Chicago Cubs: Addison Russell playing well following tumultuous offseason

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Some believed Addison Russell would never play another game in a Chicago Cubs uniform. But he’s in the lineup in Arizona and playing well early on this spring.

As ready as the Chicago Cubs fanbase is to turn the page on this trying offseason, there are likely few people more eager to focus on baseball than infielder Addison Russell. In each of the last two years, he faced domestic abuse allegations and last summer, Major League Baseball suspended him 40 games for violating the league’s domestic abuse policy.

There were several gates throughout the winter where the Cubs could have moved on from the former first-rounder. But, instead, they tendered him a deal, made several public statements regarding the stipulations and conditions of Russell’s continued employment and vowed to ‘be part of the solution’ instead.

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So with Cactus League action well underway, baseball is once again taking center stage. That’s not to take away from the seriousness of what transpired over the last few years, but, at this point, we also have an obligation to cover the Cubs as a baseball team. Whether you or I like it or not, Addison Russell remains part of said team – and, thus, has a role to play in 2019.

Before we get into his performance early this spring, it’s important to remember that Chicago will open the 2019 regular season later this month without their projected starting shortstop – who must serve the remaining 29 games of his league-issued suspension before returning to the field.

During his absence, Javier Baez will once again hold down the shortstop position (and you could easily make the case he should continue to play there even after Russell returns). That leaves a combination of Ian Happ, Ben Zobrist and Daniel Descalso to hold things down at second. Once Russell returns a month in, we could see a roster crunch – where Joe Maddon might have to really juggle things around to get guys regular playing time.

Because, if early returns are any indication, Russell is a much-improved piece on the field.

"“I talk to him every day pretty much,” Maddon told the Chicago Tribune recently. “I don’t talk to him about (his off-the-field situation). I just talk to him in a baseball sense. He’s in a good place mentally right now. He looks good in the field and at the plate.”"

At the dish, Russell carries a .429 average and .946 OPS into action Friday, the former of which trails only Christhian Adames – who’s put together an impressive resume for the team so far.

There’s no disputing what a healthy, focused Addison Russell brings to the table in the baseball sense. When the Cubs won the World Series three years ago, he belted a career-high 21 long-balls and drove in 95 runs, becoming the only Cubs shortstop not named Ernie Banks to eclipse such a total.

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But since then, he’s failed to deliver – especially at the dish – and Chicago is hoping to see more from his bat in 2019. With a loaded middle infield, his only chance may be just that: force the team’s hand when it comes to playing time by buckling down and silencing his critics this season.