Addison Russell is currently ineligible to play, having agreed to a 40-game suspension under the joint domestic violence policy stemming from his allegedly abusive relationship with then-wife Melisa Reidy. In the meantime, Russell is working through personal counseling, MLB-mandated counseling, and other unspecified activities, and is trying to improve his familial relationships.
The Cubs have long said that Russell’s return to the team was “conditional,” though the particulars of those conditions have never been made entirely clear.
Cubs GM Jed Hoyer was on the radio today with Mully & Haugh on 670 The Score, and he updated Russell’s status:
Jed Hoyer @mullyhaugh . On Addison Russell’s return . “He has been compliant with everything we have asked him to do and then some “ Hoyer said there in no plan to announce other than getting him his 7 day minor league stint a week from now.
— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) April 18, 2019
Russell is playing in extended Spring Training games in Arizona for the time being, and he is then able to play for a week at AAA Iowa to gear up for a return to the big leagues.
At that point, the Cubs will have to make a decision about how to best organize the roster *AND* sort out playing time.
A lot can happen in two weeks, so I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself in making projections, but Russell’s availability could prove complicated. Given the early success of David Bote, and the fact that guys like Daniel Descalso and Ben Zobrist aren’t going anywhere, Russell being activated would mean Bote’s days on the big league roster could limited. Would he go down right away? Maybe not, since the Cubs could option Mark Zagunis, go with three “outfielders” for the time being, since Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist see plenty of outfield time anyway.
But what happens if and when Ian Happ is ready to return? At that point, the Cubs would have to make a decision about which two of those three – Happ, Bote, and Russell – to carry on the roster.*
Presuming Russell does return immediately, playing time is going to be very challenging thanks to Russell’s presumably still excellent glove, but still questionable bat. By starting him at shortstop, you necessarily have to move Javy Baez to second base or third base, which necessarily means you’re going to be reducing playing time for Descalso, Zobrist, and Bote. Is that optimizing the usage of all of the players if Russell isn’t hitting? Maybe so, but it’s definitely a conversation to be had when the time comes.
Russell, notably, does have minor league options remaining. If the Cubs decided he needed more time at Iowa to get ready, and/or more time to figure out how to best proceed with the roster, they could option him at that point. It’s also possible that the Cubs will continue to explore trade options. Some teams are more willing to trade for a player who has completed his domestic violence suspension (the Cubs and Aroldis Chapman, for example), rather than a player who has a suspension pending.
Like I said, we’re at least two weeks away from this actually having to be sorted out, and, God forbid, maybe it has sorted itself out with an injury or two by then. Baseball is cruel like that. For now, though, I thought it worth teeing this up, especially given how good Bote and Descalso have looked, and how clearly comfortable Baez is as shortstop.
*(As Bryan reminds me, it’s also conceivable that Albert Almora would be in that group at that point, if the bat continues to lag so badly (with Jason Heyward and Ian Happ, for example, manning center field). Right now, that seems very unlikely, given his defense and the rest of the outfield, but he’s right. It’s possible.)