Addison Russell feels like he's just scratching the surface of offensive potential with Cubs

Addison Russell feels like he's just scratching the surface of offensive potential with Cubs

In a lineup with Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist, it may be the young shortstop that is the most intriguing hitter on the reigning world champs.

That's because Addison Russell could be just beginning to tap into his limitless offensive potential.

Bryant has already won an MVP award, Rizzo has emerged as one of the best all-around hitters in the game and Schwarber is an October legend even though he's only played 97 games at the big-league level (including playoffs).

But Russell — who just turned 23 in January — is still waiting for that complete offensive breakout.

Russell led all shortstops in RBI last season (94 while playing the position, one RBI came as a pinch-hitter) and clubbed 21 homers, but he also sported just a .238 average and ranked 11th among qualified shortstops in OPS (.731)

"I feel like I'm just scratching the surface as far as power and understanding what pitchers are trying to do and what situations," Russell said. "I'm trying to work each day and get better."

Whereas Russell spent almost all of last season hitting below the heart of the order (92 of his 141 starts came in the six spot or lower), Joe Maddon has written him in fifth in 10 of 12 games and as the cleanup hitter protecthing Rizzo in the other two contests.

Russell admitted seeing his name in the heart of the order has been a confidence boost in the early going of 2017.

"This year, I came in with the mentality that I feel like I'm a threat in the lineup," he said. "It's just important to get myself in good hitters counts, which I feel like is the key to success in the five-hole — getting a good pitch to hit. That's what I feel like I'm doing."

Russell looked on the verge of an offensive breakout heading into the weekend at Wrigley as even his outs were coming on a line, just hit right at outfielders.

But after striking out only four times in the first 10 games of the season, he's now whiffed on three of his last five at-bats ending with Sunday's loss to the Pirates.

In terms of finding consistency and avoiding slumps, Maddon points to the work between the ears for a kid like Russell who is still adjusting to big-league pitching and developing as a hitter.

"It's about what you're swinging at," Maddon said. "That's what you're thinking and you get in a rut and then you want to start changing things because you're not hitting well because you're swinging at bad pitches that nobody can hit.

"That's really what a slump boils down to for me. A lot of times, a guy will go through a bad moment, he'll go through all these adjustments, trying different things and if you look at the video pre- and post-slump, he looks exactly the same. He arrives at the same spot. It's just about what you're thinking. It really is."

Russell showed good patience at the plate as a 21-year-old rookie in 2015, drawing a walk in 8 percent of his plate appearances. But he also struck out 28.5 percent of the time.

Last year, Russell improved in both areas (9.2 percent walk rate, 22.6 percent strikeout rate), but a .277 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) hints his low average may have simply been the result of some poor luck.

The strikeouts and walks are what Maddon and the Cubs coaching staff are paying attention to most when it comes to Russell's development.

"It's less strikeouts and more walks than he had last year," Maddon said. "If he's doing that, then he's really going to hit for some nice numbers overall. Batting average, home runs, his RBIs are pretty darn good the way it was.

"The numbers will increase as walks increase a little bit and strikeouts come down a little bit. Because he is so strong, everything else is gonna improve.

"I would bet at the end of the year, if you look at walks and strikeouts vs. last year, if they actually are improved in the right direction with one going south, one going north, you're gonna see closer to what he's capable of doing."

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Whether the Cubs trade a member of their position player core this winter — i.e. Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras — is to be determined. Both have been fixtures of rumors this offseason, and the Cubs may make a deal to replenish their barren farm system and retool their roster with the organization’s long-term stability in mind.

Yu Darvish, on the other hand, is a different story.

No, the Cubs won’t be trading Darvish this winter, despite the inquiries they received at the Winter Meetings this week, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

A year ago, this would be an entirely different conversation. Darvish was coming off a disappointing debut season on the North Side in which he made eight starts and posted a 4.95 ERA in 40 innings. He didn’t throw a single big-league pitch after May 20 due to a lingering arm issue that led to surgery last November.

2019 was only Year 2 of the lucrative six-year contract Darvish signed in February 2018. But between the injury and his struggles before it that season, the narrative entering 2019 was shifting towards Darvish being a potential bust.

The narrative around Darvish is obviously much different now, thanks to the stellar second half performance he put together last season. In 13 starts, the 33-year-old delivered a 2.76 ERA, striking out 118 batters compared to a measly seven walks in 81 2/3 innings.

Not only was Darvish walking the walk, but he was talking the talk. He was determined to turn things around after posting a 5.01 ERA in the first half, asking then manager Joe Maddon to start the Cubs’ first game after the All-Star break. The result? Six innings of two-hit, no-run ball with eight strikeouts and one walk. Darvish's comeback was officially on.

Bust? Darvish is far from it now. He opted in to the remaining four years of his contract earlier this offseason, calling the Cubs "perfect" for him.

If the Cubs were entering a rebuild, fielding Darvish trade offers would make plenty of sense. He's owed $81 million through 2023, a bargain compared to the deals Gerrit Cole (nine years, $324 million — Yankees) and Stephen Strasburg (seven years, $245 million — Nationals) earned this offseason. Darvish's contract is desirable, and trading him would help alleviate the Cubs' notoriously tight payroll situation, freeing up money for them to put towards other needs.

But the Cubs aren’t rebuilding, and trading Darvish would create a tremendous hole in a rotation with plenty of uncertainty after next season. José Quintana is set to hit free agency after 2020 and Jon Lester could join him, if his 2021 option doesn’t vest (he must pitch 200 innings next season for that to occur). Heck, even Tyler Chatwood's deal is up after 2020.

In one season, Darvish has elevated himself to the No. 1 pitcher in the Cubs rotation. The Cubs won't be better next season if they trade Bryant or Contreras, but they'd still be competitive and acquire assets for the future.

One player doesn't make a team in baseball, but the Cubs need Darvish in their rotation, not someone else's. Unless they're absolutely blown away by a trade offer, Darvish isn't going anywhere.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: MLB 2019 Winter Meetings come to an end

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: MLB 2019 Winter Meetings come to an end

SportsTalk Live is on location in San Diego for the final day of the MLB Winter Meetings.

0:00- Chuck Garfien, Tony Andracki and Vinnie Duber join Kap to recap the Winter Meetings. Tony was right-- the Cubs didn't make a move. Plus, should the White Sox have done more in San Diego?

12:00- Legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons joins Kap and Chuck. The talk about the price for pitching and what the Cubs might do with Kris Bryant. Plus, Gammons talks about a text he received saying the White Sox were talking with the Red Sox about Andrew Benintendi and David Price. Would that make sense for the Southsiders?

20:00- White Sox World Series winning closer Bobby Jenks joins Kap to discuss his emotional article in The Players Tribune. They discuss his injuries with the Red Sox, the back surgery that almost cost him his life and then his downward spiral into addiction.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast