Addison Russell was in the midst of his second consecutive subpar season, as injuries to his left middle finger and right throwing shoulder hampered the shortsop while the rangier and stronger-armed Javier Baez made 23 starts at short after he earned All-Star honors as a second baseman.
But in the wake of new allegations of domestic abuse from Russell’s former wife that prompted Major League Baseball to place Russell on administrative leave Friday, his role as part of the young core that the Cubs expect to help them compete for championships annually is in flux.
While the Cubs cannot impose their own discipline or penalties during the investigation of the newest allegations from Melisa Reidy-Russell — a process that is expected to take at least seven days — Russell’s on- and off-the-field struggles have made his long-term status vulnerable.
“It’s not appropriate to speculate while this step is going on,” Cubs President Theo Epstein said with Chairman Tom Ricketts at his side. “The whole point of the administrative leave is to provide a better forum for (MLB) to conduct its fact finding and investigation to ultimately come to a determination of what occurred, and then find appropriate discipline.
“While we’re in that step, it makes sense to step back and give our support to the process, and this step is built in to provide an accuser and the accused with rights, and to ultimately find a just and fair resolution.
“Beyond saying that, ‘Yes, the account was disturbing,’ we take it extremely seriously. The way we can best contribute at this point is to cooperate and allow the process to play out.”
Meanwhile, the Cubs likely will finish the season with Baez at shortstop — his natural position. They have four adequate second basemen: Daniel Murphy, David Bote, Ben Zobrist and Tommy La Stella.
Russell, 24, hasn’t come close to matching his production of 2016, when he hit 21 home runs and drove in 95 runs. He played in only 110 games in 2017, missing six weeks because of a foot injury and three games after the initial allegations involving domestic abuse of his then-wife surfaced through a third party on social media.
The Cubs elected to keep their young core together after receiving underwhelming offers while seeking young controllable starting pitching last winter.
Even if Russell’s situation is resolved amicably, the Cubs would have to decide whether Russell would be worth keeping as a second-year arbitration-eligible player whose offense declined for the second consecutive season, one in which he earned $3.2 million.
“Offensively, it hasn’t been his typical year,” manager Joe Maddon said.
Russell is batting .250 with five home runs and 38 RBIs and has no home runs since June 29, about four weeks after he injured his finger.
The fresh allegations from Reidy-Russell could convince the Cubs he’s not worth keeping.
Epstein said he contacted MLB after reading Reidy-Russell’s blog late Thursday night, and he and Ricketts spoke to league officials before informing Russell of his status in a face-to-face meeting at their Wrigley Field offices.
In a statement released through the MLB Players Association later, Russell reaffirmed his denial of the allegations: “These allegations are completely false. I made that clear to Major League Baseball last year and reiterated it to the Cubs today. I’m confident any full and fair investigation will fully exonerate me. The protection of my children is foremost in my mind so I will have no further comment. "
Epstein informed the players of Russell’s status and said they take these allegations very seriously.
The Cubs were criticized in July 2016 after a trade with the Yankees brought them closer Aroldis Chapman, who allegedly choked his girlfriend and fired eight gunshots in his garage nine months earlier. Inconsistencies in the allegations resulted in MLB assessing a 30-game suspension three months before the trade for reckless use of the firearm in the presence of his girlfriend.
MLB’s attempts to investigate Russell in June 2017 were curtailed because a third party made the initial allegations and Reidy-Russell didn’t press charges.
“I think given the facts last year, we handled it appropriately,” Epstein said. “And given the new information that came to light late last night and early this morning, we’re also handling it appropriately.
“It would not have been appropriate and would have sent the wrong message to have Addison wearing a Chicago Cubs uniform this morning. So we fully support the placement on administrative leave.”