mentioned with. But he still hit just .238 and had a 94 OPS+. Defensively, he’s clearly above-average, but the holes in his offensive game worsened in 2017.
His OPS+ fell from an already below-average 94 down to 85. His .304 on-base percentage ranked as the worst mark of his career and he again failed to break a .240 average. His splits indicate a stark difference in his work against lefties and righties – making me wonder: is Russell on his way to becoming a platoon player?
Could this really be happening?
I know, I know.
The Internet is already ablaze with varying opinions on Russell. Most of those involving the rumored Manny Machado trade. Still, few believe it’s time to lower the bar for the Cubs infielder. But that’s what he’s shown in his first three years.
After this long, hype doesn’t cut it. You either perform or you don’t. His off-the-field issues are certainly cause for concern. But his on-field performance says that he’s a plus defender with a shaky bat. It’s time we accept that and plan accordingly.
At this point, Addison Russell is a sub-.250 hitter who will hit you 20 or so homers each year. He’s above-average with the glove but his biggest asset right now is simple: he won’t hit free agency until after the 2021 campaign.
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Control is great – but if you have a chance to add a piece like Manny Machado, you pull the trigger. I love Addison Russell. He’s an exciting young talent. But, for the most part, he’s largely inconsistent and has failed to elevate his game after three years in the league. It’s time to change how we look at him.