In a decision that drew swift backlash on social media, the Cubs on Friday tendered a contract to troubled shortstop Addison Russell, suggesting a return to the team that until recent weeks looked like a long shot.
Russell’s status with the team has been in doubt since a yearlong MLB investigation into domestic-violence allegations culminated with a 40-game suspension announced the day after the Cubs’ season ended in early October. Russell has 28 games left to serve in 2019.
Team president Theo Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts met with Russell this week, and Epstein made it clear in a statement that the controversial decision on Russell ahead of the non-tender deadline Friday “does not represent the finish line nor rubber-stamp his future as a Cub.”
The decision spotlights one of the most serious issues facing professional sports leagues and teams. It also comes the same week as the Redskins drew widespread outrage as the only NFL team to claim linebacker Reuben Foster on waivers just two days after the 49ers released him following an arrest and charges for domestic violence.
It’s also just a few months after the “zero tolerance” Astros traded for suspended pitcher Roberto Osuna during their playoff push. Two years ago, the Cubs took heat for acquiring Aroldis Chapman for their World Series run, which was the same season he served a 30-game suspension.
The procedural move means the Cubs retain the rights to the arbitration-eligible Russell, but it does not prevent them from releasing him at any point before the start of the season for no more than the cost of a small fraction of his 2019 salary.
The value of a projected salary of more than $4 million through the arbitration process already would be reduced by the prorated amount of time missed while serving the unpaid suspension.
Russell, 24, who repeatedly denied the physical-abuse allegations leveled by his ex-wife, Melisa Reidy, and one of Reidy’s friends (via social media), acknowledged blame — without an admission of any specific behavior — in a lengthy statement released Friday.
“I am responsible for my actions,” he said in a statement. It also included a “heartfelt apology to my family and my former wife Melisa and for my past behavior.”
He extended the apology to fans, teammates and the organization and added: “I’ve had time to reflect on my past behavior and think about the next steps I need to take to grow as a person.”
The statement outlines those steps, including compliance with a treatment plan under the MLB-players’ union joint domestic-violence policy. He’s also working “several times a week” with a personal therapist he enlisted before starting the mandated MLB program.
“While there is a lot of work ahead for me to earn back the trust of the Cubs fans, my teammates and the entire organization, it’s work that I am 110 percent committed to doing,” he said.
Epstein, who hinted at the likelihood of Friday’s move when talking about Russell during the general managers meetings four weeks ago, reiterated Friday several points he made then, including accepting responsibility for addressing the failures as well as successes of young players “on our watch.”
Epstein said the Cubs have been in regular contact with Reidy “to support her and to listen” and have closely monitored Russell’s progress the last two months.
“We are encouraged by his early effort and will continue to evaluate and verify his progress,” Epstein said, adding:
“There is a long road ahead for Addison, and we will hold him accountable. There also is a long road ahead for our organization as we attempt to make some good of this situation. We are committed to being part of the solution.”
NOTE: The Cubs tendered contracts to seven of their eight arbitration-eligible players, the lone exception being utility infielder Ronald Torreyes, who was acquired Wednesday in a trade with the Yankees.
Torreyes, who was projected to make about $900,000 through the arbitration process, becomes a free agent. But the Cubs are expected to continue talks to try to keep the versatile infielder for a key backup role next season.
Addison Russell’s full statement
I offer my heartfelt apology to my family and my former wife Melisa for my past behavior. I also want to apologize to Cubs fans, the Cubs organization, and my teammates for letting them down. Since accepting my suspension, I’ve had time to reflect on my past behavior and think about the next steps I need to take to grow as a person. Here are the first steps I’ve taken: I accepted my suspension and did not appeal. I am responsible for my actions. I am complying with the MLB-MLBPA treatment plan, and I will be meeting regularly with different experts, counselors, and therapists. Even before any mandated treatment, I took the extra initiative of obtaining my own therapist and I have been meeting with that therapist several times a week for the last two months and plan to continue this therapy beyond the MLB treatment plan. With that therapy, I am attempting to improve myself by learning new outlooks and understanding different emotions. After I have done my own therapy and gained new insights into myself, I hope to be able to work with non-profit groups in Pensacola, Chicago, and Arizona to support their missions and become part of the solution. Finally, I recently met with Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein to explain my progress and goals. They outlined the Cubs’ expectations for me. I accept and am completely committed to meeting those expectations. I am grateful for their support. I am just in the early stages of this process. It is work that goes far beyond being a baseball player – it goes to my core values of being the best family man, partner, and teammate that I can be, and giving back to the community and the less fortunate. While there is a lot of work ahead for me to earn back the trust of the Cubs fans, my teammates, and the entire organization, it’s work that I am 110 percent committed to doing.
Theo Epstein’s full statement
The behavior that led to Addison Russell’s suspension under Major League Baseball’s Joint Domestic Violence Policy happened on our watch. We traded for Addison when he was a 20-year-old Double-A player, helped him develop into a world champion and welcomed the praise that came along with his triumphs. If we’re willing to accept credit when a member of our organization succeeds on the field, what should we do if he engages in conduct off the field worthy of discipline from Major League Baseball? After a very thorough process, we have chosen to take action to try to become a small part of the solution for Addison, his family, Melisa Reidy and the larger issue of domestic violence prevention. In determining our path forward, we’ve maintained regular dialogue with Melisa to support her and to listen. We’ve also consulted with a number of domestic violence experts. Over the past few months, I’ve maintained frequent communication with Addison, and Cubs personnel have met with him regularly. Earlier this week, Tom Ricketts and I met with Addison in Chicago to assess his progress and communicate our expectations as he works to earn back the trust of our fans and entire organization. He affirmed he understands and accepts those expectations. As Addison detailed in his statement, he has taken the initial steps to hold himself accountable for his past behavior and begin the rehabilitation process. He is working closely with his own therapist – help he proactively sought on his own beyond the league-mandated treatment – and plans to continue this work once the mandated program is completed. We are encouraged by his early effort and will continue to evaluate and verify his progress. Today, we are taking the procedural step of tendering Addison a non-guaranteed contract in conjunction with Major League Baseball’s deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. While this decision leaves the door open for Addison to later make an impact for us on the field, it does not represent the finish line nor rubber-stamp his future as a Cub. It does however reflect our support for him as long as he continues to make progress and demonstrates his commitment to these important issues. Just as Addison has a responsibility to own his actions and put in significant work to grow, our organization has a responsibility to act as well. We’re taking a hard look at how we can support domestic violence prevention. In our own workplace, we are dedicating more resources to expand training for our players, their families and our coaching staff and front office. We will engage the appropriate experts to help us design programs for the Cubs which raise awareness of domestic violence, help prevent future incidents and make us the safest workplace possible. We also have connected with Family Rescue, a Chicago-based organization dedicated to serving survivors of domestic violence and community education and prevention. We’re exploring ways we can support their award-winning efforts to eradicate domestic violence in Chicago. We understand every action we take and word we use sends a message to our fans – all of whom have their own unique experiences and perspectives, and some of whom have a personal connection to domestic violence. The message we would like to leave you with is we take the issue of domestic violence seriously. There is a long road ahead for Addison, and we will hold him accountable. There also is a long road ahead for our organization as we attempt to make some good of this situation. We are committed to being a part of the solution.