Cubs

Addison Russell on his Hollywood return to Cubs: 'That was a pretty special moment in my life'

Addison Russell on his Hollywood return to Cubs: 'That was a pretty special moment in my life'

Addison Russell is back and he made sure everybody in baseball knew it.

Russell hasn't played since Aug. 2, out with a foot injury that he initially thought would only keep him out the minimum 10 days.

The Cubs activated their World Series-winning shortstop Saturday and he came up in the bottom of the eighth inning in a tight 3-1 game against the St. Louis Cardinals:

It'd be tough to write a better script unless it was maybe a walk-off homer.

The 40,959 fans in attendance at Wrigley Field gave Russell a standing ovation before he even took that swing and when he circled the bases and disappeared into the dugout, they demanded a curtain call, which he was none too happy to oblige.

"That was a pretty special moment in my life," Russell said. "Walking to the plate, I couldn't help but smile inside. I felt light. It was pretty fun."

Russell said he had been working to mentally prepare for his return as well as all his physical work and joked that he surprises himself sometimes, too.

He knew a day or two ago that there was a chance he could be activated this weekend and he had been chomping at the bit to get back on the field with his teammates in a pennant race.

Joe Maddon just wanted to ease Russell into the game and hoped Saturday's pinch-hitting appearance would be one step toward a comfort level at the plate.

Looks like Russell's feeling plenty comfortable.

"Of course we're not expecting that," Maddon said. "I just wanted to get him an at-bat. I knew [Ben] Zobrist was coming up and we could do the double switch thing and all of a sudden, the ball was in the seats. But also reminded you, talking about what we've been kinda missing this year is his presence, also."

Russell's teammates loved it. 

"Same when Willy [Contreras]came back," Albert Almora Jr. said. "That just goes to show what type of fans we have and how loyal they are. It's awesome. 

"I got goosebumps when both of them came up to hit in their first game. For him to come back like that, jeez, man, I was super proud of him."

Kyle Hendricks — who got the win Saturday with a masterful performance — remembers his own return to the field after a long layoff to injury.

"That was awesome to see, man," Hendricks said of Russell. "Him smiling going around first. It's been a while and I know how that feels from earlier this year. Just brings more energy to us. Part of the group; he's one of the guys. It's awesome to have him back, that's for sure."

Russell has had a trying year, both personally and professionally. He said his teammates' reaction to the homer helped make the moment extra sweet.

He stayed in the game after the at-bat and went to shortstop, moving Javy Baez to second base for the first time in six weeks. Russell also caught the final out of the game when Yadier Molina hit a soft liner to shortstop.

With Almora playing center, Ian Happ in left field, Jason Heyward in right field and Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant rounding out the infield, the Cubs liked the way their defense looked to end the game. 

There is no shortstop controversy or question on if Russell will be on a postseason roster (if the Cubs make it). He is the shortstop and Baez is the second baseman, giving the Cubs elite level defense up the middle.

Can the Cubs as a whole get back to that historic defensive level they played 2016 at?

"I think so," Russell said. "As we go down here toward the end of the season and then hopefully into the postseaosn, the team's just gonna get stronger, defensively and offensively."

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki close the book on the 2017 season following Theo Epstein’s press conference, looking back at what will go down as the craziest calendar year in Cubs history from last November through the team’s loss in the NLCS this October.

Moving forward, where do guys like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Justin Wilson and Mike Montgomery fit? Will the Cubs re-sign Wade Davis or go after another proven closer? And how worried should fans be about the offense that completely disappeared in the postseason?

Take a listen below: