By promoting Addison Russell after only 11 games at Triple-A Iowa, the Cubs sent the message that he’s a big part of a win-now team and not the distant future, reinforcing the idea that he’s essentially untouchable.
In cases like this, other teams usually get the hint and move on, looking deeper inside another farm system to see if there are still any potential trade scenarios. For the Cubs, Russell headlining a deal for someone like, say, Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels is a nonstarter.
However the Cubs wind up getting more pitching, know that the New York Mets aren’t exactly enamored with Starlin Castro and publicly say they’re committed to Wilmer Flores at shortstop. The Starlin-to-New York rumors should end with Thursday’s 6-5 win and the Cubs finishing the four-game sweep at Wrigley Field.
Because broadly speaking Castro is too much of a free swinger – and not enough of a power hitter – for Mets general manager Sandy Alderson and an Ivy League front office rooted in “Moneyball.”
The Cubs also don’t want to tear apart their middle infield at a time when they figure to be in the wild-card hunt and hope to be in the division race.
“We’ve been working on double plays,” Russell said. “We kind of have a good sense of where we want our feeds and how each other reacts to the ball. We’re coming along good.”
Russell carries himself with a quiet confidence and fits into the clubhouse so well that it’s easy to forget he’s only 21 years old and learning a new position on the fly in the majors.
“It’s pretty spectacular,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You have to understand (it’s) not only changing positions but changing sides of the field. Entirely different. When you’re playing on the left side at shortstop, and then you go to the right side, the ball off the bat, the angles are entirely different. Where you’re supposed to go on different plays – entirely different.
“I’ve talked about the road map before. That really takes a little bit of forethought regarding: Where am I supposed to be if this happens? But more than anything, the way the ball comes off the bat, it’s always going to go away from you, hook or slice. And you got to get used to (it).
“The (other) difference (is) the double play. And it’s not as easy as it looks when the guy is coming up your butt and all of a sudden you got to get out of the way. There’s different ways to protect yourself, whether it’s using the bag, stepping back, coming across. It depends on how hard the ball is hit.
“When the ball is hit real softly, you probably got to get out of the way, come across the bag. If it’s hit hard, you can protect yourself differently. There are all these little nuances. It’s not that easy and he’s made a nice adjustment.”
Russell – who entered this season as Baseball America’s No. 3 overall prospect – has been able to hide a little bit in Kris Bryant’s shadow and as a No. 9 hitter. He knows he’s nowhere close to being a finished product at second base.
“Still getting there,” Russell said. “Even if I’ve been playing there for years and years, I still want to learn something about the position. So there’s a long way to go, I think. But I’m getting more comfortable.”
Russell’s presence could also have the added benefit of motivating Castro, who’s still a three-time All-Star at the age of 25, with seemingly all of his prime years in front of him and a team-friendly contract that could run through 2020.
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“Right now, the thing that I’m really impressed with is how he’s leading himself, if that makes any sense,” Maddon said of Castro. “He’s really been animated and he gets upset with himself if he doesn’t come through in the moment. If he makes a mistake, he’s really holding himself highly accountable. And I think the other guys are seeing that.
“I don’t know if you’ve watched him a whole lot on the infield with Addison. They’re talking a lot and it’s starting from Starlin towards ‘Addie.’ It’s not the other way around. I’ve seen a lot of that.”