By the end of this week, there will be a little more clarity about how the Cubs plan to address the middle of their infield next season.
There is, of course, no doubt that Javier Baez -- the National League's runner-up for the Most Valuable Player Award -- will have a home up the middle. The question that needs to be answered is how, if at all, shortstop Addison Russell will factor into the 2019 equation. By Friday's 7 p.m. CT deadline for tendering contracts to any unsigned players on the 40-man roster, Russell will either remain in the fold or hit free agency.
Russell is one of eight arbitration-eligible players on the Cubs' roster who fall under the criteria for Friday's deadline. On Wednesday, the Cubs acquired arbitration-eligible infielder Ronald Torreyes from the Yankees for a player to be named or cash considerations. That move adds a layer of middle-infield depth as the Cubs plot the course of action for Russell.
Six players within this winter's arbitration class -- Baez, Kristopher Bryant, C.J. Edwards, Kyle Hendricks, Mike Montgomery and Kyle Schwarber -- are all part of the '19 plans. After the Cubs traded pinch-hitting specialist Thomas La Stella to the Angels on Thursday, Russell is the only player who at least warrants discussion about being non-tendered.
• A non-tender candidate from every team
There are a few layers to the situation surrounding the decision on Russell.
First, Russell is in the midst of a 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. He will not be eligible for activation until May 3, meaning the Cubs would still need a contingency plan for the season's first month, if the team opts to offer Russell a contract for the upcoming campaign.
There is also the decline in Russell's performance over the past two seasons. Following a breakout 2016 showing, in which the shortstop was an NL All-Star and hit 21 homers with 95 RBIs, Russell has turned in a .245/.311/.376 slash line in 240 games across the 2017-18 seasons. In that two-year period, he has posted a 79 OPS+, meaning he has been 21 percent below MLB average as a hitter.
Last year, Russell dealt with a left middle finger sprain down the stretch and hit .201 (.508 OPS) in 57 games from July 1 through the end of the season. That came after he hit .285 (.762 OPS) in 73 games over the season's first three months. In 130 games overall, Russell hit .250/.317/.340 with five homers, 38 RBIs and 13 Defensive Runs Saved at short (1,003 2/3 innings) last year. Russell is just 24 years old, so age is on his side.
Russell made $3.2 million last season and is expected to get a raise via arbitration for the upcoming year, but his salary is not exorbitant for a club with a payroll that will run north of $200 million in 2019. That said, the Cubs might also want to save some dollars as they account for exceeding MLB's luxury-tax threshold. If Russell is not retained, Baez could stick at shortstop and the Cubs would then weigh internal and external alternatives for second base.
Benjamin Zobrist and Ian Happ offer in-house options for second, while the open market includes Cubs free agent Daniel Murphy, along with DJ LeMahieu and Jed Lowrie.
Torreyes offers depth around the infield, as he has appeared in 92 games at second, 74 at third and 60 at short in parts of four seasons with the Dodgers and Yankees. Over the past three years with New York, the 26-year-old infielder hit .281/.308/.374 in 221 games. This marks a return to the Cubs for Torreyes, who was acquired in December 2011 from the Reds as part of the Sean Marshall trade. Torreyes was acquired by the Astros two years later and found his way to the Yankees by '16.