Russell, 25, was suspended 40 games by Major League Baseball last year after his now-ex-wife Melisa Reidy published a blog post detailing years of abuse. Reidy provided even more details several months later. Mallory Engstrom, who is also a mother to one of Russell’s children, said on Instagram that he was a largely absent father who tried to wriggle his way out of his financial responsibilities to his daughter.
Despite all of this, the Cubs tendered Russell a contract around this time last year. He served the remainder of his suspension and made his season debut on May 8. He went on to put up disappointing numbers, barely producing above replacement level. He also suffered a concussion in early September. Russell was eligible for arbitration for the second time when the Cubs decided to cut ties with him.
Make no mistake: the Cubs’ decision to non-tender Russell had everything to do with his on-field production and projected salary, and little to do with his off-field issues. The club went to great lengths to defend him and, of course, willingly brought him back in the midst of his legal, social, and familial issues. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said as much on Monday. Via The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma, Epstein said:
We decided to non-tender Addison Russell today simply because the role we expected him to play for the 2020 Cubs was inconsistent with how he would have been treated in the salary arbitration process.
In the year since we decided to tender Addison a contract last November, he has lived up to his promise to put in the important self-improvement work necessary off the field and has shown growth as a person, as a partner, as a parent and as a citizen. We hope and believe that Addison’s work and growth will continue, and we have offered our continued support of him and his family, including Melisa.
In the last year, the organization has also put in the important work necessary to bolster our domestic violence prevention training for all employees, all major league players, all minor league players and all staff. We also offered healthy relationship workshops for the players’ partners and provided intensive, expert domestic violence prevention training for player-facing staff. This heightened training and our increased community involvement on the urgent issue of domestic violence prevention will continue indefinitely.
We wish Addison and his family well.
Now we wait and see which teams show interest in Russell. If Russell does end up catching on elsewhere, his new team will inevitably have to field questions about the shortstop’s past. 29 front offices are currently weighing the pros and cons of that.