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Cubs support Addison Russell’s second chance if he shows improvements

Cubs players said they stand by the front office’s decision to give Addison Russell a second chance after he was accused of physically and mentally abusing his ex-wife.

“We’re human. He made a mistake,” reliever Pedro Strop said at the Cubs Convention last month. “If he does the right thing, if he does whatever he needs to do, he’s going to be welcome to come back.”

Said outfielder Albert Almora Jr.: “We call Russell family, he’s a brother. From what we heard and communicating with Addison, the way he’s dealing with things, if he continues to do that, we’ll welcome him back with open arms. Let’s let him gain our trust again.”

But his teammates’ support doesn’t take away from the distraction they might face when Russell reports for spring training in Mesa, Arizona.

Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell fields a ground ball by Washington Nationals' Anthony Rendon during the fifth inning of the first baseball game of a doubleheader, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Washington. Russell and the Cubs have agreed to a $3.4 million, one-year contract, a relatively small $200,000 raise for a player whose relationship with the team appeared strained after a domestic violence suspension. | Nick Wass/Associated Press

Russell, who will be a full participant in camp, hasn’t talked to the media except through prepared, written statements since he was put on administrative leave Sept. 21. That’s expected to change in the days leading up to the Cubs’ first full-squad workout Feb. 18.

Without Russell there to face the hard questions, his teammates have struggled to come up with the right words when discussing the troubled shortstop.

“It’s an unfortunate situation, but you … I don’t know how to answer that question for you there,” outfielder Kyle Schwarber said when asked about the difficulty of answering questions pertaining to Russell. “It’s something that’s obviously put in front of us. I think that everyone wants to handle it the right way.”

Russell, who signed a $3.4 million non-guaranteed contract in January, will serve the final 28 games of a 40-game MLB suspension for domestic violence at the start of the season. Team president Theo Epstein made it clear Russell won’t play if he doesn’t continue to show improvement and meet the standards set by MLB and the Cubs.

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“We’re probably in the top of the second inning with this story,” Epstein said. “He’s got a ton of work ahead of him and it may not work, and if it doesn’t, we will move on instantaneously.”

Outfielder Jason Heyward can “confidently” say the Russell situation won’t distract the team.

“They hold us accountable,” Heyward said of the front office. “And to me, attitude reflects leadership.

“With Addy’s situation right now, they don’t want to pass it on to someone else. They don’t want to be like, ‘OK, we took him for the good, and then for the bad we left him hanging.’ And I feel like they want to be a part of the solution in general, regardless of whether it’s baseball involved or off the field. And I feel like to me, that’s something that takes a lot of pressure off of the player. I don’t have to worry about it or focus on it.”

Almora also isn’t worried about Russell being a distraction.

“That’s a question for the front-office guy,” he said. “Us, we’re just worried about our teammate and Addison as a person. When it comes to the media or a ‘what could happen’, all we’re focusing on is if he continues to do what he’s doing, then if he keeps growing and becoming the man he wants, we believe in second chances and letting him grow as a person.”

Meanwhile, Strop hopes the Cubs can get a handle on Russell’s situation in camp so
it doesn’t haunt the team heading into the season.

“I don’t think that people should be asking no more after spring training,” he said. “If he does the right thing, why not welcome [him] back?”

Contributing: Gordon Wittenmyer