Scott Boras and his entourage showed up in San Diego last month to get face time with clients before and after a Cubs-Padres game. The super-agent chatted with Chicago reporters during batting practice and listened to a question about Addison Russell’s natural position and what it means for the future.
Boras is a slick salesman who almost always has a one-liner ready to feed the media seals, but he fumbled this one.
“Everybody knows Addison is an athlete. Shortstop, second base, the fact that he could ...” Boras said, losing his train of thought as a remix version of Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” seemed to get louder on Petco Park’s sound system. “The Cubs are turning this up, by the way.”
Eventually, the Cubs are going to have to make difficult decisions about Russell and Starlin Castro, but Joe Maddon didn’t really turn down the noise during Thursday’s pregame media session, answering the questions honestly inside Wrigley Field’s interview room/dungeon.
With Castro anticipating the birth of his second child, Russell batted fifth and started at shortstop during a 4-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Everybody knows that he can (play shortstop),” Maddon said. “It’s definitely within his future. But for right now, he’s turning into a better second baseman faster than you would have anticipated.”
Castro is a three-time All-Star with 920 career hits and a reasonable contract that could run through 2020. He’s struggled offensively (.633 OPS) and defensively (14 errors) during his age-25 season, so any trade would be selling at a low point. His occasional mental lapses get way more attention than his positive clubhouse attitude and willingness to work and be coached.
If Russell is so good up the middle, then how do you reconcile that with Castro’s long-term deal?
“That’s not my (call),” Maddon said. “I can’t give a timeframe on that. I just know that he’s a shortstop. That’s who he is. If you’re a scout, that’s a hard position to find — a major-league shortstop. He has all the attributes to be one of those, whether it happens here or somewhere else or wherever he’s going to play. I’m just saying, from a scout’s perspective, he’s a shortstop, absolutely.”
After welcoming his new daughter, Scarlett, into the world, Castro came off the bench in the sixth inning and took over at shortstop. (You can’t lose your job while on paternity leave, though that sort of happened last year with Gold Glove second baseman Darwin Barney after Arismendy Alcantara’s promotion from Triple-A Iowa.)
The Cubs now begin a six-game, seven-day road trip through St. Louis and New York. Meaning the spotlight will be bright against the Cardinals, and the tabloids will get another round of Mets rumors.
Russell has been so smooth — and become such a big part of the organization’s long-range plans — that it’s easy to forget he’s only 21 years old. And that it hasn’t even been a full calendar year since the Cubs made him their headliner in the Jeff Samardzija trade with the Oakland A’s.
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“You remember what he looked like when he began (at second base),” Maddon said, “and the mistakes he was making and how uncomfortable he looked, whether it was just covering the bag, whether it was turning a double play, whether it was picking the ball and feeding the shortstop for a double play.
“There were so many uncomfortable moments, and now he looks like he’s been doing it for like several years. But he does have that potential or the ability to be a major-league shortstop, too.”
For the record, Boras Corp. wouldn’t make an official statement on Russell’s best defensive fit with the Cubs.
“They know pretty much what he can do,” Boras said. “The idea is the everyday people here have to determine what makes our team best. So that’s really not for me to judge. I watch him all the time, every night, but it’s not really for me to be the judge.”