Addison Russell

Cubs Talk Podcast: Goodbye Addison Russell

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Goodbye Addison Russell

On this edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, David Kaplan, Tony Andracki, and Jeff Nelson discuss the end of the Addison Russell era, how the Reds may now be the favorites in the NL Central, and where Cole Hamels may pitch in 2020.

01:00 Should the Cubs have gotten rid of Addison Russell a year ago?

06:00 Javy Baez took his game to the next level while filling in for Russell

07:30 Any chance Kris Bryant gets moved this offseason?

11:00 Could Cole Hamels be pitching on the other side of town next year?

15:30 Are the Reds now the favorite in the NL Central?

19:00 Changes in the Cubs coaching staff

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Cubs non-tender deadline news and notes

Cubs non-tender deadline news and notes

One of the first truly busy days of the MLB offseason is upon us.

Jharel Cotton

With Monday night serving as the deadline to tender players contracts for the 2020 season, the Cubs began by agreeing to terms on a one-year deal with pitcher Jharel Cotton.

The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal first reported Cotton's deal, worth $640,000 for 2020:

Cotton was slated for his first year of arbitration in 2020, so the $640,000 deal is a relative bargain, a little over the major-league minimum.

The Cubs just acquired the 27-year-old right-hander from the Oakland A's a little over a week ago. Cotton has dealt with injuries in recent years and hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2017, but he is a former top prospect (No. 84 by Baseball America prior to the 2017 season) and carries a 10.2 K/9 rate in 496 career minor-league games. 

Cotton is a nice buy-low option for the Cubs that has experience pitching in relief or in the rotation and can be sent down to the minor leagues if he doesn't earn a job on the big-league staff out of spring training. He has a lot of talent, as evidenced by his strong debut MLB season (2-0, 2.15 ERA, 0.82 WHIP in 5 starts in 2016). 

For the Cubs, they need to continue to take low-risk gambles like this on arms, hoping to strike gold as they did last year with guys like Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck.

Russell, Hultzen non-tendered

Shortly after the Cotton news dropped, the Cubs also announced Addison Russell and Danny Hultzen have been non-tendered, while the rest of the arbitration-eligible players (Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr., Kyle Ryan) were tendered a contract for 2020. All 19 players not yet eligible for arbitration were also tendered deals.

The Cubs' 40-man roster now stands at 36 with Russell and Hultzen coming off the books.

The Russell decision was expected, but Hultzen is still at least three years away from arbitration. However, Hultzen does not have any minor-league options remaining, which means the Cubs would've had to either keep him on the 26-man roster from Day 1 or risk losing him on waivers if they tried to send him back to the minor leagues. This way, the Cubs could still agree to a minor-league deal and add him only to the 40-man roster if needed later in the season.

Hultzen is an interesting case and was a heartwarming story, battling back from a plethora of injuries to make his MLB debut for the Cubs in Milwaukee in mid-September. The 30-year-old southpaw was formerly one of the top pitching prospects in the game as the No. 2 overall pick back in the 2011 MLB Draft.

Working back from yet another injury, Hultzen made 14 appearances for Triple-A Iowa in 2019 before pitching in six big-league games in the final month of the season. He had 10 appearances in 2018 after not pitching professionally in all of 2017.

The Almora decision

The other moves were unsurprising, as the Cubs were always expected to tender Ryan a deal after his breakout 2019 season, and they wouldn't even dream of parting ways with Bryant, Baez, Schwarber or Contreras unless in a big trade. 

But the decision on Almora was a bit tougher, as the 25-year-old is arbitration eligible for the first time this winter. MLB Trade Rumors projects his 2020 figure to come in around $1.8 million, which is kind of a lot for a guy who put up a -0.7 fWAR last season. Almora was the first draft pick of the Theo Epstein regime back in 2012 (No. 6 overall) and scored the winning run in the 2016 World Series, but he has largely failed to live up to his potential in the big leagues. 

Once thought to be a Gold Glove-caliber defender in center field, Almora struggled in both aspects of his game in 2019, rating as a negative defender (-5 DRS) and well below average as a hitter (.236 AVG, .651 OPS). However, he's still young and has flashed the potential to turn things around offensively while also getting back on track defensively. 

