Addison Russell is about to get back to competitive baseball. Currently suspended under the domestic violence policy, Russell is eligible to return to the big leagues on May 3, and is therefore eligible to begin a one-week conditioning stay at AAA Iowa. He’ll head there tonight to play.
I think the expectation right now is that Russell will not need more than a week to be ready for the big leagues – he had a typical Spring Training, and has since been playing in extended Spring Training – though that leaves open the questions about what he’s done to right himself, and make amends to the many people around him that he’s hurt. The Cubs have said his chance to return to the team is conditional (though unspecified), and that Russell has met those expectations so far (again, unspecified). That needs to remain a part of this discussion, as Russell is very unlikely to be welcomed back with open arms by all Cubs fans.
That’s especially true when articles like this continue to allow Russell to paint himself as simply a guy who made some mistakes, and is now overcoming adversity:
Addison Russell, believing he’s a better man now, and at peace, leaves Arizona today as #MLB suspension coming to an end with one-week stay in Iowa and then a return to the Chicago #Cubs.
https://t.co/sOlJjQivJn via @USATODAY
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) April 23, 2019
Comparing yourself to Tiger Woods? Why, man? Why?
It’s not all bad in there, but quotes like this from Russell make you wonder if he still doesn’t get what this is all really about: “I feel like overcoming this challenge has made me much more self-aware.” Describing your suspension for ongoing domestic violence with a former spouse as your “challenge” to “overcome” is more or less the definition of lacking self-awareness. So I don’t know what to do with that one.
You can read the USA Today piece for more on and from Russell, who does at least offer some sense of ongoing contrition, and who – in fairness – necessarily is going to be primarily focused on how to best return to baseball after missing all this time. Also, in fairness, as far as we know, his ex-wife Melisa Reidy, whose experience is what led to MLB’s investigation in the first place, supports Russell having this conditional opportunity to return to the big leagues. Her opinion in this matter probably should matter more than most.
What happens if and when Russell does return to the big leagues after just a week at AAA Iowa? Well, that’s an open question. Does it become a rotational bench guy? Does he immediately resume everyday shortstop duties? What’s the best approach for the Cubs? What has happened to the roster in the intervening week?
It probably isn’t a reasonable question whether Russell at shortstop improves the Cubs’ defense – by virtue of Baez moving to second base, where he’s unquestionably better than anyone else who has regularly manned the position this year, the defense is of course at its best with those two up the middle.
But it is an open question if those two up the middle is, overall, the best for the Cubs. If Russell’s bat still hasn’t taken a significant step forward, then you’re daily sitting a guy who might be a plus bat – Ben Zobrist? Daniel Descalso? David Bote? – in exchange for Russell’s glove, AND you’re doing so at the expense of moving Baez off of a position where he’s been playing well and comfortably for a long time now. Is that the right thing to do for the team?
We have at least a week to observe and follow Russell’s progress before the Cubs have to make a decision in any case, and maybe things will be crystal clear at that point. Maybe Russell won’t actually be ready to return. Maybe the Cubs will have suffered an injury. Maybe trade talks will pick back up now that Russell’s suspension is over. And so on.
For now, we just observe.