OAKLAND, Calif. – When Addison Russell got to Oakland this weekend and started reaching base more than 60 percent of the time and turning drives to the shortstop hole into outs, he not only helped the Cubs win a series but along the way helped tell a cautionary tale of going all-in at the trade deadline.
An All-Star starter in his first full season in the majors, the Cubs’ young shortstop has reveled in his first two games against the organization that drafted him 11th overall in 2012 and traded him two years later to the Cubs in a deadline deal for pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
By the time the Cubs were done beating the A’s 4-0 Saturday behind Jake Arrieta, Russell was 4-for-7 the first two games of the series, with his 66th RBI of the season and also had reached when hit by a pitch.
“And his defense has been outstanding,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I don’t think he has any type of chip or vengeance or any kind of ill intent in his heart. But I would imagine that he wants to show them how good [he is], a ‘look at me now’ kind of thing.”
More than that, he’s demonstrating the risks of selling out for a single shot at a championship – coincidentally, just a week after the Cubs finished walking a similar risk-reward tightrope at the deadline.
Like the A’s in 2014, the Cubs were a postseason favorite as they approached the deadline looking for pitching. Unlike the A’s that year, the Cubs resisted the urge to ship Kyle Schwarber to New York for their top target, Andrew Miller. But they nonetheless traded their top-ranked prospect, shortstop Gleyber Torres, for rent-a-closer Aroldis Chapman.
“Part of it depends on what you already have to cover,” Maddon said. “Like if you give up an Addison, do you have another Addison?”
The Cubs not only had their big-league version Torres in the 22-year-old Russell when they made the Chapman trade, but they also had 23-year-old Javy Baez – a power-hitting infielder many consider a potential Gold Glove candidate at multiple positions, including short.
“You get rid of Schwarber, what do you get in return?” said Arrieta (13-5), who was back to Cy Young form Saturday with eight scoreless innings for his first win since June. “He’s not really a guy you want to get rid of.”
The Cubs already are looking at Schwarber as their big offseason acquisition for the upcoming winter, anticipating the return of his left-handed power to the lineup for next year’s opener after a season-ending knee injury the first week of this season.
Meanwhile, their ability to leverage Oakland’s urgency two years ago provided a core player at a critical position who has been one of the reasons the Cubs have the best record in the majors.
“I don’t like to tell people they made mistakes; I have no idea about the GM thing and how difficult that is to do,” said veteran teammate Ben Zobrist, whose two-out, two-run single in the third was the big hit of Saturday’s game. “In retrospect, Addie’s turned into a great player.
“That’s Addie’s job, to make that look like a bad trade, and he’s doing a good job of that so far.”
A’s general manager David Forst said last year his front office had no regrets over the trade, even though they faded down the stretch in ’14 and were bounced quickly in the American League wild-card game.
They still don’t have anything close to “another Addison” near the majors as they muddle through a last-place season – making do with Marcus Semien after flipping Samardzija to the White Sox for him a few months after acquiring the pitcher.
“You come from an organization, and you want them to see how much you’ve grown since the last time that they had you,” said Russell, who returned this weekend to the A’s stadium for the first time since his draft day.
“But I just went out there and tried to play the game that I play.”
Russell’s 66 RBIs – which Maddon said he didn’t see coming – are just two behind MVP-candidate teammate Kris Bryant and just six off the lead among National League shortstops.
“What he gives us at the plate is almost a bonus,” Arrieta said, “just because of how good he is defensively. He’s pretty much one of the lockdown shortstops in baseball. And he’s only going to continue to get better.”
Of all the players on both teams’ rosters that were originally drafted and signed by the A’s, the second- and third-ranked RBI producers this year were Ryon Healy (10) and Max Muncy (three).
“If they didn’t trade me, I think that I would be a pretty good asset to have in the A’s organization,” Russell said. “But I love where I’m at right now.”