Cubs

Why Cubs feel a responsibility to not immediately cast aside Addison Russell

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USA TODAY

Why Cubs feel a responsibility to not immediately cast aside Addison Russell

CARLSBAD, Calif. - The Cubs still haven't made a determination on what to do with embattled shortstop Addison Russell.

It's now been more than a month since the Cubs' season abruptly ended and Russell was dealt a 40-game suspension by Major League Baseball for domestic violence.

Many fans would prefer the Cubs just get rid of Russell and move on, but it's not that simple for Theo Epstein and Co.

Once MLB's investigation into Melisa Reidy-Russell's allegations was completed in early October, the Cubs were then able to talk with Russell in detail and Epstein spoke directly to both the young shortstop and his ex-wife.

"I think we have an obligation to speak to everyone involved in the situation and to really engage with Addison," Epstein said Monday at the MLB GM meetings in Southern California. "This incident happened on our watch - he was one of our players and he's gonna serve his discipline for his behavior. Domestic violence is everyone's problem and this did happen on our watch and we have to be part of the solution.

"For us, it means prevention. It means trying to do everything we can as an organization to make sure this never happens again, so having everyone who interfaces with the players and their families trained professionally for detection and awareness and intervention. It's impossible to say we're gonna create an organization where there's never another episode of domestic violence ever again, but that has to be the goal and we're taking steps in that regard.

"Part of the solution also means - with respect to Addison - discipline and he's been handed his discipline and will serve it. I also think part of the solution *can* possibly include rehabilitation and reformation and taking steps to examine whether the individual is worth investment so he can grow. And so that this never happens again with him.

"So we're in that process. We have a robust mental skills department and - I don't want to get into specifics - but we're very engaged with Addy in trying to verify that he's serious about self-improvement and adding more stability to his life and to get to a point where we're confident something like this will never happen again.

"Everything remains an open question. We haven't made any determinations. The only determination we've made is that we need to be part of the solution, both from an organizational standpoint and in supporting the discipline and supporting and exploring a possible road to rehabilitation and improvement."

As part of the suspension, the league mandated Russell enter a treatment program and that process is still ongoing, Epstein said.

The investigation concluded the day after the Cubs season ended and Russell's suspension was announced mere minutes before Epstein's end-of-the-year press conference, where he stated the importance of the organization providing support for both Russell and his ex-wife.

Epstein and the Cubs feel a responsibility to be a part of the solution with regards to domestic violence even beyond this situation and are hoping to learn and instill better practices and procedures moving forward to support the player and his family.

They also feel a responsibility to support Russell and not just immediately cast him aside.

That's not to say Russell will absolutely be wearing a Cubs uniform in 2019, but there is a real possibility of a reunion - which likely would be an unpopular decision among the fanbase.

"Look, this happened on our watch and it's not like we signed a minor-league free agent and he demonstrated this behavior a month in and then you move on from him," Epstein said. "This is somebody who we acquired in Double-A and he grew up in large part in our farm system, too. And especially with a high-school kid, you're a big part of a player's development.

"We take credit when players grow up and experience great success on the field and off the field and we feel proud of being a part of that and playing a small role in that and providing the right kind of environment for that. So when a player has something in their life that goes the other direction or does something that you're not proud of, does that mean you should automatically cut bait and move on and have it be somebody else's problem or maybe just society's problem?

"Or do you explore the possibility of staying connected with that player with the hope of rehabilitation, including a lot of verification along the way. I think these are difficult things to wrestle with, but I'm not so sure the answer is simply to cast the player aside and hope that someone else performs that work or that that work take place at all. That's how I feel about it."

The Cubs have until Nov. 30 to decide whether they will tender a contract to Russell, who is under team control for another three seasons and would go into his second year of arbitration if offered a contract.

He has already served 12 games of the 40-game suspension, meaning he would miss at least the first month of 2019 regardless of what uniform he is wearing - if he's even with a team at all.

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Live from Wrigley it's Cubs Authentic Fan Night

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi to talk all things Chicago baseball as the Cubs take on the Braves and the White Sox look to get a win in Boston.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: