Breaking down the Cubs' shortstop depth chart in September

Breaking down the Cubs' shortstop depth chart in September

The best case scenario for Addison Russell is he'll return with about two weeks left in the regular season.

But since he just suffered a setback in his pesky foot injury, nothing is guaranteed.

Thursday was the last day the Cubs could complete any sort of trade for another shortstop outside the organization, meaning unless somebody of value is suddenly released or granted free agency, the shortstop depth chart on the North Side of Chicago isn't changing anytime soon:

1. Javy Baez
2. Ben Zobrist
3. Mike Freeman

When — or maybe more aptly IF — Addison Russell comes back, he would move to the front of that line with Baez back to a super utility role and playing a lot of second base. 

"Hopefully you don't have to go beyond that," Joe Maddon said. "The thing about depth, you're looking to play Javy as often as possible, either getting him off his feet in a good or bad game or just giving him a day off and picking the right spot with that.

"Moving forward, I'll keep an eye on all that different stuff. I got nothing but glowing reports about Freeman as an infielder. Great kid. Really grounded, solid, not intimidated, overwhelmed or anything. I don't get that from him. I think he can help us a lot. Our minor-league people and Theo [Epstein] and Jed [Hoyer] speak very highly of him."

Freeman was recently called up from Triple-A Iowa when rosters expanded Friday. The 30-year-old journeyman infielder stepped foot in his sixth clubhouse of 2017 this weekend after stints with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners and the Triple-A clubs for both teams prior to joining the Cubs on Aug. 6. He was granted free agency by the Dodgers on Aug. 5 and gambled on his market before taking a job with the defending world champs.

"This has been an interesting year, to say the least," Freeman said. "But wherever there's opportunity, I'm happy to go. Whatever role I could fill and however I can help the team win, I'm looking forward to doing it."

Freeman has played in 41 big-league games in his career, hitting only .123 with a .399 OPS in 63 plate appearances. His minor-league line looks a lot more promising — .292/.364/.383 over eight seasons.

The left-handed-hitting Freeman has played every position but catcher in his professional career.

The Cubs found out about Russell's three-week setback on the final day of August, allowing them a few hours to go out and try to acquire another shortstop ahead of the waiver deadline. The problem is, that market was shockingly poor.

"We looked; the list of guys that cleared waivers at that position was really small," Hoyer said. "But there was a lot of blocking this year. There was an active waiver wire — tons of guys got claimed by a lot of teams.

"We looked around and we signed Freeman for a reason. He was the best option. We did look, but there wasn't anything that was more appealing."

Zobrist has played 234 games at shortstop in his career, but he's seen just 11 innings at the position since 2014 and is now a 36-year-old who has struggled with knicks and pains all season after back-to-back World Series runs. Freeman represents the ultimate insurance in case anything happens to Baez and Zobrist can't keep up with the most demanding position besides pitcher and catcher.

But for now, Baez is flourishing as the everyday guy, employing his #ElMago routine on a seemingly daily basis.

"You've gotta make sure you're prepared for anything, but at the same time, these are important games," Hoyer said. "Javy's been playing great; he really answered the challenge of playing every day. He's playing with great energy and great confidence.

"He's gonna be out there and hopefully he keeps it going. I'm really proud of the way he's responded to this challenge and I think he's playing with consistency. We're seeing aspects of his game that we haven't seen in the past."

Which is good news for the Cubs, given the clock is ticking and they cannot count on Russell returning as a given.

"I'm optimistic about it, but I think counting on it...," Hoyer said, "listen, that injury is an injury that gets reaggravated as we've seen. We need to get him healthy. I do hope we get him back for sure.

"Our defense is notably better with both Javy and Addy in the lineup at the same time. I'm hopeful, I'm optimistic. But we gotta get this guy healthy and hopefully not have a setback next time."

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans


Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: