The Cubs could have cut ties with Addison Russell this week but opted to tender the embattled shortstop a contract ahead of Friday evening's deadline.
Russell was suspended 40 games for domestic violence by Major League Baseball in early October and will miss the first month of 2019. He already sat out the final 12 games of the 2018 campaign after his ex-wife, Melisa Reidy, published a disturbing blog post detailing the physical, psychological and emotional abuse she suffered while married to Russell.
The 24-year-old shortstop also released a statement for the first time since his suspension and Theo Epstein explained the decision:
“I offer my heartfelt apology to my family and my former wife Melisa for my past behavior. I also want to apologize to Cubs fans, the Cubs organization, and my teammates for letting them down. Since accepting my suspension, I’ve had time to reflect on my past behavior and think about the next steps I need to take to grow as a person. Here are the first steps I’ve taken:
“I accepted my suspension and did not appeal. I am responsible for my actions.
“I am complying with the MLB-MLBPA treatment plan, and I will be meeting regularly with different experts, counselors, and therapists. Even before any mandated treatment, I took the extra initiative of obtaining my own therapist and I have been meeting with that therapist several times a week for the last two months and plan to continue this therapy beyond the MLB treatment plan. With that therapy, I am attempting to improve myself by learning new outlooks and understanding different emotions.
“After I have done my own therapy and gained new insights into myself, I hope to be able to work with non-profit groups in Pensacola, Chicago, and Arizona to support their missions and become part of the solution.
“Finally, I recently met with Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein to explain my progress and goals. They outlined the Cubs’ expectations for me. I accept and am completely committed to meeting those expectations. I am grateful for their support.
“I am just in the early stages of this process. It is work that goes far beyond being a baseball player – it goes to my core values of being the best family man, partner, and teammate that I can be, and giving back to the community and the less fortunate. While there is a lot of work ahead for me to earn back the trust of the Cubs fans, my teammates, and the entire organization, it’s work that I am 110 percent committed to doing.”
That doesn't mean it's a guarantee Russell will ever put on a Cubs uniform again. The contract is not guaranteed for Russell and the Cubs could still opt to release or trade him before his suspension is up in late-April/early-May.
Russell is in his second year of arbitration and projected to make about $4.3 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors (though he is not paid while suspended). The Cubs had until 7 p.m. Friday to decide whether they would tender Russell a contract.
Russell is under control for another two seasons after 2019 and made $3.2 million this past season. In addition to the off-field controversy, Russell has also seen a dip in production and struggled to stay healthy, dealing with hand, shoulder and foot issues over the last couple years. He hit a career-high .250 in 2018, but that came with a major downturn in power (only 5 homers, .340 SLG).
The Cubs apparently are willing to endure some bad publicity by retaining Russell, though part of that is due to the personal responsibility they feel, as summed up by Epstein's comments at the GM Meetings earlier this month.
The Cubs president of baseball operations echoed that sentiment again Friday afternoon:
“The behavior that led to Addison Russell’s suspension under Major League Baseball’s Joint Domestic Violence Policy happened on our watch. We traded for Addison when he was a 20-year-old Double-A player, helped him develop into a world champion and welcomed the praise that came along with his triumphs.
“If we’re willing to accept credit when a member of our organization succeeds on the field, what should we do if he engages in conduct off the field worthy of discipline from Major League Baseball?
“After a very thorough process, we have chosen to take action to try to become a small part of the solution for Addison, his family, Melisa Reidy and the larger issue of domestic violence prevention. In determining our path forward, we’ve maintained regular dialogue with Melisa to support her and to listen. We’ve also consulted with a number of domestic violence experts. Over the past few months, I’ve maintained frequent communication with Addison, and Cubs personnel have met with him regularly. Earlier this week, Tom Ricketts and I met with Addison in Chicago to assess his progress and communicate our expectations as he works to earn back the trust of our fans and entire organization. He affirmed he understands and accepts those expectations.
“As Addison detailed in his statement, he has taken the initial steps to hold himself accountable for his past behavior and begin the rehabilitation process. He is working closely with his own therapist – help he proactively sought on his own beyond the league-mandated treatment – and plans to continue this work once the mandated program is completed. We are encouraged by his early effort and will continue to evaluate and verify his progress.
“Today, we are taking the procedural step of tendering Addison a non-guaranteed contract in conjunction with Major League Baseball’s deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. While this decision leaves the door open for Addison to later make an impact for us on the field, it does not represent the finish line nor rubber-stamp his future as a Cub. It does however reflect our support for him as long as he continues to make progress and demonstrates his commitment to these important issues.
“Just as Addison has a responsibility to own his actions and put in significant work to grow, our organization has a responsibility to act as well. We’re taking a hard look at how we can support domestic violence prevention. In our own workplace, we are dedicating more resources to expand training for our players, their families and our coaching staff and front office. We will engage the appropriate experts to help us design programs for the Cubs which raise awareness of domestic violence, help prevent future incidents and make us the safest workplace possible. We also have connected with Family Rescue, a Chicago-based organization dedicated to serving survivors of domestic violence and community education and prevention. We’re exploring ways we can support their award-winning efforts to eradicate domestic violence in Chicago.
“We understand every action we take and word we use sends a message to our fans – all of whom have their own unique experiences and perspectives, and some of whom have a personal connection to domestic violence. The message we would like to leave you with is we take the issue of domestic violence seriously. There is a long road ahead for Addison, and we will hold him accountable. There also is a long road ahead for our organization as we attempt to make some good of this situation. We are committed to being a part of the solution.”
Friday evening represents MLB's deadline for all teams to tender a contract to arbitration-eligible players. Beyond Russell, the Cubs' list of arbitration-eligible players includes Kris Bryant, Kyle Hendricks, Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Mike Montgomery, Carl Edwards Jr. and newly acquired infielder Ronald Torreyes.