The Rundown: Decision Day for Russell, Driver Hiring May Bode Well for Contreras, Brewers Making Hader Available

At some point today we will know if Addison Russell still has a future with the Cubs. If keeping the beleaguered shortstop seemed controversial last year, one can only imagine the vitriol if he is tendered a contract before today’s 8pm ET deadline. While the personal issues that have followed Russell cannot be ignored — and by all accounts he avoided any off-field incidents this past season — is it worth $5.1 million to keep a player who seemed lost and ill-prepared?

Russell is one of seven arbitration-eligible Cubs on the 25-man roster who can be tendered a contract today. Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, Willson Contreras, Kyle Schwarber are easy choices, and it appears Albert Almora Jr. is a near lock to be tendered. Kyle Ryan will probably be offered a contract, too. There are others on the 40-man, like new pickups Jharel Cotton and C.D. Pelham, along with comeback story Danny Hultzen, who can also be tendered.

Working against Russell is the positive debut of Nico Hoerner, who was pressed into action at the end of last season. Hoerner held his own, playing every day in a pressure-packed final month of the season where the Cubs were fighting for their playoff lives. Even if Hoerner is not quite ready to start on Opening Day, David Bote could fill in at the keystone until the rookie can be considered an everyday player.

Since Theo Epstein hired David Ross to replace Joe Maddon, neither has said anything about Russell and his role with the team going forward. Then again, they haven’t really talked about any one particular player at all. Epstein vowed to keep his players’ names out of the papers and, other than speculation by sportswriters and bloggers, he’s done just that. The president of baseball operations has always been very transparent about the roster and coaches, but this winter has an entirely different vibe.

Still, with all of the end-of-season speculation about massive changes ahead, Epstein has yet to make a significant move. In recent years, offseason moves have been executed at a much more deliberate pace, albeit with many of the bigger trades and free agent signings taking place just before the start of spring training. With the Winter Meetings a week away, front offices across the league are still treading lightly…with the exception of the Braves and White Sox.

In that light, what the Cubs decide on Russell will at least be a barometer of what may come. The Cubs could tender a contract to the infielder and hope to trade him, but it seems unlikely they could find a suitor. However, an underperforming pitcher on a similar contract — say Carlos Rodon of the White Sox — might make sense for both teams. Is it worth taking that chance? Epstein could also try to negotiate a smaller contract with his infielder, though Russell would probably rather take his chances elsewhere if non-tendered.

If you are undecided or even if you think Epstein should tender a contract to Russell, ask yourself this: Would you pay $5 million in free agency for an infielder who admitted to not knowing team signs, finished the season with a .699 OPS, a 79 OPS+, and was worth just 0.1 WAR?

Cubs News & Notes

Monday Stove

These 24 players represent the most notable non-tender candidates ahead of this evening’s deadline, including Russell, Blake Treinen, Shane Greene, and Travis Shaw.

It’s possible Shaw and Treinen could be traded at some point today, with the Yankees said to be very interested in Oakland’s former closer.

The Rangers are showing heavy interest in Yankees’ third baseman Miguel Andújar.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Brewers are making reliever Josh Hader available to other teams in trade talks.

Red Sox starter Chris Sale received some welcome news from Dr. James Andrew and is now on track to begin throwing soon.

Be prepared for an onslaught of Scott Boras quotes at next week’s Winter Meetings (subscription to ESPN+ required).

The catching market has moved pretty fast this winter, while there have been no significant deals involving starting pitchers, with Kyle Gibson being the only starter to sign with a new team.

Extra Innings

Ichiro the pitcher?

They Said It

  • “It almost seems like everything [in the offseason] has shifted back four to six weeks. I think there are a number of factors that contribute to that. [Front offices] are placing a greater value on sort of every dollar and every decision, and wanting to find value in every transaction, as opposed to — and I can speak firsthand to this — 15 years ago or so where teams were more apt to fill in holes and didn’t care as much about value and there weren’t as many methods to discern exactly how much impact you were getting for each dollar. Now you can quantify it a lot more. It’s made the whole process a little more methodical, I’d say.” – Theo Epstein

Monday Walk Up Song

Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word by Elton John. Could today be the end of Russell’s tenure with the Cubs?

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