The Cubs are weighing whether or not to bring embattled 24-year-old shortstop Addison Russell back in 2019, Patrick Mooney of The Athletic reports. Russell is entering his second of four years of arbitration eligibility.
Last year, a friend of Russell’s now ex-wife Melisa Reidy-Russell made allegations on an Instagram post that Addison was an abuser. Major League Baseball opened an investigation but it didn’t go anywhere as Reidy-Russell chose not to cooperate. In September, Reidy-Russell came forward with a blog post detailing years of abuse from Addison. MLB re-opened its investigation and the Cubs placed Russell on administrative leave. Ultimately, Russell agreed to serve a 40-game suspension without pay. The suspension carries over into 2019 as he will miss the first 29 games of the regular season.
Despite some progressive-sounding quotes from president of baseball operations Theo Epstein during his end-of-season press conference, the Cubs haven’t positioned themselves well on social issues like homophobia (acquiring Daniel Murphy) and domestic violence (Russell; acquiring Aroldis Chapman in 2016). Manager Joe Maddon, in fact, said he didn’t bother to read Reidy-Russell’s blog post and only eventually did so following backlash to that admission.
The Cubs are reportedly cash-strapped, suggesting that they may not get involved in the bidding for free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. The Cubs, valued by Forbes at close to $3 billion earlier this year, also recently traded pitcher Drew Smyly to the Rangers to clear some salary in order to pick up Cole Hamels‘ $20 million option for 2019. It would seem, then, that it would be a no-brainer to move on from Russell, who will almost certainly get a raise on his $3.2 million salary — MLB Trade Rumors projects him to earn $4.3 million in 2019. Even Russell’s on-field production has been lackluster, as he posted a meager .657 OPS across 130 games this past season.
The Cubs could be trying to salvage what little trade value Russell has left. He’s young, under team control for three more years, and is a good defender at shortstop. Other teams will cynically use Russell’s off-the-field problems in order to pick him up on the cheap, not unlike how the Astros plucked Roberto Osuna from the Blue Jays. If the Cubs simply admit they will be moving on from Russell, then they will have no leverage in trade negotiations. Of course, none of this matters if the Cubs simply severed ties with Russell completely. They have until November 30 to decide whether or not to tender him a contract.