Baseball

Remember “Quiz Show?” Pretty brilliant Robert Redford-directed film. Great cast. Maybe the one time Hank Azaria played an unrepentant asshole. David Paymer and John Turturro are just awesome, and pretty much showcase the entire Jewish spectrum. Somehow it starred Rob Morrow, which gets funnier and funnier the more you think about it.

Anyway, the climactic scene is when Ralph Fiennes’s Charles Van Doren sits before Congress and admits he got the answers before the shows. And senator after senator compliment him for his statement, until the surly, frumpy one from New York (of course he’d be from New York) finally says that his colleagues are full of shit and that he shouldn’t be commended for doing what’s right. Which earns standing applause from the gallery.

That’s kind of how I feel about the Cubs non-tendering Addison Russell yesterday. It really deserves no more applause than getting a vaccination. It’s what you’re supposed to do. Except in one light…is it?

I’ve always been a shade toward the middle on the whole thing when it started last year. Obviously, Addison Russell is a giant piece of shit and I would have been sated had they tossed him in the same dumpster as the giant Wrigley cake from years ago. But, and I could just be drinking the Kool-Aid, I believed Theo when he said they were genuinely interested in his rehabilitation and what was best for Melisa Reidy, who they said had requested that Russell not be released. Multiple times when they announced they were not letting Russell go last year, Theo stressed that Melisa and their child’s well-being and wishes came first.

Sure, deep down I knew it was about not losing an “asset” for nothing, and the hope would be that he would hit for at least a month or two and not spend the season shoving his cleats up his ass every which way so they could trade him and get something in return. But it seemed a pretty good cover story at least.

Of course, Russell sucked all year and proved to be an inattentive dope as well. And the first paragraph of the statement tells you everything: If you haven’t seen it in full:

The first thing they mention is that his contribution on the field would not be anywhere near what he would have to be paid. And normally that would be enough. But Addison Russell isn’t normal.

Last year, they said they were keeping him because they wanted to be on the frontline for his rehabilitation, to make sure everything was being done for Melisa and their child, because they didn’t want to simply wash their hands. They wanted to be involved. They wanted to be on the front-line. They wanted to be at the head of change throughout the league. They wanted you to believe then that his performance didn’t really matter.

And now it’s top of mind.

Of course, they say that his adherence to whatever they set out for him off the field has been up to the standards they set. No one knows really what this has been, and I’m not sure anyone should, although some idea of how intensive it’s been would certainly help. Whatever it is, it certainly can’t have been “completed” in just a year. But now the Cubs aren’t really worried about it, because he’s not their player anymore.

They also didn’t miss the chance to trumpet their own horn, but at least they didn’t lead off with it, so they’re one step ahead of John McDonough. Still, using this at best uncomfortable situation and at worst abhorrent as a platform to boast about your accomplishments and changes, ones we can’t really put a finger on, doesn’t really scan fully either.

Clearly, the Cubs had no choice in the public’s eyes, and no one is going to criticize this move. It’ll be on Addison’s new team to make sure he keeps adhering to his growth and change as a person. Except if there is no new team, what then? What if it’s just on him until April or May? Or longer?

I’m certainly not unhappy he’s gone, though I bet I see even more #27 jerseys in the stands from jackasses who have to prove just how uncaring and menacing they can be simply because. But if it was all about his change and growth, and you were so involved, wouldn’t the Cubs have to keep him so they could as closely monitor it as possible?

That would have been an impossible choice to make. This was certainly easier. But if you take them at their word, always a bad idea when it comes to front offices in any sport, it might not actually have been the right one.

Baseball

It’s the counter to “Fleabag,” clearly.

Most of the time, I enjoy doing these, just because I like digging around on FanGraphs or BrooksBaseball to find nuggets to explain things away. Or maybe because I just enjoy writing and talking about baseball that much. Today is not that day. We’re in this together, people. Strength in numbers. Here’s Addison Russell’s 2019, hopefully his last on the Northside.

2019 Stats

82 games, 241 PAs

.237/.308/.391

8.3 BB%  24.1 K%

9 HR  23 RBI

.297 wOBA . 81 wRC+  .699 OPS

3.3 Defensive Runs Saved  0.5 WAR

Tell Me A Story: Oh good god. Here’s the thing about Addison Russell: On the field (we’ll get to the whole story in a minute), it feels like a lot of people, including in the Cubs’ front office, had this impression that Russell has ever been a productive offensive player. He hasn’t. If you can avoid being blinded by the 98 RBI in 2016, which is a product of opportunity as much as skill if not more, he’s never had a wRC+ of 100 or a wOBA of over .320. When he put up the 95 wRC+ in 2016, it was justified in thinking that would eventually be a launch-point. Something he built off of. Well, he didn’t. That now looks like his ceiling, and one he’ll need a hell of a fucking stepladder to touch again.

