Cubs manager Joe Maddon has said more than once in the last few days that he sees rookie second baseman Addison Russell as a big-league shortstop, and he showed what he meant Thursday when he started Russell at short with Starlin Castro unavailable early in day.
What Maddon has a harder time seeing, or at least explaining, is how he or the club reconciles that vision for a cornerstone rookie against the presence of an existing All-Star shortstop in the third year of a seven-year deal.
Castro’s critics reconcile it without hesitation: trade him to the Mets for pitching, trade him in a package to Philadelphia for Cole Hamels, trade him anywhere.
“I’m just talking in generalities,” Maddon said Thursday. “Of course, everybody knows that [Russell] can do it. It’s definitely within his future. But for right now, he’s turning into a better second baseman faster than you would have anticipated.”
That hasn’t stopped continual speculation and rumor regarding said lightning-rod All-Star, Castro, who returned from the birth of his daughter Scarlett Thursday to play the final four innings at short in the Cubs’ 4-0 loss to the Dodgers at Wrigley Field.
And if the Cubs don’t trade him or move him to another position? Then how does that Maddon vision for Russell work here?
“I can’t give a time frame on that. I just know that he’s a shortstop. That’s who he is,” Maddon said. “He has all the attributes to be one of those.
“Whether it happens here or somewhere else, wherever he’s going to play – I’m just saying from a scout’s perspective, he’s a shortstop, absolutely.”
From a Cubs’ perspective? If anything, the conversation itself speaks to the extremely fluid nature of the shape of the team’s core, even in a season it expects to keep improving enough to contend for a playoff spot with an all-25-and-under infield.
That was a point made by team president Theo Epstein last July when Russell, the Oakland Athletics’ top prospect, was acquired in the Jeff Samardzija/JasonHammel trade: that a team can never have too many shortstops or center fielders. That shortstops can play anywhere.
The Cubs aren’t close to being done moving the pieces around in an effort to settle on a long-term shape they expect to be key to opening a long window of contention.
Meanwhile, multiple scouts and executives from outside the organization say that window won’t open fully until somebody else is at shortstop, some specifically pointing at Russell. Class AAA shortstop Javy Baez, who’s on the DL with a broken finger, also got some shortstop love from scouts when looking at the Cubs’ best options.
“Right now I guess in my career I’m a second baseman and shortstop,” said Russell, who added, “I was pretty excited when I heard I got to play shortstop today.”
He said he’s happy with the progress he’s made at second in just two months, but he clearly still sees a shortstop when he looks in the mirror.
While his manager shares his Russell-shortstop vision with anyone who asks, no one has told Russell about any long-term plans, he said.
“I’m just going to go where they need me and go from there,” he said, shrugging off the uncertainty of it. “Every day I come in and say I’m starting at second. If that’s not the case, OK. Maybe I might play short, maybe even a little bit at third. Wherever they need me I’ll play.”