By waiting until the Cubs were done with their brief playoff run to announce Addison Russell’s 40-game suspension after its domestic-violence investigation had concluded, Major League Baseball kept the responsibility and potential distraction as far removed from the team for as long as it could.
But as the temperature in Chicago suddenly rose 25 degrees overnight, the heat shifted to team president Theo Epstein and ownership for the next step in addressing the young shortstop’s career with the Cubs.
Russell, who had repeatedly denied the accusations, became the ninth player suspended under baseball’s domestic-violence policy Wednesday when he waived the appeal process and accepted the penalty.
Russell’s suspension includes time already spent on administrative leave this season, which means he must sit out the first 28 games next season. For whatever team he may be playing for at that point.
The chances that it’s the Cubs?
“I don’t know,” Epstein said.
Epstein said the team now has “an obligation to find out as much as we can about what happened,” then reach out to Russell and his ex-wife, Melisa Reidy, whose emotional blog post less than three weeks ago relaunched an investigation that had been dormant for more than a year.
“He accepted this discipline, so I want to talk to him about what that means and find out more,” Epstein said. “And the victim first and foremost deserves our outreach and support. That will be forthcoming very quickly.
“Addy, in my opinion, also should not just be completely dismissed. He deserves our support and our help going forward, too.”
MLB’s action includes participation in “a confidential and comprehensive evaluation and treatment program.”
Russell, a 2016 All-Star who has struggled at the plate and with injuries since then, is not expected to return to the Cubs, who shopped him in trade talks last season without getting a strong-enough response.
Russell issued a statement Wednesday that read, in part: “After gaining full understanding of the situation, I have concluded it’s in the best interest of my family to accept MLB’s proposed resolution of this matter.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred, who said on the field before Tuesday’s game that the timing of an announcement would be sensitive to postseason “roster decisions,” said in his statement:
“Having reviewed all of the available evidence, I have concluded that Mr. Russell violated the policy and should be subject to discipline in the form of an unpaid suspension that will cover 40 games.”
Under the policy, Manfred has full discretion on the length of the suspension. Four other suspensions have been greater than Russell’s, including the 100-game suspension given to Padres pitcher Jose Torres in June in a case that involved criminal charges of assault with a deadly weapon.
Russell’s case involved no police incidents on record or legal charges.
The case began in June of last year, when a friend of his ex-wife published a quickly deleted Instagram post accusing him of physically abusing his wife. But neither the friend nor Reidy was willing to cooperate last year with MLB investigators as she pursued a divorce, which recently was finalized.
Epstein seemed to acknowledge the gravity of the Cubs’ next step with — or without —Russell.
“We have to understand with all of our words and our actions going forward, whether we know it or not, we’re sending messages to our fans who all have their own unique backgrounds and histories and sensitivities and perspectives, and that’s important,” he said. “But I honestly, personally think the most important thing going forward is to be part of the solution and to focus on making this a better place.”