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Cubs to option Russell when eligible for return

@DKramer_
April 30, 2019

SEATTLE -- Addison Russell will be optioned to Triple-A Iowa once he’s eligible to return from his suspension on Thursday, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said ahead of the club’s two-game series opener against the Mariners on Tuesday. Russell has played in six games with Iowa during the

SEATTLE -- Addison Russell will be optioned to Triple-A Iowa once he’s eligible to return from his suspension on Thursday, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said ahead of the club’s two-game series opener against the Mariners on Tuesday.

Russell has played in six games with Iowa during the seven-day period that suspended players are allotted in the Minors while on the restricted list. The Cubs are opting to keep the former All-Star shortstop in the Minors to accumulate more at-bats and reps at second base, where he is expected to see time when he rejoins the Cubs. The 25-year-old has posted a line of .250/.423/.500 with Iowa thus far.

Russell was suspended last October, retroactive to Sept. 21, for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. He missed the club’s final 11 regular-season games and the Cubs’ 2-1 loss to the Rockies in the National League Wild Card Game.

Epstein said he spoke with Russell via telephone on Tuesday and the infielder was receptive to the option. Russell, an A's first-round Draft pick in 2011 who the Cubs acquired in the Jeff Samardzija trade in 2014, has one Minor League option remaining.

“He understands where we're coming from. Six games is a lot less than most guys have to get ready for the season, and he understood,” Epstein said. “As far as the position goes, he just wants to get ready to help the team however he can.”

The Cubs' plan is for Russell to accrue a workload in the Minors similar what players get during Spring Training before determining whether he’s ready to join the Major League club. Typically, big leaguers get around 50 at-bats before Opening Day. Russell has had 20. He also had 34 at-bats over 12 Cactus League games and hit .382/.395/.529, but he was out of action almost a full month before joining Iowa on the restricted list.

“We wanted to make sure that he's ready for when the time comes,” manager Joe Maddon said. “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. ... But there's not a real urgent need for him right now. I think we're better off letting him continue to go through Spring Training.”

When Russell returns, he'll likely have to spend at least some time at second base. Javier Baez has been playing at an MVP-caliber level as the Cubs’ everyday shortstop, batting .315 with a .996 OPS while playing elite defense. Baez entered Tuesday tied for second among MLB shortstops with five Defensive Runs Saved -- one behind MLB leader and reigning National League Gold Glove Award winner Nick Ahmed, who had six.

Epstein acknowledged that interrupting Baez’s success at short wouldn’t be the most practical decision.

Russell played 746 innings over 86 games at second base as a rookie in 2015 and was worth nine DRS at the position. But he hadn’t played there at any level since ’15 until Monday. Epstein said Russell will likely make two to three starts at each position before flipping to the other, in an effort for Russell to maintain some sense of stability and comfort.

With a pitching staff that leads the Majors with a 51.6 percent ground-ball rate, the Cubs place a heavy premium on infield defense.

Playing Russell at second could create a positional trickle down elsewhere, too. Third baseman Kris Bryant would likely see more time in the outfield, which the club had outlined in spring, and David Bote’s offensive emergence has warranted more playing time. That would likely leave second basemen Daniel Descalso and Ben Zobrist in corner-outfield roles more frequently.

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Seattle. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.