I missed the news when it first broke, but it’s more poetically just that it came across my desk on the morning of MLB’s non-tender deadline. Addison Russell became a free agent one year ago when the Cubs opted against offering the middle infielder a contract for 2020, then went unsigned by any other MLB clubs over the course of the winter.
Though his domestic violence suspension and growing reputation as a poor decision-maker who didn’t know the Cubs’ baserunning signs gave teams pause, he couldn’t land a new gig because he simply wasn’t a valuable player any longer. For all the talk about cancel culture, the fact of the matter is that there will be a job for a professional athlete who is very good at what they do.
Russell, however, has not been very good at what he does. That wasn’t the case in 2016, when he started at shortstop and hit 21 homers with 95 RBI for the World Series champs. Len Kasper even lauded Russell as a “future MVP” when introducing him during the Cubs’ championship rings ceremony prior to their second home game of 2017.
However, Russell’s performance that season contradicted Kasper’s prediction and set a tone for the rest of his time in Chicago. His defense was still solid, but he was hampered by foot and shoulder issues that limited him to an 85 wRC+ over just 385 plate appearances. The first allegations of domestic abuse also came up that June, though MLB’s investigation did not yield a suspension at the time.
The 2018 season saw Russell’s wRC+ slip to 80 while his defense fell off precipitously, leading to Javy Báez taking over at short in 2019. The Cubs still saw fit to tender Russell a deal for that season despite his 40-game DV suspension, more specific reports of his abuse from his ex-wife, and decreasing production. They were rewarded with an anemic offensive performance and numerous mental mistakes that saw Russell demoted to Iowa at one point.
Long story short, Russell ended up having to sign with the KBO’s Kiwoom Heroes for the 2020 season. In a league with talent roughly equivalent to Double-A, he managed to hit just .254/.317/.336 with two homers in 271 plate appearances. As a result, the Heroes opted against offering him a new contract for next season.
Kiwoom officially announced that they will not be bringing back Jake Brigham and Addison Russell, they will try to work on a contract to bring back Eric Jokisch https://t.co/31Nc9zFlfL
— Dan Kurtz (@MyKBO) November 27, 2020
If you are among those calling for Russell to get a second chance, please take a moment to reconsider your position. Even if you set aside his disgusting behavior — which you shouldn’t — or assume he’s finally shown real contrition and has changed his ways, he’s simply not an impact player. Even during that big 2016 campaign, his 95 wRC+ means he was 5% worse than the average offensive producer.
That’s not a guy you need on your team, period.
The outlook is brighter for former Cub Eric Jokisch, who had reportedly been “drawing a bunch of interest” from MLB teams. Rather than trying for another go at it in a frigid market back home, the 31-year-old lefty has re-signed with the Heroes for $900,000 after a stellar performance.
A 2010 draft pick out of Northwestern, Jokisch came up through the Cubs system and pitched 14.1 innings in Chicago during the 2014 season. He then spent the next four seasons bouncing between a handful of organizations before settling in South Korea, where he just finished his second season with a KBO-leading 2.14 ERA.
That’s a nice palate cleanser from the earlier stuff.