The deadline for teams to tender contracts for arbitration-eligible players is on Monday, December 2 at 8 p.m. ET, and the Chicago Cubs have seven who qualify. They will have important decisions to make with the likes of Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, and Willson Contreras, but one name on that list is a likely candidate to be non-tendered: Addison Russell.
MLB Trade Rumors estimates that Russell will be due for something in the neighborhood of $5 million in 2020. That’s close to double what he earned this year, and for a team looking to trim payroll, non-tendering Russell is an easy way to work toward getting a slightly leaner budget.
Off the field, Russell was the subject of serious domestic violence allegations, most of which came to light in 2018. Those were enough for him to serve a 40-game suspension that began at the end of the 2018 season and ran until early May 2019.
Though the Cubs front office expressed desire a year ago to help Russell by being a part of the solution, there are a few reasons why the tune in Chicago this year will be different.
First, there’s the aforementioned cost. The Cubs are currently projected by Roster Resource to be about $10 million below the luxury tax threshold in 2020, but they have many players eligible for arbitration and roster holes still to be addressed. An added cost of almost $2.5 million for Russell is one that they don’t need.
And whatever the price for Russell might be, he has not shown that he merits it. In 2019, Russell was worth half a win above replacement, and he has been in steady decline since 2.6 and 3.3 fWAR seasons his first two years in the majors in 2015 and 2016. He was essentially relegated to platooning and coming in as a defensive replacement by this season.
Along with that, there were times when Russell made serious mistakes on the field, including once in July when he admitted that he did not know the team’s signs. His play — at the plate, on the field, and on the basepaths — is increasingly poor.
Between those issues and the off-the-field problems, Russell has not made a particularly strong case for the Cubs to keep him. At this point, he supplies some depth at second base and shortstop, but between Baez, David Bote, a possible return from Ben Zobrist, and the emergence of Nico Hoerner, the need to keep Russell in the depth chart just isn’t there.
There have also been rumors that the Cubs might be in play to trade with the Royals for second baseman Whit Merrifield, according to MLB.com’s Jon Morosi.
If a trade like that comes to fruition, it would render Russell’s presence on the roster even more superfluous. Merrifield has been steadily good for the Royals for the past three seasons, and his 81.7 percent contact rate in 2019 would provide a boost at the plate that the Cubs badly need. They ranked 22nd in the league in contact rate last year (73.3).
Russell was a centerpiece of the July 2014 trade with the Athletics that famously included Oakland vice president Billy Beane telling Cubs president of operations Theo Epstein that he had just traded him Barry Larkin.
That has not proven to be the case, but Russell is just 25, so the possibility remains. But at this point, it looks unlikely that he reaches that kind of potential — or anything close to it — in Chicago.