Russell’s power (at least to hit baseballs hard) went away in 2018 and it didn’t come back this year in the least. Unless slugging percentages that almost don’t reach the .300s are your thing, and it would be if this were 1912. Russell is never going to hit for a high enough average to not hit for power and be effective, and he’s not fast enough to beat out infield hits or take extra bases either. More worryingly, Russell’s contact-type numbers are an exhibition of piss-poor-edness, even in this year of the SuperBall. Whether you go by hard-contact percentage (31%) or average exit velocity (86.3 MPH), it’s clear that Russell doesn’t do much other than breathe on the ball and passively send it on its way.

Oh, and most of that contact is on the ground. It’s a fiesta of suckitude.

A continuing theme with the Cubs hitters is that a good portion of them could be beat by fastballs not just above the zone, but high in the zone that they couldn’t just take. Russell was no different:

And it’s not like he could not swing at them either. In trying to catch up to them, Russell was also mucho susceptible to sliders, which he had a 41% whiff-per-swing rate on. You could get him out either way, whatever your mood that day.

There was a time when it looked like Russell might develop a more patient approach at the plate, with a 9% walk-rate in ’16 that could have grown. It didn’t, and he’s been below that in the three seasons since. Considering the lack of pop, Russell probably needs a walk-rate over 10% to even get a GPS to an effective hitter, and there’s no sign that’s going to happen.

When watching Russell, you get the impression his bat-speed just isn’t going to catch up to what MLB pitchers are throwing, and he can only feast on mistakes in the inner part of the zone. Russell just doesn’t have the power to go up the middle or the opposite field and be effective that way, nor really the patience to try.

Other than all that, he’s a fine hitter.

While it’s easy to remember all the errors, some egregious, over the half-season he played Russell’s defense actually grades out fine. And that will probably continue, and hey it might even get better were he to grow a brain at any point in his adult life.

Of course, the most galling thing about Russell is the lack of attention to anything on or off the field, as well as being a genuine scumbag. Russell seemingly hasn’t taken any responsibility for anything that he’s done, at least before Cubs media relations have to clean up his mess of the mouth and send him back out there with prepared statements.

It’s the far lesser crime, but that has leaked onto the field too. Russell’s lack of attention is the main thing holding him from being even a contributor, and he doesn’t seem to have any actual instincts for the game. At every other level his athleticism would get him through that, but not here. And moreover, he doesn’t seem to want to learn. I’m sure the signs on a Major League team are a tad more complicated than the ones we used in high school. But I also doubt the process of learning them is too much more than the three-minute talk we got minutes before the first game of the season. Yet Russell unfathomably told everyone he didn’t know them. After five seasons under the same manager. It’s a desolate and arid place, the space between his ears.

Contract: Arbitration eligible, MLBTR projects $5.1M for 2020

Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: The hardest of boots in the fleshiest part of his ass. Even if Russell weren’t a complete dolt and ghoul, it would appear a spot for him has disappeared. Starting shortstop is taken, and the Cubs are probably pretty determined to give second to Nico Hoerner before the All-Star break next year at the latest. Even at just that, $5M for this headache to be merely a fifth infielder is hardly worth it, and he would still have to provide offense he hasn’t looked close to producing in two seasons. Happ might not have his glove but the bat still has far more potential, and Bote can at least provide competency in both departments until it’s Hoerner’s show.

Now, I’ve been of the opinion that if the Cubs were truly sincere in their claims to want to guide Russell out of his dungeon of evil and stupidity into an actual addition to society, they can’t actually get rid of him. But the cover for them is to say they think he’s progressed enough as a person that he can be judged as any player would on the field, which would be enough justification to deposit him in whatever unfortunate dumpster that deserved better is nearby. Or they could claim he’s regressed in all areas. The bottom line is that his play on the field simply isn’t of a Major League level and it’s time for everyone to move on.

Russell will also be 26 come spring training, so one might conclude there just isn’t that much more room for improvement and this is probably what he is. We have basically four seasons of sample now. What do you see? Nothing that’s worth all this, both personally and professionally. Just a massive, massive failure.

 

Baseball

We don’t need that many words now. This was a team that saw it season evaporate at home, and is trying to get to the door hoping not too many people are looking. They certainly weren’t in Pittsburgh. But that didn’t stop the Cubs from basically capitulating. The Pirates had lost a million in a row. But once the defense and Kyle Hendricks’s location went south on Tuesday, this team just wants it to be over. So let’s just do a few notes and get on with our lives.

