We're running down the top 19 questions surrounding the Cubs heading into Opening Day 2019.
Next up: How does the Addison Russell situation shake out?
For a long time this offseason, it looked like Addison Russell had played his last game in a Cubs uniform after he accepted a suspension for domestic violence.
That was a perfectly fine conclusion for many outside the organization — from fans to media members. It would also have been a preferred outcome of several inside the organization, Theo Epstein admitted last month.
Ultimately, Epstein and the Cubs chose to bring Russell back on a conditional second chance.
"I understand people who are critical of the approach we've decided to take," Epstein said in his spring training introductory press conference. "I have a number of people I trust and share things with and bounce things off — people who have moral compasses that I think are as good as they come, people who I really trust and respect — and I'd say about half those people really embrace the position we've taken. They think that digging in and trying to make a difference is the right way to go.
"And the other half think that we should've just cut bait and moved on. We do know that we send a message to our fans with every action that we take and that cutting bait sends a simpler, stronger message, but that digging in and trying to make a difference on all these different fronts, sometimes that's a little bit more nuanced and that can get lost in translation.
"I personally think we're doing the right thing. I understand people who are upset and think we should've just moved on. But I can at least pledge to those people that we're taking this on earnestly, that it's important to us, that they're not just words — they're actions and I will continue to be transparent with you and with our fans about everything that we're doing to try to attack this problem of domestic violence and that we will continue to hold Addison to an incredibly high standard or he won't play a regular season game as a Chicago Cub ever again."
It's been a little over a month since Epstein uttered those words and nothing has occured in that span to give any indication that Russell has not lived up to those standards set forth by the team.
He still has to finish out his 40-game suspension handed down by Major League Baseball, but as of this writing, it seems like a foregone conclusion Russell will once again put on a Cubs uniform in a regular season game.
His name was on the lineup card for the team's second game of Cactus League play and Russell has made 7 other starts since then — all at shortstop.
It's still unknown how fans — both Cubs faithful and opposing fans — will react to Russell when he returns. His first game at Wrigley Field will certainly be interesting.
Assuming he stays on the current path over the next six weeks, Russell's suspension will end somewhere around May 1, depending on how many rainouts the Cubs have in the first month-plus of the season.
If he does return, Russell will figure to be in the shortstop mix. The Cubs still consider him their best defender at the most premium position and it would also allow flexibility to move Javy Baez all over the infield and improve the team's overall defense.
Obviously his off-field issues have been the main topic of discussion in the last few months, but Russell's on-field struggles are worth mentioning, too, as we look ahead to a possible baseball fit. He's hit just .245 with a .687 OPS in the last two seasons while committing 29 errors in 230 games.
The way Joe Maddon and the Cubs utilized Russell last September is probably a clue as to how they may dole out playing time if he returns.
Baez will likely start at shortstop against most right-handed pitchers, with some combination of Ben Zobrist, Daniel Descalso, Ian Happ and David Bote playing second base. Russell would be on the bench and can either come in late as a pinch-hitter or for defensive purposes to play shortstop and move Baez around. Russell would then be in line to start against left-handed pitchers, given he has had significantly more success against southpaws than righties the last two years.
From a strictly baseball standpoint, the main question would be whose spot Russell takes on the roster. If everybody is healthy, the Cubs currently have no position-player openings unless they opt to send Bote, Happ or another player down to the minor leagues. But that's a future problem for Epstein, Maddon and Co.
The complete 19 for '19 series:
19. Who will be the Cubs' leadoff hitter?
18. Who's more likely to bounce back - Tyler Chatwood, Brian Duensing or Brandon Kintzler?
17. How different will Joe Maddon be in 2019?
16. Can Cubs keep off-field issues from being a distraction?
15. How can Cubs avoid a late-season fade again?
14. Is this the year young pitchers *finally* come up through the system to help in Chicago?
13. How much will Cubs be able to count on Brandon Morrow?
12. How does the Addison Russell situation shake out?
11. Will Willson Contreras fulfill his potential as the best catcher on the planet?
10. Will the offseason focus on leadership and accountability translate into the season?
9. Will payroll issues bleed into the season?
8. Will Javy Baez put up another MVP-caliber season?
7. Will Jon Lester and Cole Hamels win the battle against Father Time for another season?
6. What should we expect from Kris Bryant Revenge SZN?
5. Do the Cubs have enough in the bullpen?
4. What does Yu Darvish have in store for Year 2?
3. Are the Cubs the class of the NL Central?
2. Is the offense going to be significantly better in 2019?
1. How do the Cubs stay on-mission all year?