Cubs Now Have 5 Options for Addison Russell’s Future

The Cubs tendered a contract to Addison Russell on the afternoon of deadline to do so. This means the two sides will exchange arbitration salary figures and Russell will remain on the Cubs roster, for now. In my opinion, the Cubs’ decision to tender Russell is largely due to a group action problem we just saw play out in the NFL (and may see again with Kareem Hunt).

Last week, linebacker Reuben Foster was cut by the 49ers following his arrest for allegedly beating his girlfriend. The 49ers, to their credit, acted decisively in cutting the former first round pick. Thirty other teams admirably chose to not claim Roster off waivers. The Redskins, however, signed Foster.

Washington will take a public relations hit, but likely not a big one. Any team that actively refuses to stop using a blatantly racist name probably does not have many fans left that would leave over Foster. So the 49ers behaved properly and lost a valuable player while the Redskins behaved despicably and gained a valuable linebacker for their playoff push.

The Cubs faced the same dilemma. If the Cubs had non-tendered Russell, someone would have signed him. The Cubs lose, another team gains, and Russell is no more punished than before. In fact, one could argue that granting Russell early free agency would reward him for having allegedly abused his wife both psychologically and physically.

So what happens to Russell now the Cubs have taken the “procedural step of tendering [him] a non-guaranteed contract” for 2019? I see five options:

  1. Trade him prior to the season.
  2. Stash him in AAA as depth in the event Javier Baez is injured. In many respects, this would be the greatest punishment. Russell would get another year older with no MLB development, reducing his long-term earning potential.
  3. Keep him, he serves the remaining 29 games of his suspension, then returns as the backup or starting shortstop.
  4. Keep him with the intent of trading him once he comes back and can establish himself again. (This option would be indistinguishable from option 3 for now.)
  5. Go to arbitration in order to have the option to cut him for 45 days severance pay prior to the season if they are not happy with his progress both personally and professionally during spring training. You may recall the Cubs used this mechanism with Justin Grimm last year to give themselves extra time to evaluate whether to grant him a roster spot.

I do not see No. 5 as very likely. The Cubs know that even the injury-plagued version of Russell from last season is worth more than the $4.3-5.4 million he will likely get in arbitration. The 2016 version would be more valuable still. There doesn’t appear to be a significant trade market for Russell right now, and the Cubs have shown a proclivity to value their own players higher than the rest of the league.

As a result, I suspect Russell stays on the roster for now, but with the explicit understanding that if he fails to take his anger management counseling seriously, he will be optioned to Iowa.

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