-Jose Quintana is really backing the Cubs into a corner now. They have to exercise his option, as it’s only $11M. But his September of gasoline is not going to make him worth much in trade value, and they might already have a fifth starter in Jon Lester for next year. I would have to guess Q is hurt and has been, but his velocity has held steady. His change has lost fade, and his curve a little break, making both hard to locate or easier to hit. Which means keying on his fastball. He’s one of the bigger reasons this month went completely balls-up.

But what do you do? Even for a bottom of the rotation guy he’s affordable. You have to hope he figures out something in the offseason or in Mesa and can be the effective middle guy he was in the middle of the season. Otherwise the Cubs have a much bigger problem in the rotation than they already do.

-As for Lester, the answer for him is just age. We saw last year he was getting hit harder and walking more guys, and there’s no reason that’s not going to continue into next year when he’s 36. This is the devil you meet when you hand a pitcher six years on a contract, and overall Cubs fans will be happy with what they got. But they still have next year to deal with, and the Cubs can’t go into next season thinking Lester is a #3 starter. Maybe he can find another mile on the fastball with different training or something. Or try a new approach, but the expectations should be low.

-I wanted Ian Happ to be good. He’s such an athlete, and you see where having him be able to play a few spots would have been a real boon. But it looks like the time in Iowa was for not. He can get beat in the zone with a fastball, which was the problem in the first place. Did he work on anything? His keen eye does no good when he can’t catch up to strikes. Along with Almora and Russell, you’d have to say his Cubs career is almost certainly toast.

-Other than that, who cares? It’s been over, and the Cubs played like it. One more weekend and then we all get sweet relief.

 

Baseball

What Cubs fans will tell you is most infuriating or disappointing, or confusing, or infurapusing, about this season is that before it, Cubs ownership/front-office didn’t show much urgency about it. Now, we’ve been having the debate about how much urgency a team coming off a 95-win season with half of a Kris Bryant really needs to show, but it’s some. You’re in your window, you’re supposed to be competing for a World Series every year, every chance is precious, so there’s built-in urgency.

During the season, there’s been some. It’s easy to point to the Craig Kimbrel signing and say the Cubs truly do care. Except they were almost shamed into that with the bullpen they did engineer for this season. There was almost no choice. And they only did that because Ben Zobrist‘s salary came off the books. Nicholas Castellanos‘s acquisition is another, though it cost pretty much nothing and wasn’t as big of a splash as they could have made. It certainly worked out that way, though.

Still, the overriding feeling of this season was basically running it back and seeing what happens. And the team itself has certainly played that way, only enhancing the feeling that the whole organization is in some sort of malaise or fog. Every time they’ve had a chance to surge forward they’ve turned it down, no one seems to be taking a step forward other than Darvish and Castellanos in a contract drive.

So the Cubs calling up Nico Hoerner today smacks of a desperation they just haven’t shown at all this year. Yes, they’re out of shortstops, as Javier Baez has a broken thumb and Russell a broken face, and Russell has been an offensive black hole as it is. Hoerner at least can provide similar defense as Russell, and just might make more contact.

But it feels like it would have fit perfectly for this Cubs team, from top down, to just throw David Bote at short until Russell was healthy again and try to make do. Joe Maddon hadn’t wanted to do that all season, which led to Baez being turned into a fine paste by playing every single day, but both the front office and now the players don’t seem to give a flying fornication what Maddon wants to do these days.

Calling up Hoerner also feels like exactly what happened to Almora or Happ or Russell even, though what happens next year will be more telling of that. All three of those players were promoted to the majors without an extended period of offensive dominance, or even success in Almora’s and Russell’s case really, and all three have failed to consistently hit at the top level. Hoerner has 70 games at AA. So one has to believe this is just an emergency and he’ll start next year back at AA or AAA if he really balls out in spring training or something.

The Cubs may just be out of options, and feel like taking a flier. Just like they took on Robel Garcia, or Happ again, or Carlos Martinez for eight minutes, or Zobrist now (which is somewhat working). Hoerner doesn’t strike out, though we’ll see if that continues with the jump to MLB pitching, makes contact, and is fast, three things the Cubs have had next to zero of all season. He can play the position too, though his long-term future is obviously at second or in center thanks to Baez. Fuck, at this point Cubs fans will be happy if he just doesn’t throw the ball into the next county like Russell had an affinity for.

What an intro it will be for a young kid to walk into a clubhouse in mid-September for a team competing for a playoff spot full of players that just seem like they want to go home. Hopefully he isn’t paralyzed by confusion.

