Joe Maddon’s message to Addison Russell as Cubs deal with fallout from domestic-violence allegations

Joe Maddon’s message to Addison Russell as Cubs deal with fallout from domestic-violence allegations

Cubs manager Joe Maddon went into listening mode on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field when team president Theo Epstein sat down with All-Star shortstop Addison Russell to discuss a situation that had exploded on social media.

“I don’t react, because I don’t know anything yet,” Maddon said Thursday after Russell released a statement through the team that denied any allegation he abused his wife, Melisa, who accused him of infidelity in an Instagram post. “I’m really a person who likes to believe I listen without judgment. I try not to jump to conclusions.

“In a situation like this where it’s very easy to be accusatory, I choose not to be. I choose to listen. And I don’t make up my mind about anything until I’ve gathered all the facts.

“So that’s where I’m at with this – I don’t know enough to know one way or another how I feel about it. Except just keep an open mind, listen to what’s going on and then make our determinations.”

Major League Baseball began a fact-finding mission after a woman seen as close to Russell’s wife made the allegations in a comment on the Instagram post. That action that now falls under the collective bargaining agreement’s domestic-violence protocol and commissioner Rob Manfred’s office.     

Maddon said he was completely unaware of any personal issues when he recently began rotating Russell and Javier Baez at shortstop. Russell is hitting .209 with a .626 OPS after producing 21 homers and 95 RBI for a championship team during his age-22 season.

“It just seemed like his game was off a little bit,” Maddon said. “I’m not a big question-asker. I’m just watching. I just thought the best way to deal with this was to give him time off, so that they could work through what I thought was physical stuff.

“I felt that there was something bothering him. I didn’t know exactly what it was, and then I thought it was wise to not play him too much. So I wanted him to understand from me to him that it was not a confidence issue with me to him as a baseball player.”

Maddon wanted to free up more time for Russell to work with hitting coach John Mallee – without the pressure of getting ready for a game that night – and described their interactions as normal.

“I’m not with him away from the field,” Maddon said. “When I talk to him in the dugout, I do my fist-bumps before the game. I talk to him by the batting cage.

“My biggest concern was that he knew why I was doing what I was doing, that I did not lose confidence in him. I tried to explain to him that I’ve done this with young players in the past. Again, either fight through it or give him time. And my estimation was to back and forth him with Javy.”

Maddon doesn’t know how long the Cubs will be playing with a 24-man roster or when Russell might return, but either way he won’t be rushing to judgment.

“These are young people,” Maddon said. “We’ve all been there. We’ve all been young, making some really dumb mistakes. We’ve all done the same thing. I don’t know exactly what went on. I want to hear about it as it unfolds. But, again, I think the most important thing we do as a parent, as a coach, as a manager is to listen first.”

Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

The Cubs are looking for bullpen help this offseason. Enter Astros free agent right-hander Will Harris.

Harris has quietly been one of the game’s best relievers since 2015. In 309 games (297 innings), the 35-year-old holds a 2.36 ERA and 0.987 WHIP. Over that same period, his ERA ranks third among relievers with at least 250 innings pitched, trailing Zack Britton (1.89) and Aroldis Chapman (2.16).

2019 was one of Harris' finest seasons yet, as he posted a pristine 1.50 ERA and 0.933 WHIP in 68 appearances. Of the 60 innings he pitched last season, 49 2/3 of them came in innings 7-9, an area the Cubs bullpen needs the most help.

Cubs relievers posted a 3.98 ERA last season (No. 8 in MLB), but that number is deceiving. The bullpen was OK in low and medium-leverage spots — as defined by FanGraphs — posting a 3.19 ERA (tied for No. 2 in MLB). But in high leverage spots, they sported a woeful 7.92 ERA (No. 24 in MLB) and a 15.4 percent walk rate (tied for last in MLB).

"It was a real interesting year in the 'pen," Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference. "Our inability to pitch in high-leverage situations was a clear problem and was a contributing factor — we had the third-worst record in all of baseball behind just the Tigers and Orioles in combined 1 and 2-run games.

"Our inability to pitch in high-leverage moments kind of haunted us throughout the year, and that’s something that I have to do a better job of finding options for."

Those walks often spelled doom for the Cubs. Fans remember all too well the three-straight free passes Steve Cishek handed out on Sept. 10 against the Padres, the final of which was a walk-off (literally). David Phelps and Cishek combined to walk three-straight Cardinals on Sept. 20, two of whom came around to score. The Cubs lost that game 2-1; there are plenty more similar instances.

Harris, meanwhile, walked 14 batters (6.1 percent walk rate) in 2019 — 15 if you count the one he allowed in 12 postseason appearances. His career walk rate is 6.2 percent.

Four Cubs late-inning relievers are free agent this winter in Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop. Cishek and Kintzler had solid 2019 seasons, while Strop had his worst season as a Cub. Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 2018, but he and the Cubs are working on a minor league deal, according to WSCR’s Bruce Levine. Strop has expressed his desire to return next season.

Harris regressing in 2020 is a concern. Relievers are the most volatile players in baseball, and Harris could see his performance sag in 2020 after pitching an extra month last season. Teams will have to trust his track record and assume a regression isn't forthcoming.

But assuming Cishek, Kintzler, Morrow and Strop all won’t return in 2020, the Cubs have a couple late-inning relief vacancies. Harris is one of the better available options, and he’d help the Cubs cut down on the walks dished out by their bullpen.

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Cubs add reliever Daniel Winkler in another low-risk, high-reward move


Cubs add reliever Daniel Winkler in another low-risk, high-reward move

The Cubs have reportedly made another low-risk gamble on a bullpen arm.

According to MLB Insider Robert Murray, the Cubs have reached an agreement with right-hander Daniel Winkler on a one-year deal.

Winkler, an Effingham, Ill. native holds a career 3.68 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 1.176 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 in 117 games (100 1/3 innings). He spent 2015-19 with the Atlanta Braves, undergoing Tommy John surgery in June 2014 and another elbow surgery in April 2017. The Braves dealt him to the San Francisco Giants at the 2019 trade deadline for closer Mark Melancon.

Winkler posted a 4.98 ERA in 27 big league games last season and a 2.93 ERA in 30 minor league games. His best MLB season came with the Braves in 2018, as he made a career-high 69 appearances and posted a 3.43 ERA, striking out 69 batters in 60 1/3 innings.

The Cubs entered the offseason in search of bullpen upgrades following a rough 2019. That search includes finding pitchers who may not have long track records, but qualities demonstrating their ability to make an impact at the big-league level. In this case, Winkler possesses solid spin rates on his cutter, four-seamer and curveball, meaning he induces soft contact and swings and misses.

“We need to keep unearthing pitchers who we acquire for the right reasons, we work well with and have the physical and mental wherewithal to go out and miss a lot of bats,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference, “which is something we didn’t do a lot of — although we did increasingly in the second half with this pitching group — and find more guys who can go out and pitch in high-leverage spots."

The Cubs were successful in unearthing arms last season, acquiring Rowan Wick and Brad Wieck from the Padres in separate deals. They recently acquired Jharel Cotton from the Oakland A’s in a similar buy low move.

Not every pitcher will be as successful as the Wi(e)cks were last season, but the Cubs must continue making low-risk bullpen moves. At the best, they find a legitimate relief arms; at the worst, they move on from a low-cost investments.

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