PITTSBURGH – While Javier Baez takes his game to another level, the Cubs are bracing for the possibility that All-Star shortstop Addison Russell could miss the rest of the season as he deals with a strained right foot and plantar fasciitis.
“There’s no assumption,” manager Joe Maddon said Thursday at PNC Park. “He could be out the rest of the year. He could be back. I don’t know.”
Do the math: An MRI on Aug. 31 revealed a re-aggravation of the plantar fasciitis that has been part of the nagging issues that pushed Russell onto the disabled list on Aug. 3. The Cubs are one week into a three-week recovery period, though at this point it’s unclear whether that means jumping back into the lineup or ramping up baseball activities again. The playoff window would likely be the National League divisional round that begins Oct. 6.
MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo made an interesting observation during a state-of-the-team conversation in the middle of this four-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cubs watched Jake Arrieta (strained right hamstring) hobble off the mound and catcher Willson Contreras (strained right hamstring) leave to join advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach in the Carolina League playoffs.
“The feeling is that it’s not season-ending for anyone,” Rizzo said. “Addie’s been out for a while now. His chances of coming back are kind of growing slim now.
“But with Jake, it’s optimism. He’s going to come back and make a couple starts. (With) Willson, hopefully he’ll be back in a few days now after he goes out for rehab. But it’s part of the game.”
Baez has maximized this opportunity, showing that he can be a dynamic, two-way, big-league shortstop, leaving Ben Zobrist, Ian Happ, Tommy La Stella and Mike Freeman as part of the jigsaw puzzle at second base.
“Javy’s shored up that spot really well,” Maddon said. “My bigger concern right now would be in the latter part of the game: Where do you want to go at second base? Based on who’s available, everybody else who’s in the game that night, love Tommy coming off the bench to pinch-hit, there’s all different things to consider.
“So if, in fact, Addie can’t make it back, I think it’s going to be important to figure out who is the best defensive second baseman to run with in the latter part of a game.”
Ever since their first spring training together in 2015, Maddon saw the possibilities with Baez and appreciated his unique skills, lobbying for him to make the Opening Day roster. The Cubs opted for more development at Triple-A Iowa, and Maddon purposely avoided anointing Baez and allowing him to get too comfortable.
After this extended look – starting 32 of 33 games at shortstop in the middle of a 21-homer, 67-RBI, age-24 season – is Baez an everyday player now?
“First of all, you just got to get Addie back,” Maddon said. “Don’t forget, he’s missed a lot of time. When I was talking about it before, I anticipated he would be back for this entire month. I just don’t know where he’s going to be when he shows up. It’s going to be hard to just say automatically: ‘Here, you go play shortstop.’
“Because I don’t know that answer right now. I think it would be great to have Javy and Addie on the field at the same time in the latter part of any game, if, in fact, Addie is ready to do that.
“Moving down the road, heck, Javy’s showing right now that he can be an everyday player. He’s absolutely shown that. And I’ll tell you the thing I’m most impressed with is just his durability. We’ve gone beyond hits and plays and running. He looks fresh.”