Addison Russell’s time with the Cubs is over, and as I have written here previously, I thought the Cubs should have cut ties with him a year ago. BCB’s Sara Sanchez posted her thoughts here earlier this morning, and without wanting to “pile on,” I had some things I wanted to say as well.
The thought that comes to my mind regarding Russell’s tenure with the team, and his baseball career to date, is: “It’s a shame.” First and foremost, the abuse alleged by Russell’s former wife Melisa Reidy (and also by a former girlfriend) was shameful. No human being should do that to another human being. Ever. In so doing, Russell not only hurt people he professed to love, but cast a shadow on himself as a human being, not to mention as a baseball player. From the point at which he accepted his 40-game suspension for doing these things, not only his personal life but his baseball legacy was forever going to be tarnished.
I think it’s important before I continue to note Theo Epstein’s statement made after Russell was not tendered a 2020 contract by the Cubs, making him a free agent. Parts of it were posted in Josh’s news article about the non-tender, and here is the complete statement:
Comments from Theo Epstein on the decision to non-tender Addison Russell: pic.twitter.com/43Vca6VLLt— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) December 3, 2019
There is no question in my mind that there were valid baseball reasons for not continuing to have Russell on the team. He played poorly, much worse than in his best year (2016), and this is just mind-boggling for a veteran of over 2,000 MLB plate appearances:
“Also, not missing signs, as well,” Russell said. “Stay on top of those. Remind myself, I need to become more familiar with the signs, as well. So there’s no gap there. You know exactly what’s being put on so you can do your job more efficient.”
Asked to be more specific, Russell replied, “At the plate and on the bases. Just being aware ... I haven’t played as much as I’ve liked to play, but it’s no excuse for not being in the moment. You have small mistakes like that, and it’s definitely something you can be better at. Especially from the mental side.”
Russell’s play had him sent to Triple-A Iowa. He was recalled, then was hit in the head by a pitch September 8 in Milwaukee and spent two weeks in the concussion protocol, not returning to action until the Cubs were more or less eliminated from the postseason.
I’m going to take Theo Epstein at his word in the statement quoted above, that Russell has done the off-field work asked of him and become a better person. That’s undoubtedly a good thing. But Russell’s on-field play had become such that the Cubs — especially with Theo promising major changes from 2019 to 2020 — felt that it was best to cut ties at this point.
When the Cubs acquired Addison Russell in a trade for Jeff Samardzija in 2014, the story goes that before Athletics general manager Billy Beane hung up the phone with Cubs president Theo Epstein, he told him, “you just got Barry Larkin.”
The implication was that Russell had the talent to become as great as Larkin, who now has a plaque in Cooperstown. That hasn’t been the case, obviously, and at this point it might never happen. Russell was the A’s No. 1 pick (11th overall) in 2012 — five selections after the Cubs chose Albert Almora Jr. Russell did perform well on the baseball field for a time, but now it’s time for him to move on.
It’s a shame that his own actions have likely prevented him from realizing that baseball talent, but I agree with Theo: I hope everything that’s brought Russell to this point will make him a better human being. Patrick Mooney has some further thoughts on how the Cubs handled this situation in this article in The Athletic.
He will likely catch on with another team, perhaps a team in a smaller media market like the Royals or Marlins, a place where he won’t be under the sort of scrutiny he was in Chicago. I wish him well going forward.
But what happened is all just a shame.