MESA, Arizona — Maybe he’ll be back in May. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll be a distraction if and when he does return.
“It’s always potentially there; I can’t deny that,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday.
For now, troubled shortstop Addison Russell is one of the early arrivals for spring training among the position players. He took batting practice with teammates Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Ian Happ and others on the day pitchers and catchers were due to report.
With most of his 40-game suspension for domestic violence left to serve, and a non-guaranteed contract that allows the Cubs to cut him for a small fraction of the value during camp, Russell’s mid-term status with the club remains uncertain.
“I said at [the Cubs] Convention we were at the top of the second inning with this process,” team president Theo Epstein said of the “conditional second chance” Russell has been given. “As we get here this week to start spring training, we’re probably in the bottom of the second inning. We still have a long way to go.”
Russell is expected to meet with media late in the week, in the days ahead of full-squad workouts that start Monday.
Maddon said he plans to address the team about Russell’s standing before full-squad work starts and said Russell will address the team, as well.
And if they didn’t already know it from the responses throughout the winter, all involved know the public backlash they face with every turn of this ongoing story will be strong — especially if Russell meets and sustains the “incredibly high standard” the Cubs have put on his conditional employment and returns to the field in May.
Regardless of the outcome with Russell, the ugly chapter for the organization has led to the Cubs initiating a companywide domestic-violence program that has seen 130 employees already go through it, Epstein said. Every employee, including players, coaches and managers at all levels, will complete the program by the end of spring training, he said.
An elective “healthy-relationship” program also has been added for players’ families, he said, and those in the organization who work directly with the families are assigned a 40-hour training program.
“That’s sort of the standard to become as expert as you can in domestic-violence detection, awareness, prevention, education,” said Epstein, who added the team will have one of those more deeply trained employees on all road trips.
“We took our pledge to try to become a small part of the solution very seriously,” he added, “knowing this happened on our watch. And we’re not just trying to support Addison. We’re trying to support Addison if he continues to put the work in, to support Melisa [Reidy, Russell’s ex-wife], to improve this organization and make it the safest possible place, and also to do our part in trying to attack the problem that faces all of us in society more broadly.”
Prospect Alzolay sidelined
Top pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay, who missed a potential major-league debut last year because of a season-ending lat injury in May, won’t be able to full participate in camp for “about two weeks” after experiencing pain in his side last week when he slipped on the mound during a bullpen session, general manager Jed Hoyer said.
“We’re going to slow him down of an abundance of caution after last season,” Hoyer said. “Other than that, I think we’re largely ready to go.”
Closer Brandon Morrow already was expected to miss the opening weeks of the season as he continues to recover from postseason elbow surgery.
None of the non-pitchers appear to have any health issues that would slow them down, Hoyer said.