Baseball

Game 1 Box Score: Cubs 7, Brewers 1

Game 2 Box Score: Brewers 2, Cubs 0

Game 3 Box Score: Brewers 4, Cubs o

The temptation to rant and rave and declare it all over certainly is strong, and probably even justified. By the time the night ends the Cubs could be four back with 26 to go, which sounds daunting. At the same time, both the Cardinals and Cubs are so mediocre that this race probably has a turn or two left, and as long as either are in touching distance of the other when they get to the seven in 10 against each other that ends the season, nothing will be over.

Even yesterday, I don’t feel like I want to throw things out the window over. The Cubs made a lot of loud contact and line drives that just kept ending up caressed in leather instead of finding open spaces. That happens sometimes. It’s frustrating when it comes at the end of a season where you’ve pissed away so many games in stupid fashion, and I keep writing this. But they happen to everyone.

Today feels more toward unacceptable. A second-straight bullpen game against with the only true dominant reliever the Brewers have not coming up for air until the game was already over. Some pretty baffling lineup decisions, then in-game ones, as well as more simply bewildering performance, and an inability to simply put the bat on the ball when it matters. You just can’t have that, or you can’t if you’re trying to claim to be something it’s obvious you’re not.

But at the end of the day, this is what the Cubs are. Three steps forward, two and a half back, then two steps forward with three steps back, going nowhere.

And what should really be galling, either to the front office or the media that covers it, is this is the type of weekend the Cubs told you they needed to have more focus on, more killer instinct, before this season started, when they were reacting so bizarrely to a 95-win season. They had a chance to put the Brewers to the sword here, and basically end their season (they’ll get another chance next weekend, but don’t bet on it). And they passed. They limped away. Good thing they got rid of all those themed roadtrips, huh?

Let’s…

-Ok, let’s do today first. Joe Maddon got away with a goofy lineup on Friday because Chase Anderson is awful and Nick Castellanos had himself a day. But that was a lineup shorn of Bryant, Rizzo, and Contreras. That doesn’t mean trying it a second time was all that advisable.

Fine, Rizzo needs a day as he comes back from his back problems. Really the only move I’m talking about here is not starting Schwarber. Yeah, he’s not great against lefties, but neither are Addison Russell, or Albert Almora, or Jonathan Lucroy. Schwarbs has been just about the best hitter next to Castellanos of late, and this team can’t really go without his bat when two of the “Core Four” aren’t around. And this game could have come down to an AB or two before Craig Kimbrel had nothing.

-So then you get to the sixth, and whatever the fuck that was. It’s not like Joe wouldn’t have seen Claudio warming up, and known that pinch-hitting for Almora with Heyward (0-for-his-last-18 at that point), would see him come into the game. So he would have to know that Heyward-Claudio is what he’s going to get, and if he’s uncomfortable enough with that that he needs to bunt (NEVER BUNT), then just have Almora do it. But again, don’t bunt.

-Also, bunting in assuming that Addison Russell is going to give you a good AB next is some galaxy brain abstract thinking. Does Joe know he sucks?

-And still we go on, as the Cubs finally get a leadoff hit from Bryant, and then the next three guys strikeout. There it is right there, the main problem it’s always been. Sure, it’s not really fair to Caratini who’s been really good of late, or Rizzo who was rung up on a pitch outside the zone (LOVE THE HUMAN ELEMENT SO MUCH I’M LIGHTING MY SCROTUM ON FIRE). Heyward never had a chance because he’s bad. You can’t have any of this. Caratini has to take the walk or pull the ball. Someone’s got to get a bat on the ball. I don’t want to hear the rest of it.

-Speaking of Heyward, I don’t want to hear it anymore. He can bitch and moan all he likes but when it’s all over where you bat in the lineup shouldn’t make a damn bit of difference. The idea is always the same. So don’t tell me putting him in the leadoff spot sent him into a tailspin and don’t tell me that you can’t move him when he starts again because he’s requested that he not be. Hit the damn ball or get out of the way.

-And speaking of Bryant, his big homers against Cincy, Pittsburgh, and the Giants have masked the fact that he’s been thoroughly mediocre for a month. With Contreras out and Rizzo hurting, the Cubs need more from him. That’s if he’s healthy, and you won’t convince me he is. But a 94 wRC+ for a month isn’t good enough. The Cubs have their weak spots, and that’s not going to change. With no Rizzo, you only have Schwarber and Castellanos that have been performing at a “star” level. Again, it’s not enough.

Anyway, onwards…

Baseball

I was actually going to save this post for when the Cubs collapse/utter failure was complete, which looking at the schedules is probably going to happen against the Cardinals, and possibly even in St. Louis. And after a summer following THAT team winning a Cup, that’s a little more than I can handle right now.

