The Chicago Cubs are, if nothing else, among the most storied franchises in baseball. Despite several successful teams, the Cubs were known for many years as “lovable losers” due to their inability to win a championship or even a pennant. In 2003, many considered the Cubs unlucky as they suffered an utter collapse in the eighth inning of game six of the NLCS when they seemed to have punched their first world series ticket in almost 60 years. Later in the decade, the Cubs had another winning team and suffered two consecutive NLDS sweeps. In the early 2010s, the Cubs finally committed to a long term plan, tearing down the roster as one of the first examples of the rebuild which now pervades baseball. In 2014, the Cubs had baseball’s best farm system, and immediately they got results as they advanced to the NLCS in 2015 for the first time in over a decade. Finally, they achieved international fame in 2016 when they won their first World Series title in 108 years, ending the longest title drought in professional sports which will likely never be matched.
Addison Russell has been a large name in this Cubs organization for several years. He was acquired in a trade for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel as the number 11 overall prospect in baseball and the newest weapon in the mega-arsenal that was in the works on the North Side back in 2014. Along with Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, and Anthony Rizzo, Russell looked to be a part of a young infield that was shaping up to be among the most dangerous in history. In 2015, Russell didn’t hit well enough to make the NLCS roster, but after the Cubs got swept, they shipped out mainstay shortstop Starlin Castro and up came Russell to fill the position full-time. In his first year as the starting shortstop, he helped the Cubs to the most storied World Series championship ever. While he still wasn’t stellar on offense, he now had two incredible defensive seasons under his belt and still had plenty of offensive potential heading into his third major league season, still just 23 years old.
Then, last year, allegations of domestic violence rose against Russell, with reports claiming that he was guilty of abuse towards his wife Melissa. These were dismissed initially, but then, as last season drew to a close, Russell was placed on leave as a more thorough investigation took place. His ex-wife released her end of the story, damning Russell and confirming his guilt. Russell received a slap on the wrist from Major League Baseball in the form of a 40 game suspension for his actions. Now, the Cubs need to give Russell a real punishment and eliminate his current career path in baseball for four primary reasons.
First, Russell is only the most recent in a line of several domestic abusers who have recently come to light in Major League baseball, including Astros closer Roberto Osuna and former Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman. Domestic abuse isn’t an issue that’s limited to baseball: both Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt of the NFL have recently been subject to criticism for their domestic abuse allegations. The Blue Jays, who traded away Osuna after his allegations, and the Chiefs, who released Kareem Hunt after evidence of his abuse arose, did the right thing in ridding themselves of their players following their cases. Now, the Cubs need to follow their lead and go even a step further: they need to be the first baseball organization to release a player due to domestic violence charges. In blazing a trail towards a system in baseball with zero tolerance for domestic violence, the Cubs will be the first team to take a bold action that will ultimately make all of Major League baseball a better and more inclusive place.
Additionally, the Cubs could use the action as a major step in the right direction in terms of their reputation. Right now, this reputation is that the Cubs are the most controversial team in baseball after committing several moral wrongdoings in the eyes of baseball fans. At the moment, they’re in the midst of another with Russell after tendering him a contract this winter and allowing him to finish serving his 40 game suspension with the organization. Even on the heels of insulting and alienating Muslim fans via comments made by the ownership family and trading for two controversial players, one who had made negative comments towards the LGBT+ community and another in Chapman, this is the worst offense of all for the Cubs. Last winter, many called for the Cubs to not tender Russell a contract as he entered his second arbitration year, but last night Russell made his first start of 2019. Now, immersed in moral questioning from everywhere else in the league, the Cubs need a decisive action to prove that they’re willing to overlook the competitive drawbacks and do the right thing, which they haven’t been able to do in this era of contention.
Furthermore, even from a competitive standpoint, Russell’s value for the team is fundamentally questionable, and it may even be better for the team to move forward without Russell. While Russell is a former high pedigree prospect, he has far from proven his ability to hit in the Major Leagues, and it’s difficult to work with this and compete, even on a Cubs team with so many potential offensive weapons. Russell is touted for his defense, and this is what has helped him stick at a major league level, but according to several metrics, including Fangraphs defensive metric, Russell’s defense has declined yearly since he put up the eighth best defensive season in baseball by the same metric in 2016. In 2018, Russell was all the way down at 85th in defensive value, and 16th among all shortstops. It’s particularly hard to justify keeping a plus defense shortstop who can’t hit in your lineup when he isn’t even in the top half of defenders at his position. Moreover, the Cubs have plenty of position players currently available who can more than make up for Russell’s absence. Javier Baez has continued to prove his legitimacy at shortstop, and while he is a slight defensive downgrade, he is far better on offense and beyond capable of handling the position on a daily basis. To fill in at second base, take your pick from Daniel Descalso, Ben Zobrist, and Ian Happ, all of whom are better offensively than Russell. Even thinking towards a future without Descalso and Zobrist, the Cubs have two high pedigree shortstop prospects in Nico Hoerner and Aramis Ademan who can almost definitely do what Russell does and more in the future. Considering all of these factors, it’s hard to say that the Cubs aren’t well off without Russell.
Finally, the mental state of the team overall would likely improve without the weight of Russell and his actions in the clubhouse. Throughout the process of his return, Russell has required a lot of attention from the higher ups in the Cubs organization due to the attention he received publicly. When asked about Russell in interviews, most Cubs players took one approach: isolate themselves from the incident and avoid acknowledging it as much as possible. In both cases, Russell has been an immense presence on the minds of everyone in the Cubs organization, and in general this is a large distraction from the goal of any team, but especially this year’s Cubs: win games. Simply put, playing with a clear conscience without Russell can do nothing but good for the Cubs.
In all, while Addison Russell is still a young, talented baseball player, he deserves no second chance and the Cubs have every reason not to give him one. However you want to put things, Russell has proven himself to be a bad person, and that’s not what the Cubs or MLB should be endorsing, regardless of an emphasis on his personal improvement. Continuing to provide opportunities to an abusive player simply because of his talent or potential value continues to project to fans that it’s acceptable by the standards of professional sports to commit those same actions. Sports are cherished to us as an escape from the hardships of life, making the world a better, happier place. For every second chance given to Russell and other abusers, sports become the opposite, projecting hatred and violence and destroying the humanity that connects us all.
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