At the moment, it doesn't appear Almora will be penciled in for a major role on the 2020 Cubs, but he also isn't slated for such a huge salary spike that the organization felt like they had to cut ties with him this winter.

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As expected, Cubs moving on from Addison Russell

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USA TODAY

As expected, Cubs moving on from Addison Russell

The Addison Russell era is over in Chicago.

A winter of change continues to swirl as the Cubs opted to move on from their embattled infielder ahead of Major League Baseball's non-tender deadline Monday night. The Cubs did not tender Russell a contract, making him a free agent.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein released a statement in conjunction with the Russell move:

We decided to non-tender Addison Russell today simply because the role we expected him to play for the 2020 Cubs was inconsistent with how he would have been treated in the salary arbitration process. 

In the year since we decided to tender Addison a contract last November, he has lived up to his promise to put in the important self-improvement work necessary off the field and has shown growth as a person, as a partner, as a parent and as a citizen. We hope and believe that Addison’s work and growth will continue, and we have offered our continued support of him and his family, including Melisa. 

In the last year, the organization has also put in the important work necessary to bolster our domestic violence prevention training for all employees, all major league players, all minor league players and all staff. We also offered healthy relationship workshops for the players’ partners and provided intensive, expert domestic violence prevention training for player-facing staff. This heightened training and our increased community involvement on the urgent issue of domestic violence prevention will continue indefinitely. 

We wish Addison and his family well.

The Cubs tendered a contract to their other arbitration-eligible players (Albert Almora Jr., Javy Baez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Kyle Ryan, Kyle Schwarber). The team also non-tendered left-handed pitcher Danny Hultzen, who fought his way back from injury to make his MLB debut in September.

2020 was supposed to be Russell's third year in arbitration and MLB Trade Rumors projected his salary figure at $5.1 million. That's an awful lot of money for any team to pay an infielder who posted just a .699 OPS in 2019 and has a career .704 OPS in over 2,200 plate appearances. 

Simply put: Russell's play on the field has underwhelmed recently, not even taking into account the off-field domestic violence issues that led to a 40-game suspension in 2018-19. He is still capable of playing elite defense, but he made too many mental mistakes on the basepaths and in the field and eventually earned a demotion to the minor leagues in late-July

For a Cubs team already in a tough spot financially, that $5.1 million projected figure is far too much to pay a defensive-minded infielder with serious offensive/focus questions and off-field baggage (though, by all accounts, Russell has lived up to the standards the Cubs set for him away from the ballpark).

The Cubs also don't need Russell to play Gold Glove defense at shortstop because they have Javy Baez capable of holding down the position and providing both elite defense and offense as a core member of the roster.

There's still a chance the Cubs sign Russell back on a lesser deal, but this feels like the end of his time in Chicago. It's clear his career could use a fresh start somewhere else and he's no longer a vital player on the Cubs roster.

With the emergence of Nico Hoerner, Russell has been deemed expendable. Hoerner came up in the middle of a pennant race last September when Russell was hit in the face with a pitch and the rookie wound up sparking the team and impressing with his energy, contact-oriented approach and defense at shortstop.

Hoerner may well begin 2020 in the minor leagues, but he's already proven he can serve as an emergency shortstop in the event of another Baez injury and Hoerner figures to play a key role in the second base picture next season either way.

The Cubs also added Zack Short to the 40-man roster this fall, representing even more middle infield depth beyond Baez, Hoerner, David Bote, Daniel Descalso and Tony Kemp. 

Russell is set to turn 26 in January and never really lived up to his enticing potential with the Cubs. The 11th overall pick of the 2012 draft, the No. 3 overall prospect in the game in 2015 (Baseball America) and the centerpiece of the Jeff Samardzija trade with Oakland, Russell burst onto the scene in Chicago as a key piece of the surprise 2015 Cubs team. 

He hit 21 homers and drove in 95 runs in 2016 and came through with a number of clutch hits in the World Series run that fall, including a grand slam in Game 6 of the World Series. But he's never been able to find that offensive level again, hitting just 26 homers with 104 RBI and a .689 OPS in the 322 games since the championship campaign.