Cubs reinstate Russell, option to Triple-A Iowa

Reliever Morrow transferred to 60-day injured list

May 2nd, 2019

CHICAGO -- Purely looking at the baseball part of the equation, one week was not sufficient for getting shortstop ready to rejoin the Cubs. The team also wants to avoid prematurely disrupting a middle-infield alignment that has produced strong results over the season's first month.

Both factors played into Thursday's decision to option Russell to Triple-A Iowa immediately upon reinstating him from the restricted list, following the fulfillment of a 40-game suspension for violating MLB's Domestic Violence Policy. That transaction was planned a few days in advance, as Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein explained to reporters earlier this week during the club's recent road trip.

"He understands where we're coming from," Epstein told reporters in Seattle. "As far as the position goes, he just wants to get ready to help the team however he can."

Off the field, Russell is continuing to take steps to meet the standards set forth by MLB and the Cubs to address the past domestic violence issues and behavior. Epstein has reiterated that the behind-the-scenes work is more important that the baseball side, while noting since the offseason that nothing has been guaranteed to Russell as part of this "conditional second chance."

In order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Russell's reinstatement, Chicago made the procedural move of transferring right-hander (right elbow) to the 60-day injured list. Morrow had a setback in his throwing program roughly two weeks ago and received a lubricant injection in his elbow on Monday. The closer will be shut down from throwing for two to three weeks, meaning his comeback could be delayed until early July at the earliest.

The 25-year-old Russell -- suspended in October (retroactive to Sept. 21) last year -- will continue to garner at-bats and innings with Iowa, giving him a second Spring Training of sorts. Entering Thursday, Russell had garnered 26 plate appearances in six days with Iowa, logging time at both shortstop and second base. The Cubs are having him play some second to prepare for potentially holding a utility role when he rejoins the big league roster.

At the moment, Javier Baez is turning in elite offensive and defensive production as the Cubs' everyday shortstop. Entering Thursday's off-day, Baez was hitting .314 with 10 home runs, nine doubles, 24 RBIs and 25 runs scored through 28 games. In the field, his seven Defensive Runs Saved were tied for the most in the Majors among shortstops. Under the circumstances, Chicago does not want to move Baez back to second base.

"Risking interrupting that when we don't have to would be a questionable move," Epstein told reporters in Seattle.

At the same time, Chicago's rotation of second basemen -- David Bote, Daniel Descalso and Ben Zobrist -- have turned in a collective slash line of .250/.340/.373 with a 94 wRC+ and 1.3 Defensive Runs Saved (per FanGraphs). Over his career in the Majors, Russell has hit .242/.313/.392 with an 88 wRC+, though he has also offered plus defensive play at shortstop as part of his overall skill-set.

Ideally, the Cubs would want Russell to receive in the neighborhood of 50 plate appearances -- similar to Spring Training -- while getting acclimated and comfortable with playing on the other side of second base.

"We wanted to make sure that he's ready for when the time comes," Cubs manager Joe Maddon told reporters on Tuesday. "He hasn't had the benefit of a real Spring Training yet, so we just thought more games and more at-bats would benefit him and us."