Bernstein: Addison Russell's Cubs Career Ends Quietly

Russell leaves behind a complicated and ugly legacy.

Dan Bernstein
December 03, 2019 - 3:56 pm

(670 The Score) Theo Epstein can couch the Cubs' expected parting of ways with Addison Russell however he wants, but the truth is the decision was made long ago, once they were sure enough that he couldn't really play.

The Cubs' president of baseball operations chose to mention the economics of retaining their troubled infielder above anything else, explaining in a statement that he was non-tendered "simply because the role we expected him to play for the 2020 Cubs was inconsistent with how he would have been treated in the salary arbitration process." In other words, Russell has dwindled into a bench player not worth the $5 million that he was likely set to receive.

And while that's indeed the case, it's not the point.

The baseball business of Russell's story can be examined in its own right, from the Cubs' decision to trade for him to his rise to becoming a critical contributor on one of the best baseball teams of the modern era to his eventual regression and suspension by MLB for violating the domestic violence policy. It's a sad whimper of an end for someone once believed to possess the qualities of a future MVP candidate.

A skeptical view of Epstein's handling of Russell through the abuse allegations and the subsequent investigation and punishment is completely fair, even as the Cubs worked diligently so both say and do many of the right things along the way. Epstein took pains to bring transparency to his decision to not cut him immediately, insisting that Russell's victim and family would benefit most from the structure and rehabilitation being provided. The question would be if that fact would've been given less weight for a less promising talent, one whose value wouldn't be worth any restoration attempt.

If that organizational support was so important then, why is it seemingly not now? One calendar year could be seen as an arbitrary time designation for such a thing, particularly considering an issue as personal and complicated as domestic abuse. There's never a finish line by which to deem everyone safe and healed and everything OK.

What's happening is the concurrent expiration of both Russell's usefulness to the Cubs and a fair period over which the team could oversee the process of therapy and education. A purely cynical interpretation of Epstein's motivation in these circumstances would be unreasonable, having heard his real concern for those affected by Russell's behavior and then seen the actions that took place to back it up. It also makes sense to note, however, that this window also gave Russell the chance to get his game right.

Though we weren't able to keep tabs on whatever was going on with experts behind the scenes helping Russell try to be a better person, the baseball was right in front of you, and it was awful. He was unproductive and inattentive, seemingly unaware or unconcerned about the generous chance he was given. Now that shot will have to come somewhere else.

A silver lining in such an unfortunate story is that it catalyzed Epstein to institute top-to-bottom awareness efforts and domestic abuse prevention training for the entire organization, practices that will continue and should've existed in the first place without being shamed into them.

If these ongoing efforts mean that one spouse or other family member is in any way protected from harm who would otherwise not have been, something good will have come of all this.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in midday. You can follow him on Twitter @Dan_Bernstein.