When Addison Russell was first being investigated for a possible violation of the MLB’s domestic violence policy in 2017, he repeatedly professed innocence as the Chicago Cubs pledged their support to their young shortstop.
At the time, Russell’s ex-wife — Melisa Reidy — was unwilling to comply with league investigators, fearing that all of the negative attention would carry a heavy burden for their newborn child. However, Reidy would come forward and share her story in 2018, detailing the abuse she suffered at the hands of Russell for years.
Once again, Russell initially denied the allegations. Major League Baseball would suspend Russell for 40 games, a suspension that Russell would accept despite still claiming innocence.
But this winter, more stories circulated with respect to Russell’s mishandling and utter negligence in paying child support.
There seemed to be a disturbing pattern of behavior developing for the 25-year-old, who had gone from one of the heroes of the 2016 World Series to a pariah almost overnight.
Not only did Reidy’s revelations detail a series of outbursts and a suggestion that Russell was harboring anger management issues, but Russell also seemed intent on not taking responsibility for his own actions, consistently deferring to his “youth.”
Naturally, this drew the ire of Cubs fans, many of whom had also expressed concern over the Aroldis Chapman acquisition in 2016 (Chapman had been suspended for a domestic violence issue at the start of the season). For a good portion of the winter, plenty of fans and reporters suggested the Cubs should part ways with Russell.
Instead, Theo Epstein insisted that the organization must accept some responsibility for Russell’s shortcomings, saying his failure to grow into a better man happened on the Cubs’ watch. He also insisted that the team would have a very high standard for Russell.
Now, after everything that has happened over the course of the past 10 months, the Cubs need to permanently cut ties with Addison Russell.
Still plenty of immaturity
Not only has Russell failed to live up to the hype he seemed to promise when he hit 21 homers in 2016 (more on this later), but he also repeatedly fails to own up to bad mistakes.
In a game against the Pirates earlier this month, the Cubs were clinging to a one-run lead with one out and runners on second and third in the bottom of the ninth. Russell received a ground ball at second base and tried to throw home. The play at the plate was not even close, and it was a decision that would ultimately cost the Cubs the game. The runner who advanced to third on the fielder’s choice then scored on a sacrifice fly, which would otherwise have been the third out of the inning.
Given the infield was playing back and would have taken the second out in the inning, Cubs manager Joe Maddon rightly said the throw should have gone to first base. Russell, however, doubled down on his decision:
DUDE. YOU WERE "A LITTLE TOO FAR BACK" BECAUSE YOUR MANAGER WANTED YOU TO GO TO FIRST BASE ON A PLAY LIKE THAT. AND HE WANTED THAT PRECISELY BECAUSE OF WHAT HAPPENED. pic.twitter.com/lqdIvyN2By
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) July 4, 2019
The mental blunders have hardly ended there. In a series against the San Diego Padres in mid-July, Russell was inexplicably doubled off second base on a line drive to left field. Maddon was open about the need for Russell to figure things out in the postgame press conference, but the worst was yet to come.
In a story by ESPN Cubs beat writer Jesse Rogers, Russell readily admitted to missing signs while also saying that he wish he could receive more playing time.
Not only is this statement contradictory, but it is also absurd. Sure, Russell was running his highest OPS and OPS+ since 2016, but he was seeing limited time in part because of his lack of focus. Throw in an extremely hot May from David Bote and the eventual emergence of Robel Garcia, and Russell should hardly have expected to be an everyday player, especially given his baggage.
Not who they thought he was
Russell’s 2016 season was supposed to vault him into superstardom. Not only did he hit 21 homers and drive in 95 runs, but he was staking his claim as one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball.
Instead, what has followed has merely been frustration. Russell’s OPS+ dropped 10 points in 2017, and he missed 52 games due to injury. Last season, the wheels completely fell off.
Russell slashed .250/.317/.340 as he was zapped of his power stroke and then found the spotlight once the MLB investigations resurfaced. He also posted a paltry wRC+ value of 80 for the season.
There is no question that Russell is still one of the better defensive middle infielders in baseball. Still, after posting 19 Defensive Runs Saved and an Ultimate Zone Rating of 10.3 in 2016, Russell saw decreases in both areas in subsequent seasons.
With Javier Baez earning the right to be Chicago’s everyday shortstop, Russell has had to adapt to second base. He has most certainly been an above-average defender, but he has also had a number of lapses, such as the aforementioned play against the Pirates.
Realistically, it seems as though Russell will never be the player the Cubs hoped he might be after the 2016 season. He still strikes out too much for someone with a career walk rate below 10 percent and a relatively low slugging percentage. He has been a nightmare on the basepaths this season, and his general immaturity in handling adverse situations is hardly beneficial to a Cubs team that is fighting tooth and nail to make the playoffs.
“No finish line”
Epstein and Maddon have had to answer questions about Russell all season long. After all, they were the ones who pledged to hold him to a high standard and support his personal journey.
But Epstein also had a quote in a story written by Rogers in April that now seems especially pertinent:
“This is one situation where it is not appropriate to get ahead of the story. Addison has a lot of work to do going forward. There is no finish line here.”
Russell absolutely had a lot of work to do in earning the trust of Maddon and the front office. Yet, he continues to bemoan his own mistakes. Every time it seems like he might take ownership for his actions (I can’t miss signs), he follows up with an excuse (I wish I played more).
On Wednesday, the Cubs elected to demote Russell to Triple-A Iowa. On Friday, the team revealed that veteran utility player Ben Zobrist would be targeting a September return. So, where does this leave Russell moving forward?
The bottom line is the Cubs need to move on from Russell. He has had ample opportunity to establish his growth as a person and a player, and he has failed at just about every turn.
Even if that metaphorical finish line Epstein alluded to was indeed real, Russell is nowhere in sight.