Still, when I saw the Tribune this morning, and saw Theo Epstein calling for his team to “turn it on,” it felt like the time was now.

Most Cubs fans have been waiting for the Cubs to kick into another gear all season, except for that one stretch in mid-April to May. But after 131 games, one would have to think this is what the Cubs are, a team that basically specializes in flattering to deceive.

The exact quote:

“We’ve been waiting to put it all together and be the best version of ourselves, and I think we all know in this clubhouse it has to happen really soon for us to get to where we want to go,” 

But the question you have to ask is whom exactly is this addressed to? The team’s core? Well, Willson Contreras is hurt, but even with that all of Bryant, Rizzo, Baez, and Contreras are performing at or beyond the level of last year. Baez’s recent slump has taken him below his ’18 campaign, but as he’s had to play every single goddamn day because Theo failed to locate an adequate backup shortstop–or one that isn’t a complete dickhead and is also not adequate offensively–maybe you could excuse that a bit. And again, last year’s performance won 95 games.

Is it the rotation? Who is performing below expectations in the rotation? Jose Quintana has propped the staff up over the last month. Hendricks is way better than he was last year, though not at his career bests. Hamels was great until getting hurt. Yu took a half season to figure it out but are we honestly suggesting he has somewhere more to rise to after walking exactly one hitter in a month? I hate to break it to Theo, but this is what Jon Lester is now at 35. Sure, they haven’t been as consistent as you might have hoped, with each having a stretch of being an avalanche. But each have also had a stretch of dominance, and overall they’re top-five in the NL in ERA and FIP. Isn’t that about where you had them before the season? Didn’t that sound like it would be more than enough in March?

No, the reason this team is trying to run a race with a sprained ankle is the supporting cast Theo put around that core turned out to suck deep pond scum. Albert Almora can’t hit. Kyle Schwarber is a poor man’s Joey Gallo and only if you squint really hard. They’ve gotten nothing from second base, and losing Ben Zobrist shouldn’t have turned that spot into GWAR’s giant void. Ian Happ is looking like the version that got sent down again.

Do we have to go through the bullpen again? Do we have to go through the complete lack of cheap, young, power arms that Theo has failed to produce other than maybe Rowan Wick? I don’t think we have to.

When Theo talks about turning it up, he’s essentially asking his core to play at career-high levels. And for a month, that can certainly happen. Except one’s got a bad back, another is probably exhausted, and another is on the shelf with hamstring-twang. So…maybe that’s a longshot?

Later in this article, Theo goes on to complain that the Cubs have lost their approach and ways from when they were hot early in the season, that all-field, grind-out-ABs gauntlet that he thinks they should be. But what’s clear is that they’re not. They haven’t been for a long time. They’ve cycled through hitting coaches trying to deflect from that, but at some point it ain’t the arrows, son. These are your hitters. They’re either too stubborn or too stupid or just not equipped.

When the epitaph of this season is written, whenever that might be, it’ll be a measure of how much the supporting cast failed. Maybe the Cubs didn’t get an MVP-level performance from any of the main four, but it would be hard to make the case they didn’t get enough if anyone else had come along for the ride. But Jason Heyward’s barely .800 OPS isn’t enough (and it’s not even that now, but don’t dare move him from the leadoff spot because he’ll get cranky!). Same goes for Schwarber. Trusting Almora, Bote, and Russell after exactly none of them had ever put up even an average offensive season in the majors isn’t about “turning it on.” It’s about them not being good enough.

Forgetting to construct a bullpen isn’t about running in a lower gear for the fuck of it. Trying to rebuild it with Derek Holland and David Phelps isn’t about finding a switch. That doesn’t mean lavish amounts of money needed to be spent, and when the Cubs tried that it got them Operation Model Brandon Morrow or the weirdness of Craig Kimbrel with no spring training or first half. It’s about creativity and maybe finding a failed starter or two around who do have two pitches but can’t negotiate a lineup twice. Or producing some fire-breather from within who you know will only be around a max of three years but you enjoy it anyway. Theo did exactly none of this.

That doesn’t mean something silly or unforeseen can’t happen. Russell or Schwarber could binge for three weeks. Contreras could return and not miss a beat (and his Sept. ’17 when coming back from the same thing suggests it’s hardly an impossibility). Rizzo’s back-knack could just be a small thing. And that might be enough.

But as far as who has “underperformed?” No, there really aren’t that many, if any, who can have that label attached to them. More likely, those players are exactly what you see, which isn’t good enough.

