James Russell, Rafael Soriano caught up in 'numbers game' with Cubs


James Russell, Rafael Soriano caught up in 'numbers game' with Cubs

James Russell has the most appearances by a left-handed pitcher in Cubs franchise history.

But that doesn't matter now.

In September, nothing matters but winning.

The Cubs designated Russell and veteran righty Rafael Soriano for assignment Tuesday to make room on the 40-man roster for pitcher Trevor Cahill and outfielder Quintin Berry as rosters expanded.

"It's just a numbers game, more than anything," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "We weren't looking to get rid of anybody, but with the 40-man roster crunch at this time of year, that can make some tough choices."

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The Cubs traded Russell to the Atlanta Braves before the deadline last season, but the Braves released him this spring and the Cubs scooped him back up again.

"He really helped us get through a difficult part of the season," Epstein said. "He helped stabilize our bullpen when we picked him up after getting released by Atlanta and we're grateful to him for that.

"It's just unfortunate - the timing. He went into a little bit of a slump recently at a time when we're looking to add guys."

Russell got off to a great start with a 1.71 ERA through his first 33 games, but since then, the 29-year-old lefty given up 16 earned runs in 13 innings, including an 11.57 ERA in August. That left his season ERA at a bloated 5.29 despite a FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) that was 3.89.

"James is the kind of guy that you easily get close to," manager Joe Maddon said. "He's such a great teammate and great competitor. Everybody's going to read into his numbers, but he really helped us a lot in two very difficult situations where he was pitching in moments he should not have been pitching in, based on his skill level vs. that team.

"And he accepted it, did everything right, never complained, never cried, never made an excuse. But I'm telling you, those kind of numbers are deceivingly bad because he was pitching in the wrong moments."

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The Cubs signed Soriano to a free-agent deal June 9 after the former closer hadn't been picked up by anybody else.

The 35-year-old had a 6.35 ERA in six games with the big-league club, allowing two homers in 5.2 innings before he landed on the disabled list Aug. 4 with a shoulder issue.

Soriano had been pitching in Triple-A Iowa, making three appearances over the last week before Tuesday's DFA.

Epstein said part of the reason the Cubs DFA'd Soriano was they have too many pitchers in the bullpen already requiring low-leverage situations to get on track with new reliever Fernando Rodney (acquired from the Mariners last week) and Neil Ramirez working his way back after another injury.

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

Texas Rangers hire Cubs' Shiraz Rehman to be assistant GM

The changing of the guard continues for the Cubs this offseason. 

After the team hired a new hitting coach yesterday, it was reported today that they're losing a front office member: 

Rehman, who has been with the Cubs in the same position for the last seven years, will reportedly head up the Rangers' analytics department. According to the Chicago Tribune, Rehman's role was " evaluating existing systems, and recognizing and applying solutions in an effort to create competitive advantages for the organization." 

All reports indicate that he'll be doing similar analytic-based work with the Rangers. 

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis after being ousted by Cubs: 'There were multiple players in there I didn't connect with'

Chili Davis didn't go all scorched earth on the Cubs in a recent interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, but he had quite a lot to say after being ousted by the organization after just one year as the hitting coach.

The Cubs made Davis the scapegoat for an offense that faded down the stretch, struggling for the entire second half and scoring just 1 run in three of the final four games of the year.

When he was hired a year ago, Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon talked up Davis' impressive resume that includes a 19-year MLB career, two separate stints as a successful hitting coach with the Oakland A's and Boston Red Sox and a philosophy that they hoped would withstand the test of time in the game today, preaching more contact and using the opposite field.

Throughout the 2018 season, Maddon often commended Davis for his ability to communicate with players, particularly in the area of mental approach to each at-bat.

Now that the dust has settled a bit on his firing, Davis felt he had some issues getting through to some Cubs players.

I learned a lot this year," Davis told the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer. "I learned that the next situation I get in, before I say yes to a job, I need to make sure I know the personnel I'll be dealing with in the clubhouse. I hope the next guy connects better with the players, because I felt that there were multiple players there I didn't connect with. It wasn't that I didn't try; it just wasn't there.

The Cubs hired Anthony Iapoce as their new hitting coach Monday afternoon. Iapoce comes over from the Rangers and has a direct link to John Mallee, who was the Cubs' hitting coach for three seasons before being let go when Davis became available last winter. 

Iapoce also spent three seasons with the Cubs as a special assistant to the GM, overseeing the organization's minor-league hitting from 2013-15. Presumably, he found a way over those years to connect with the Cubs' top young hitting prospects — guys like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras that are now leading the big-league lineup.

Hopefully he has better success at this than I did," Davis said of Iapoce in the Sun-Times article. "But regardless of who's there, certain players there are going to have to make some adjustments because the game's changed and pitchers are pitching them differently. They're not pitching to launch angles and fly balls and all that anymore. They're pitching away from that. They're going to have to make that adjustment whether I'm there or not.

Davis had a whole lot more to say on the matter and I encourage you to read the full interview with Wittenmyer over at

A healthy Bryant very likely could've changed everything for Davis and the Cubs' 2018 lineup. Contreras hitting like he's capable of in the second half would've made a huge difference, as well.

But the end result is a finish to the 2018 campaign that was viewed universally as a disappointment — particularly in the offensive department — and the Cubs are left with their third different hitting coach in three seasons.