Posted on May 1, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell will have to wait a little longer to return to the big leagues when his 40-game suspension is complete. The Cubs announced Tuesday that Russell will be optioned to triple-A on Thursday when he’s first eligible to be activated. The club sees it as a baseball decision and there is no timeline for when Russell may be back in Chicago.
Major League Baseball suspended Russell for 40 games last October for violating the league’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. Some of those 40 games were received retroactively last season. Russell didn’t play after September 21 when his ex-wife made domestic abuse allegations in a blog post. He didn’t appeal the suspension and has complied with all off-field stipulations set forth by MLB when they issued the suspension.
Despite being suspended, Russell has been allowed to play in minor league games leading up to the end of his suspension. In six games, Russell is hitting .250 with an OPS of .923. However, the Cubs want to give him more time in the minors before bringing him back to the big leagues.
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“There have been some real promising signs with his play. Six games just isn’t enough to get fully up to speed to come up to the big league club,” said Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. “He understands where we’re coming from. Six games is a lot less than most guys have to get ready for the season, and he understood.”
It’s also worth noting that the Cubs don’t have a huge need for Russell at the moment. Javier Baez has been Chicago’s shortstop this season and is having an all-star caliber season thus far. If and when Russell returns, he might be pushed to second base because of how Baez has excelled defensively as well. Epstein says Russell’s time at triple-A will be split between second base and shortstop.
The Cubs have used Daniel Descalso, Ben Zobrist, and David Bote at second base this season. All three are capable of playing other positions, although the Cubs could be challenged to find adequate playing time for all of them with Russell back in the picture. Bote, in particular, has been key offensively for the Cubs. He could move to his natural position at third base, although that would force Kris Bryant to spend more time in the outfield.
“There’s not a real urgent need for him right now. I think we’re better off letting him continue to go through Spring Training,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. “He hasn’t had the benefit of a real Spring Training yet, so we just thought more games and more at-bats would benefit him and us.”
Many were surprised that the Cubs didn’t part ways with Russell amidst the domestic violence allegations. Epstein has made it clear that Russell staying with the Cubs is “conditional” based on what he’s doing off the field. However, Epstein says that Russell has been doing all the right things outside of the baseball diamond.
“There has been progress, even though there is a tremendous amount of work ahead for him,” says Epstein. “He’s put a lot of work in, as he needed to. Talking to the people in his life, they notice improvements in the way he’s handling himself in important situations, improvements in his relationships and the way he’s functioning as a father and a partner.”
At this point, anything the Cubs get out of Russell at the major league level this year could be considered a bonus. Barring an injury to an infielder, the Cubs don’t have a spot for him and have gotten by just fine the first month of the season without him. For Chicago, it’ll be nice knowing they have a former all-star and World Series winner providing depth in the minors. However, the Cubs shouldn’t be relying on Russell to provide anything more than that in 2019.