Baseball

Granted, this is a poor post to explore a day after you’ve been smothered by Ivan Nova, statistically the worst starter in all of baseball. One is capable of the irrational at the moment. And it’s not fair to get really emotional about it when you’ve just run the Dodgers gauntlet for four games, because right now no one is scoring against them. But the thing is if you want to go anywhere, you’re going to have to bust through that Crossing The Desert, or out-slug them, or out-slug the Brewers to even win the division (Lord knows the Brewers aren’t going to out-pitch anyone), or the suddenly nuclear Braves…anyway, you get it.

The worry area for the Cubs all season has been the pen, and the signing of Craig Kimbrel doesn’t magically make all of that go away. And you still imagine that when the deadline approaches, that still will be Priority #1, and possibly #2 and even #3. Fair enough, the Cubs still only have two to three reliable guys right now, and that might even include Kimbrel. There are a lot of wildcards out there.

Still, what’s been apparent is the Cubs have obvious holes in the lineup. They’re at second, center, and right. The last is being a tad harsh, as even with Jason Heyward’s abhorrent May, he’s still having an above-average offensive year (barely). But we can aim for a little higher than barely above average, at least I hope we can. Mom always told me aim high. The Cubs can carry average or a tick below at one spot, maybe even two.

The problem is that when the main five–Bryant, Rizzo, Contreras, Baez, and now Schwarber–aren’t all firing at the same time then the offense becomes something of a wasteland after the fifth hitter. Baez is in a slump, Contreras has gotten ground-ball happy again, and this is a big reason the Cubs haven’t put together a bunch of runs of late.

Still, I don’t want to base things on a bad week or two. It’s a long goddamn season. But over the last month, the Cubs are 10th in runs in the NL, 12th in average, 11th in wOBA. A month gets harder to ignore.

And what’s clear is that the answers mostly aren’t on the team. There’s no way the Cubs could have foreseen that Ben Zobrist would leave the team and his return be totally up in the air. It’s easy to forget how good Zobrist was last year in a more limited role in service of his age, but his 123 wRC+ or .355 wOBA would be miles above anything they’re getting for the most part from anyone not in that fivesome mentioned.

With Zoby 18 being somewhere in the quantum zone, the Cubs aren’t left with many answers. Carlos Gonzalez is dead. He’s not going to be reanimated. Everyone but Joe Maddon seems to know this. What’s hilarious is that Mark Zagunis was never given near the opportunities that CarGo has been, and his numbers are significantly better. And no, that’s not a plea to recall ZagNuts and play him. It’s just an illustration of how toast CarGo is.

Addison Russell is probably not going to hit, because he never really has. Some in the organization are blinded by the 98 RBI he put up once, but that’s more a function of the great offense ahead of him in ’16 than him being a great hitter. He’s never had an above-average offensive season, and has been actively bad the last three seasons. Daniel Descalso has been a disaster, and would likely be DFA’d if Zobrist were to return.

Whatever momentum Albert Almora might have had in May has been stunted by the arrival and usage of Gonzalez. I’m not sure how exactly, but Almora had a productive May. He had terrible luck (.253 BABIP), still hit too many grounders (50%, but that was down from April), and yet hit for enough power to overcome all of that. It’s the Heyward argument; given his defense you take average or just above offense and you have yourself a very useful player. June has seen Almora hit the ball in the same fashion as May, at least contact-type wise, it’s just that none of it has gone out of the park as a quarter of his fly balls did in May. I don’t know what the truth is here, but I know there’s more potential here than trying to wheeze one more breath of oxygen into CarGo.

The only in-house answer right now is to play David Bote every day. I know that Maddon would tell me that would expose Bote, or make the Cubs too right-handed, but quite frankly that’s horseshit. In fact, Bote has been terrible against left-handed pitching this year and great against right-handed, the complete opposite of last year. Which makes you at least hope he could blend the two one day.

Bote’s run into some bad luck in June as well, as he’s had a 32% line-drive rate in the month which is insanely high. Overall, his hard-contact rate is down but I can’t see how lacing line-drives all over the place is a bad thing. He’s hardly a star, but given what else you have, it’s just about the only choice. Whether that’s playing second with Almora in center and Heyward in right, or at third with Bryant in right and Heyward in center, I really don’t care. You have to at least try. We know Maddon loves his roster flexibility, but that’s not this roster. Quite frankly. Russell, CarGo, and Descalso have played themselves off the rotation. That’s just how it is.

