Does Addison Russell have a future with the Chicago Cubs? That’s a decision the ballclub has roughly 24 hours to make. That they haven’t made the decision though suggests they’re willing to deal with another stormy controversy by once again choosing baseball over domestic abuse allegations.
Russell, 24, is still serving a 40-game suspension without pay for violating Major League Baseball’s joint domestic violence policy. He won’t be eligible to return until May 3. The team has until 8 p.m. ET on Friday to decide whether that return will come in a Cubs uniform. That’s the deadline to offer contracts to arbitration-eligible players on the 40-man roster. And Russell’s case is one of the most interesting to watch as the deadline approaches.
If the Cubs tender Russell a contract, he likely plays for them in 2019. If they don’t, Russell will immediately become a free agent eligible to sign anywhere.
While the Cubs decision is not yet official, it’s something fans have already been paying attention to. That’s in part because the allegations levied against Russell by now-ex-wife Melisa Reidy were serious and troubling. It’s also because there’s still a sour taste leftover from when the Cubs acquired Aroldis Chapman during the 2016 season, months after he’d been suspended for a domestic-violence issue.
When Russell’s suspension was handed out in October, many reasoned that Cubs would never go down this road again because it could create an uncomfortable aura. However, since then there’s been little indication the Cubs are ready to move on from Russell as their shortstop of the present and future. In fact, manager Joe Maddon seemingly dismissed Reidy’s account when pressed for his thoughts, which could indicate the scales were always tipped in favor of a Russell return.
The most recent comments on the matter came from Cubs president Theo Epstein in early October, where he was non-committal about Russell’s future but said they the team was evaluating him through their mental skills department:
“I also think part of the solution can possibly include rehabilitation and reformation,” Epstein said. “And taking steps to examine whether the individual is worth the investment so he can grow so that this never happens again with him. So we’re in that process. We have a robust mental skills department. I don’t want to get into specifics, but we’re very engaged with Addy in trying to verify that he’s serious about self-improvement and adding more stability in his life to get to a point that we’re confident that something like this will never happen again.”
Here’s what the Cubs must weigh before making a final decision.
The blog post was the first time Reidy had chosen to speak publicly about being abused by Russell, whom she was married to from 2016 to 2018. A previous allegation surfaced about one year prior in the comments of an Instagram post when a friend of Reidy’s accused Russell of hitting Reidy in front of his children.
That Instagram comment triggered a league investigation, but the case was eventually suspended because Reidy wasn’t willing to speak with MLB at that time. The league reopened the investigation after Reidy’s public comments and after she agreed to speak with MLB investigators.
The league took its stance on the matter based on its findings. The Cubs have essentially swept it under the rug, refusing to take allegations on head-on. The end of the season came at a convenient time for them. But they won’t be able to avoid it as Friday’s deadline looms.
Decline in production
Not that baseball in any way should be an overriding factor in this situation, but the Cubs seemingly have an out based on Russell’s recent play.
In 2016, Russell looked like one of baseball’s fastest rising stars. However, over the past two seasons, he’s mostly looked lost on the field. In his last 240 games, Russell has turned in a disappointing .245/.311/.376 slash line. That’s led to a loss in playing time, but it also makes him a classic bounce-back candidate.
Projected to earn $4.3 million in his first year of arbitration, the Cubs might actually see him as a bargain from a baseball and business perspective. The thought could be to buy some time with Russell, let him attempt to rehab his image and his value, before truly deciding if he’s worth keeping around.
That wouldn’t be a popular course of action, but the Cubs — and frankly most MLB teams in the past — have been more concerned with fielding the best 25-man roster than holding players accountable for off-the-field transgressions.
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