When the Cubs first acquired Addison Russell on July 4, 2014, they thought they were getting a cornerstone of their rebuild that would roam the middle of the Wrigley Field infield for years to come. In 2015, he supplanted Starlin Castro at shortstop and, the following year, he hit a grand slam in game 6 of the World Series, helping the Cubs win their first title in 108 years. And its been downhill since then.
On the field, Russell has failed to take that next step. His OPS+ dropped in both 2017 and 2018. He set career lows in home runs in 2017 and again in 2018. His errors per chance increased both years. That alone would leave reasonable questions about his future with the franchise. His performance on the field, however, is nothing compared to the nightmare he has turned into off the field.
In June of 2017, an Instagram post by a friend of his wife’s accused Russell of domestic violence. Russell denied the accusation and, while MLB opened an investigation, he wasn’t suspended. At the 2017 All Star Game, Scott Boras, Russell’s agent, seemed confident that his client would be absolved of any wrong-doing. “I think we know the facts of that and the foundation of social media,” Boras said that day. “I don’t think there is any support to (the allegation).”
Everything was quiet until late September 2018, when Russell’s now ex-wife posted on Instagram, detailing some of the physical and emotional abuse that she claims Russell put her through. Russell again denied the allegations, but was placed on administrative leave for the remainder of the season, including the playoffs. On October 4, Russell was suspended for 40 games, retroactive to September 21 and spilling into the beginning of the 2019 season, becoming eligible to play on May 3, barring any early season weather issues.
Per a statement, Russell decided to accept the suspension without appeal and will also participate in a confidential and comprehensive evaluation and treatment program, which will be supervised by MLB’s Joint Policy Board. “After gaining a full understanding of the situation, I have concluded it’s in the best interest of my family to accept MLB’s proposed resolution of this matter,” Russell said in the statement released by his attorneys. “I wish my ex-wife well and hope we can live in peace for the benefit of our child.”
The Cubs had an easy out at that point, but instead decided to tender Russell a contract for 2019 last month. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein called the decision a “procedural step” and said it did “not represent the finish line nor rubber stamp his future” with the club. “It does, however, reflect our support for him as long as he continues to make progress and demonstrates his commitment to these important issues,” Epstein added. In a statement released by the Cubs, Russell said, “Since accepting my suspension, I’ve had time to reflect on my past behavior and think about the next steps I need to take to grow as a person.”
Earlier this week, more details about the abuse were released by Russell’s ex-wife while additional allegations were made by a former girlfriend and mother of Russell’s daughter. Unfortunately for the Cubs, they can’t rid themselves of Russell now even if they wanted to. Until Russell signs a contract for 2019, he is in a bit of a limbo. That is, assuming, that the Cubs want to rid themselves of Russell and the headache that he brings to the table.
With the emergence of Javy Baez and the availability of Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist, there isn’t a pressing need for Russell’s services. Given the bad press the team has weathered over the past few years regarding their acquisitions of Aroldis Chapman and Daniel Murphy, one would think it would make sense for the Cubs to move on at this point. It would also likely be beneficial for Russell to re-start his career somewhere else, without the scrutiny of the Cub spotlight.