The problem with getting a bat via trade is they’re going to be costly, whereas you can find any reliever anywhere (and I’m kind of in the would rather have Bummer than Colome camp right now if the Cubs go shopping crosstown again). In my dreams you plug Howie Kendrick into second base and get on with your life. But even if the Nats decide to pack up the cats, Kendrick is going to cost and I don’t think the Cubs have the boat to spend, prospect-wise. It’s like Alzolay and Hoerner and that’s pretty much it. We’ll throw Amaya on there, but he’s a long way off. And Amaya is probably the only one you’re comfortable, barely, including in any deal just because he plays catcher and you seem set there for a while.

Any other bat on the market is probably the same story. It’s hard to know who that would even be. Whit Merrifield isn’t going anywhere and if he did it wouldn’t be cheap. Eric Sogard? That’s a risk but would probably be cheap? He’s kind of Zobrist-lite at this point and is only a year removed from being a black hole for the Brewers. Maybe you wait out how the Reds toggle the Derek Dietrich/Scooter Gennett conundrum, but neither are guaranteed to be moved and neither would be cheap if they were.

It’s a problem, which is why Bote should probably be given the month to see what he does with an every day role. Hell, you extended the guy anyway, right?

Baseball

As I’ve said in the past, I don’t know that the easy decision for the Cubs when it comes to Addison Russell–punting him into the nearest trash compactor–was the right one. Nor do I know that this much harder path is the wrong one. Or however you want to lineup those four variables. What seems obvious is that the Cubs and Russell don’t know either, and no one seems to be getting anywhere. And one-half of that equation doesn’t seem interested in finding it anyway.

I still tend to believe Theo Epstein whenever he’s commented on this, but now it’s getting to the point where you wonder if he just doesn’t know what to do or he is outright lying. All of this is spurred again when last night Russell in an interview with the Sun-Times basically expressed that he didn’t think anyone should boo him at Wrigley, and that everyone should prioritize his baseball skills (not that great at this level) and fandom over him being essentially the definition of a scumbag.

The levels of incompetence here staggering, and I’ll try and filter through them if it’s even possible. And Russell trying to walk it back today was clearly after someone in the Cubs’ front office got to him, but it’s too late for that. First, Russell has yet to show any contrition for what he’s done, and his mealy-mouthed and indifferent press conference in Arizona showed that before this. To have no concept of why any fans would be glaring at your return with definite side-eye at best is to be bewilderingly ignorant. It certainly doesn’t express he has any understanding of what he’s done or why he was suspended or why any of this has happened.

And even if Russell is all that, and I tend to believe that he is, then this “training” or “therapy” is meant to change that. Well, it’s been over six months since Russell was suspended, and it’s clear to us that there’s little progress has been made. That doesn’t mean I think Russell’s “process” should be public. I don’t need to know when and where he’s going and who he’s going to see, and that would be illegal anyway. If it’s happening at all. The Cubs have told us that there are steps and a long road to go, and they can’t really define that, but surely this is part of that?

And beyond all that, before Russell is allowed to be interviewed, you’d have to think there would be some bullet points the Cubs themselves would go through with him if only to cover their ass. One of them, and probably at the top, would be not criticizing the fans and at least pretending to understand what they might do. The Cubs got there, but only after Russell had defecated out of his mouth first. It’s someone’s job to know that, but here we have another organization confusing their popularity with their public relations and media skills.

Theo may say as right of things as he can, and even if he is all the way into this and not just hoping he can skate through until Russell is either traded or the Cubs are winning in the fall and everyone’s distracted, he’s not directing anyone else in the organization to help the cause. Julian Green wheel-posed his head into his own ass trying to silence a FanGraphs writer. Russell hasn’t had anything to say that seems like it’s moving forward. Someone let him walk into an interview to spew garbage that has to be walked back. The team should have had a plan too. Doesn’t appear that they did.

Again, our feelings are lower on the totem pole. Melisa and her child are most important, and the Cubs have stressed that. So whether Russell placates the fans is down the list. But his clear bewilderment at being booed shows he’s not really invested in this, or at least gives off that impression. If progress for him was the whole point, where is it?

Whether you believe Theo’s heart is in the right place or not, it’s hard to see where the Cubs have gotten a good deal of this right. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try, because simply admitting they can’t forge a new path on domestic abusers and just letting Russell do whatever isn’t an answer either. But it feels like the only bar the Cubs are asking Russell to clear is that he not punch anyone else.

The most likely answer is that the Cubs did mean well when they tried all this, but we’re unequipped to follow that road. And they were that way partially because they’re dealing with a rock-headed dickbrain who can’t recognize what he’s done, and probably just as bad doesn’t really want to. He just wants to tick the boxes to not deal with it anymore and go back to playing baseball and being a dipshit in peace. And it’s hard to see a path where this gets any better, so maybe it’s time to just say goodbye?

