Cubs

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.

Cubs sign oft-injured reliever Brandon Morrow to minor-league deal

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USA TODAY

Cubs sign oft-injured reliever Brandon Morrow to minor-league deal

Brandon Morrow hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since July 2018, but he’ll get a shot at making a comeback next season.

Morrow is set to sign a minor league deal with the Cubs, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. It’s worth $1 million if he makes the Cubs' roster and could reach $2.25 million if Morrow makes 65 big-league appearances. 

Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 15, 2018, missing the second half of that season with right biceps inflammation. He underwent a debridement procedure on his right elbow last offseason, which was supposed to keep him out for the first month of the 2019 season. But Morrow suffered several setbacks and never pitched in 2019. 

Morrow’s agent, Joel Wolfe, told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times last month that the right-hander feels a sense of loyalty to the Cubs after they stuck by him through thick and thin. He said Morrow was open to a minor league deal.

When he last pitched, Morrow was one of the most dominant closers in baseball. He posted a 1.47 ERA in 35 games in 2018, converting 22 of 24 save tries. He provided the Cubs with a power arm in the back of the bullpen, striking out 31 batters in 30 2/3 innings compared to nine walks.

For the Cubs, Morrow is a low-risk addition with high-reward potential. He told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers that his arm feels great. If he’s healthy, he could be a major contributor to the Cubs' bullpen.

This time, the Cubs won’t place such high expectations on the 35-year-old. They expect closer Craig Kimbrel to bounce back in 2020 with a normal offseason ahead of him. Kimbrel signed a three-year, $43 million deal with the Cubs last June and struggled mightily, posting a 6.53 ERA in 23 games.

If healthy, Morrow could prove to be a lethal weapon in front of Kimbrel. If he can’t stay healthy, it’s not like the Cubs are investing a lot of money in him, as they did two offseasons ago when Morrow signed a two-year, $21 million deal.

Simply put: if Morrow pans out, great. If he can’t stay healthy, the Cubs can move on without losing a large investment.

If Rangers sign Nicholas Castellanos, it could lead them to Kris Bryant deal

If Rangers sign Nicholas Castellanos, it could lead them to Kris Bryant deal

After losing out on free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon, the Texas Rangers have spoken to agent Scott Boras about Cubs free agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.

Castellanos played third with the Detroit Tigers from 2014-17, but considering he posted a -64 Defensive Runs Saved mark in four seasons, he won’t be moving back there. Interestingly, however, Castellanos is willing to consider playing first base, according to Grant.

The Cubs — who are reportedly still pursuing Castellanos — obviously would be affected if the 27-year-old signs with Texas, as they'll lose one of their most productive players from 2019. But besides that, Castellanos landing with the Rangers would impact the Kris Bryant trade market.

The Rangers are looking for a consolation plan at third base after missing out on Rendon. They have a three-year offer on the table for Donaldson, according to Grant, and signing him would cost them only money. The same cannot be said about acquiring a third baseman via trade, like Kris Bryant, who would cost several assets.

But if Donaldson doesn’t sign with the Rangers, they might be more inclined to pursue Bryant. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said at the Winter Meetings they’ll address third base this offseason, and the Cubs' third baseman would be the best option left. That is, unless Texas calls the Rockies about Nolan Arenado.

Daniels also indicated that the Rangers are unlikely to trade for a player with only a few years of team control left (like Bryant) without making other major additions.

“There are some trade options [that] would have quite frankly made more sense in our mind if we had landed the free agents at the top of our list,” Daniels said. “I don’t love the idea of half measures. I don’t love the idea of taking a chunk out of the system if it doesn’t really make sense. Trading for somebody with a year or two of control makes more sense if the club is a little more filled out.”

So if the Rangers land Castellanos, a pursuit of Bryant could follow. But the same might also be true if they sign Donaldson, thanks to Bryant’s positional versatility.

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