Chicago Cubs: 2018 could be a turning point year for Addison Russell
By Janey Murray
Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell spent much of the 2017 season plagued with injuries. This year, he will need to prove himself to solidify his role for years to come.
Following an All-Star 2016 campaign, Chicago Cubs infielder Addison Russell was out for a large portion of the 2017 season. He battled plantar fasciitis and off-field issues for much of the year. He accumulated just 385 plate appearances in 110 games, the fewest in his three-year career. By contrast, in 2016, Russell finished the year with 598 plate appearances in 151 games.
While Russell was out with plantar fasciitis in the final few months of the season, Javier Baez proved that his spectacular defensive play at second base could transfer over to shortstop. He started in place of Russell at shortstop in 67 games, further proving his value.
The domestic abuse allegations and subsequent investigation left their mark, as well. While nothing has come of the MLB investigation, but it certainly clouded Russell’s reputation in the eyes of some fans.
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Because of all the struggles he faced in 2017, 2018 is setting up to be a turning point year for the 24-year-old shortstop. Toward the end of 2017, many people began to question whether Baez might be a better long-term option at shortstop.
Russell finished 2017 with a batting average of .239, a .304 on-base percentage and a .418 slugging percentage. Baez, on the other hand, surpassed Russell in each of these categories, finishing with a slash-line of .273/.317/.480.
Hype – but consistency lacking
Russell was considered a top prospect when he was acquired by the Cubs from the Oakland Athletics for Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija. And while he continued to make an impact on defense, solidifying himself as one of the elite young shortstops in the game, Russell seems to have plateaued offensively. His offensive numbers have hovered around the same average statistics in his three years at the Major League level.
The former All-Star will need a breakout offensive year in 2018 in order to secure his place as the long-term shortstop for the Cubs. Baez has proven that he is at least as good as Russell defensively, if not better. Last year, Baez seemed to take the ‘top dog’ spot from his middle infield partner.
It is more likely than not that Russell maintains similar offensive statistics in 2018. And while his offensive numbers are not bad, Baez just seems to have more upside and a chance to become a better all-around player. Thus, Russell could become a valuable trade chip for the Cubs should they need to fill any holes before the trade deadline this season.
Plenty of options
If Baez moved to shortstop permanently, both Ben Zobrist and Ian Happ would be prepared to take over at second base. Happ’s offensive numbers in his rookie year in 2017 were better than some might realize. He had a batting average of .253, an OBP of .328 and slugged .514. In a crowded Cubs outfield, second base might be the best place for Happ to get playing time. His versatility could be very valuable to the Cubs in the future.
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Russell could be a valuable piece for many teams. However, for the Cubs, he seems to be the most expendable member of the infield. Unless he has a breakout offensive performance in 2018, which seems unlikely, there is a good chance he could be dealt at some time in the near future.