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The Cubs agreed to a unique deal with Addison Russell to avoid arbitration

What message does that deal send to Cubs fans?

Addison Russell walks off the field after making the final out against the Cardinals
Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images

Yesterday I wrote about the fan campaign to pressure the Cubs to release Addison Russell by raising the equivalent of his salary for the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic of Chicago. As part of that piece I mentioned that the Cubs will have a lot of tough questions to answer at the Cubs Convention next weekend.

That was before salary agreements to avoid arbitration were announced today and it appears the Cubs have put themselves in a more difficult position regarding their suspended shortstop. You might wonder how that is remotely possible given the seemingly continuous firestorm since the Cubs tendered Russell a non-guaranteed contract in November. Take a look below.

As Cubs salaries were revealed on Twitter Friday they were fairly predictable. Here’s Kyle Schwarber signing for slightly more than was projected:

And here’s Mike Montgomery coming in slightly under projections:

And here’s Addison Russell, taking a bit of a financial hit. You know, like you do when you’re in the middle of a 40-game suspension after the worst season of your career... wait, what is that addendum to this deal?

That’s right. The deal that the Cubs signed with Addison Russell includes incentives based on “days on the active roster” that functionally negate the financial hit of the suspension. I’m not going to lie, I’m still having a bit of a problem articulating how I feel about this so I’ll highlight a few reactions from Twitter that summed up my feelings well:

Admittedly I haven’t had a ton of time to research this, but I cannot find another example of a deal like this for a player in the middle of a suspension. Aroldis Chapman was in his last year of arbitration when he was suspended for domestic violence. As far as I can tell he was traded from the Reds to the Yankees in the offseason and then signed a straight up deal to avoid arbitration. While he did get a sizable raise, he didn’t have “days on the active roster” incentives to mitigate the financial hit he took. Jose Reyes was already under contract when he served a 52-game suspension for domestic violence.

It is also interesting to note that neither Chapman nor Reyes played another game for their previous team after being suspended.

The closest case I can find to a player under suspicion at the time of arbitration hearings is Jeurys Familia who was under investigation for domestic violence when he agreed to a $7.425 million contract to avoid arbitration with the Mets. He later accepted and served a 15-game suspension and returned to the Mets in 2017. He also didn’t have any incentive deals to mitigate the impact of the suspension.

The rationale of the bonuses in Russell’s deal boggles my mind a little bit. Yes, he took less than was originally projected, but for that matter, so did Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Montgomery. I cannot imagine the front office intended to nullify the impact of Russell’s suspension with this incentive structure, but it’s hard to read the terms of this deal as anything else.

These bonuses appear to be unique for a suspended player, and I believe the front office owes the fanbase an explicit explanation about why the deal is structured that way. Theo Epstein said a lot about responsibility when he announced that the Cubs had tendered Russell a contract in November, including this:

‘We understand every action we take and word we use sends a message to our fans - all of whom have their own unique experiences and perspectives, and some of whom have a personal connection to domestic violence. The message we would like to leave you with is we take the issue of domestic violence seriously. There is a long road ahead for Addison, and we will hold him accountable. There also is a long road ahead for our organization as we attempt to make some good of this situation. We are committed to being a part of the solution.”

Today’s contract for Russell delivered a very loud message to fans by appearing to build in structures that nullified the financial impact of his suspension. I hope that wasn’t the message the front office intended to deliver.