Despite his off-field issues, Addison Russell may not have seen his last days in a Chicago Cubs uniform. Theo Epstein doubled down on that stance recently.
The Chicago Cubs enter the offseason with just as many questions as answers. Are they in on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado? Will they look for a prototypical leadoff man? Do they need more bullpen arms? Will pitching coach Jim Hickey return in 2019? Perhaps the most important decision is what they will do with Addison Russell.
Just two years ago, Russell was coming off winning his first World Series championship at the young age of 22. Russell was ascending and appeared destined to become one of the top shortstops in the league for years to come. As a true five-tool player, Russell had a unique skill set. Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper had even predicted that an MVP award could be in the future for the young infielder.
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Fast forward to today, and Russell’s Cubs career is in serious doubt.
Fall from grace
Russell’s troubling off-field matters have forced the hand of the Cubs organization. Major League Baseball suspended him for 40 games under its domestic violence policy.
Because the suspension is retroactive to the games Russell missed at the end of the season, he just has 28 games left to serve before he is eligible to return in 2019.
"“Everything is an open question. We haven’t made any determinations. The only determination we’ve made is we have to be a part of the solution both from an organizational standpoint in supporting the discipline and supporting and exploring a possible road to rehabilitation and improvement,” Epstein said earlier this week."
That comment indicates Epstein and the Cubs organization aren’t quite ready to pull the plug. In fact, they may not even be close to making an ultimate decision.
Since Russell’s breakout 2016 season when he hit he hit 21 home runs and had 95 RBI, he has taken multiple steps backward instead of continuing to improve – especially offensively.
In his last two seasons combined, he hit just 17 home runs and drove in 81 runs. Although Russell missed some time each year, he still managed to do more damage at the plate in one season than he has in the subsequent two years.
Russell has remained one of the top defensive shortstops in the National League, but his lack of production at the dish adds another layer to his recent decrease in value.
Options with Russell
Russell is arbitration eligible, so if the Cubs decide not to offer Russell a contract or “non-tender” him, he would become a free agent. The team can also trade Russell, and another team would have to handle Russell’s arbitration situation for themselves.
The other option would obviously be to keep him in the fold and continue to work with him. If Epstein does choose to cut ties with the former first-rounder, it would undoubtedly impact how the team handles their offseason.
The Cubs have options for how they would fill Russell’s spot in the middle infield. Marwin Gonzalez, DJ LeMahieu, Daniel Murphy and the aforementioned Machado are all free agent middle infielders who could help fill the potential void.
Even if the Cubs decide to get rid of Russell this winter, they might have enough depth to absorb the loss. In Russell’s absence, Javier Baez proved to be an above-average shortstop, and they could use David Bote, Ben Zobrist or Ian Happ at second base.
Epstein knows he has plenty of options and has no real reason to rush a decision on Russell.