CARLSBAD, Calif. — As Cubs shortstop Addison Russell continues mandated therapy under MLB’s domestic-violence policy, his agent suggested Wednesday that Russell will resume his career with the Cubs when his 40-game suspension ends a month into the 2019 season.
“We’re in communication closely with the Cubs, and Addison’s working on his therapy,” Scott Boras said during his annual media session at the general managers meetings. “And going forward, the team is clearly in line and directly involved with Addison. And I have no expectation otherwise, and I have not been told anything otherwise.”
In addition to the sobering real-life implications of Russell’s possible return to Wrigley Field, there are implications for the on-the-field roster as the Cubs approach a winter of retooling with a payroll already at or near their budget level.
Russell, whose suspension after a long investigation was announced the day after the Cubs’ season ended, has 28 games left to serve after he missed the final 12 games of 2018 on administrative leave.
Team president Theo Epstein said earlier this week that the Cubs are open to considering Russell’s return, pending an evaluation of his progress this winter and deciding their expectations of his future behavior.
If part of that process is admitting guilt, Boras suggested that Russell has done much already by accepting and participating in the terms of MLB’s discipline — even after Russell publicly denied domestic-violence accusations made by his ex-wife and, earlier, by her friend.
“I think any time you accept a course of action where there is a direction given — the way we look at it is that Addison is getting therapy,” Boras said. “Addison is growing and understanding the responsibilities of his team, his league, his city. And the learning curve of this is good for everybody — it’s good for the league, it’s good for baseball, and in the end it’s been really, really good for Addison going forward. Any time we try to improve people — a system that does that and brings attention to things in society that make us better on and off the field — I think that’s a very positive step.”
The Cubs’ alternatives to keeping Russell — who has been hampered by slumps and injuries the last two years — include non-tendering him at the Nov. 30 deadline or trading him. In his second winter of arbitration eligibility, Russell is projected to command more than $4 million in 2019 if tendered — minus the prorated portion for the month left on the suspension.
“Everything remains an open question,” Epstein said earlier in the week. On Wednesday, he added: “Before he can play another game in a Cubs uniform, we need to know that he’s serious about self-improvement and has grown to the point where he can represent the club well.”
Either way, the baseball ramifications include Gold Glove finalist Javy Baez spending the first month of the season as the Cubs’ starting shortstop — the way he finished 2018.
If Russell doesn’t return, the Cubs must add at least a strong bench player capable of playing shortstop.
Their offseason priority list already includes trade talks for bullpen help. Any significant dive into the free-agent market will require them to shed money from a payroll that already has more than $200 million committed to 21 players (counting projections for eight arbitration-eligible players).
First-year swings and misses on free agents Yu Darvish (six years, $126 million) and Tyler Chatwood (three years, $38 million) exacerbated the already challenging payroll math, creating a need that resulted in exercising Cole Hamels’ $20 million option for 2019 (after a July trade).
“I think ‘incomplete’ would probably be the kindest thing I could say,” Epstein said when asked to evaluate the job he and his front-office staff did last winter. “But we’re digging in and working really hard, as the players are, to try to turn that around. We’ll try hard to have a much better offseason this time.”