Addison Russell just turned in arguably his worst season as a Cub this past year, and there are many reasons why fans should not want him to return. He had a wRC+ of 81, indicating his production at the plate was 19% below league average. He also had an OPS of .699, well below the MLB average of ~.750. Not only that, Russell had a Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) of +2, by far the worst of his career. All of these facts prove one thing: Addison Russell was not an effective MLB player in 2019.
But even with all of this being factual, non-tendering him is a mistake. This is because, unlike some young players on the Cubs’ roster (i.e. Albert Almora), Russell has proven for one and a half years that he can produce at a high level. And this production wasn’t in the minors, it was on an MLB diamond in high-pressure situations both in the regular season and the playoffs. In 2015 and 2016, Russell had a wRC+ of 90 and 95, which is as good as it gets for an elite defensive middle infielder like himself (Javier Baez is the exception, not the norm). He also averaged a DRS of 14.3 from 2015 through 2018, placing himself among the elite defensive middle infielders in baseball. Couple that with winning a Gold Glove in 2016, and it proves that last year’s pedestrian fielding stats were an anomaly.
I understand that Russell hasn’t been worthy of a starting position for the Cubs since 2017 and he should mostly be judged based on what he has done the last two seasons, but those stats listed above cannot be ignored when talking about his current value. It’s rare for young players to decline as sharply as he has, and while getting back to his 2015-2017 self may not be a certainty, it is likely. For two and a half seasons, he was viewed as a starting shortstop with All-Star potential. Because of this, he has trade value. For comparison, center fielder Albert Almora has zero trade value because he has proven nothing on an MLB diamond to show he can be an effective player. The Cubs non-tendered the guy that would warrant some sort of return on the trade market and retained the guy worth nothing. It’s that simple.
Look, I’m not saying Russell deserved to be the starting second basemen opening day and play every day. He has shown some very questionable behavior off the field that suggests he has an erratic personality. He’s also shown a lack of work ethic and accountability by admitting to the media he didn’t know the signs four months into the season. Both of these things affect his value, and since the Cubs are trying to invigorate a change of culture within the clubhouse, it did make sense to get rid of him. However, the better avenue was to trade him and receive value in return to improve the roster or the farm system. The decision to non-tender him seems like more of a budget and cost-cutting choice rather than benefiting the organization on the field. The Cubs are essentially valuing saving a couple million over the return Russell would warrant on the trade market. With how many areas of improvement the Cubs need to get back to the success of 2015-2017, I disagree with the decision. The bottom line is that non-tendering a former starting shortstop on a World Series team and getting nothing in return for him is a bad business decision. Owner Tom Ricketts and President Theo Epstein made the wrong decision.
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