Russell gets chance to earn trust back
Five months before Addison Russell is eligible to return from a Major League Baseball-mandated suspension for violating its domestic-violence policy, the Cubs displayed a measure of faith in their shortstop by tendering him a contract Friday, hours before the deadline.
“While this decision leaves the door open for Addison to later make an impact for us on the field, it does not represent the finish line nor rubber-stamp his future as a Cub,” team President Theo Epstein said in a statement. “It does, however, reflect our support for him as long as he continues to make progress and demonstrates his commitment to these important issues.”
The Cubs are expected to face some resistance, especially from some fans who believed Russell should have been released immediately after he was suspended. But Epstein has led an initiative to support domestic-violence prevention throughout the organization.
As part of the process in the Cubs’ decision to tender Russel a contract, Epstein said the team continues to listen and support Russell’s former wife, Melisa, who wrote in a late-September internet post, nearly 16 months after allegations surfaced by a third party on social media, that Russell abused her.
The revelation led MLB to place Russell on administrative leave and eventually suspend him for 40 games for violating its Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy, retroactive to Sept. 21. MLB announced the suspension Oct. 3, a day after the Cubs lost to the Rockies in the National League wild-card game.
The tender doesn’t assure Russell’s return because no arbitration-eligible contracts are fully guaranteed. The Cubs still can explore a trade or release him. But after two months, they are satisfied with Russell’s efforts.
“I am just in the early stages of this process,” Russell said in a statement. “It is work that goes far beyond being a baseball player — it goes to my core values of being the best family man, partner and teammate that I can be and giving back to the community and the less fortunate.
“While there is a lot of work ahead for me to earn back the trust of the Cubs fans, my teammates and the entire organization, it’s work that I am 110 percent committed to doing.”
In his statement, Russell apologized to his ex-wife, fans, the organization and his teammates, saying he was responsible for his actions. He also hired a therapist before starting the treatment plan MLB and the players association administered.
Before the Cubs tendered him a contract, Russell conveyed his progress and goals to team Chairman Tom Ricketts and Epstein, and they outlined their expecta- tions for him.
“I accept and am completely committed to meeting those expectations,” Russell said. “I am grateful for their support.”
Russell is projected to earn $4.3 million, according to MLBtraderumors.com, after batting .250 with five home runs and 38 RBIs while dealing with finger and shoulder injuries for most of the 2018 season. That’s a big dip from 2016, when he had 21 homers and 95 RBIs while helping the Cubs to the World Series title.
Epstein, however, said the organization needs to do its due diligence to be part of the solution.
“If we’re willing to accept credit when a member of our organization succeeds on the field, what should we do if he engages in conduct off the field worthy of discipline from Major League Baseball?” Epstein said.
Epstein said the organization has bonded with Family Rescue, a Chicago-based organization devoted to helping domestic-violence victims and providing community education and prevention.
“There is a long road ahead for Addison, and we will hold him accountable,” Epstein said. “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.”
The Cubs also tendered contracts to six other arbitrationeligible players: third baseman Kris Bryant, infielder Javier Baez, pitchers Kyle Hendricks, Mike Montgomery and Carl Edwards Jr. and left fielder Kyle Schwarber.
Infielder Ronald Torreyes, whom the Cubs acquired Wednesday in a trade with the Yankees, and pitchers Justin Hancock and Allen Webster didn’t receive offers and are free agents, dropping the Cubs’ 40-man roster to 36. They could seek a cheaper replacement for Torreyes.
The Cubs will scour a list of new free agents — players who weren’t tendered contracts by their former teams — but their projected 2019 payroll could exceed the $206 million luxury-tax threshold.
Cubs shortstop Addison Russell (27) heads to the dugout after striking out against the Indians in May at Wrigley Field.