 

Everything Else

The Cubs have found themselves in a situation they’ve been in no way prepared for, I think that much we can agree on. So yesterday’s decision to option Addison Russell to Iowa when his suspension is up makes sense in that it buys everyone some more time. What they’ll do with that time, I don’t have any idea and am searching for confidence.

Most of me thinks this is simply a baseball decision, and if anything is beyond that it’s merely trying to put off the unpleasantness of Russell’s return. On a strictly baseball plane, there isn’t room for Russell right now. Javier Baez has proven to be the better player on every side of the ball. And for those dinosaurs who still can’t seem to see past Russell’s projections as a prospect, it’s important to note he’s never come all that close to even putting up an average offensive season. Whereas Javy is working on his third straight of being at least that good if not way better. Yes, Russell’s defense is steadier, but Javy is well on his way this year to matching Russell’s defensive metrics of the past couple years (Baez has been worth 2.0 defensive runs in just one month according to FanGraphs, and Russell was at nine and seven the past two years).

Beyond that, David Bote–who I’m still not convinced will hit for shit when pitchers just stop throwing him fastballs–has been too good to lose the fifth infielder spot, and in fact has forced Bryant to the outfield more often than not recently. Same goes for Daniel Descalso, as much like Bote is putting up offensive numbers Russell has never approached. Who loses ABs here? Essentially, the Cubs are trying to buy time to see if anyone gets hurt.

The only baseball concern is that Javy tires out from playing short every day, though if you ask him I’m sure that’s exactly what he’d want. And Bote could probably make a fist of it once every couple weeks if you really needed him to. It wouldn’t be pretty but he’d get you out of a game.

It’s the asking him part that I have a problem with.

I’m sure this type of thing goes on all the time in a clubhouse. And I’m sure Joe Maddon, who has quickly become the answer to a question no one asked, was just trying to be kind to Javy. But this is the problem with Maddon, is that the more he talks for the sake of hearing himself the more he ends up having to answer for.

Maddon almost assuredly never considered this, and I doubt the front office would have sanctioned it if they’d been asked, but that’s far more weight than Javy or any player should ever be asked. It’s not his job to determine where and how much Russell plays. That’s Maddon’s job. He doesn’t need to ask Javy what he thinks. Javy was given an everyday role last year essentially for the first time, certainly no more than the second, and came up with a MVP-finalist season. He’s playing just as well this year, if not better. You know Javy wants to be in the lineup every day, and he’d like to be at his natural position.

But he’s not going to say that, because no teammate ever does. He’s not going to tell Joe, even in a bunker that’s been swept for bugs and assured total secrecy, that Russell can go fuck himself and spot start at second for all he cares. It seems like Joe is just trying to cover himself and open an avenue for Russell to play short so he can then say, “Javy said this is what he wants, and he wants what’s best for the team because he’s a good teammate.” That’s the only reason you’d make this public.

Second, whether Maddon or the Cubs front office likes it or not (OR NOT), Russell just carries more with him upon promotion and insertion into the lineup. That’s what the Cubs chose to take on and carry, and we went over that yesterday. To put that on Baez is wholly unfair, because he’s not equipped to deal with that, nor is he in a position to have to do so. It would be a near travesty if Baez somehow got blamed for the presence of a player a lot of Cubs fans find detestable and don’t want around in the first place. Baez shouldn’t be sullied in such a way.

Again, the Cubs chose to take this one, and they’re going to have to show their work every step of the way. And they have a lot of the time recent. But dragging another player into it isn’t helping anyone.

Baseball

If you thought the Cubs, and perhaps you as a Cubs fan, would escape their self-created hell of an offseason just because baseball games were being played again, then the world is going to have some awfully violent market corrections in store for you. But I admire your optimism and hope in these times. It appears that the Cubs stepped in it again, or more to the point it became public knowledge that they’d stepped in it again, yesterday with reports that the Cubs were declining access or threatening writers who did not give positive coverage of Addison Russell. With his return to Wrigley now imminent, and most everyone except Russell wishing it would never happen for a litany of reasons, the Cubs are clearly going to a prevent defense of the highest order. The problem with a prevent defense of course is that it does give up a ton of yards.

It started with Sheryl Ring of FanGraphs. That was picked up by NBC’s Hardball Talk. This was followed by a few beat writers who follow the team saying they hadn’t heard this and certainly hadn’t been threatened by the team, and then some other writers or media members not as close to the team saying they had heard this or been on the receiving end. You know us, we go by the amount of smoke something has, and this one has a ton. Sheryl Ring and FanGraphs aren’t just some yahoos in the dark, even if some would like to still portray them as such, and all this comes from somewhere and something.

And really, when you’re on the side of Bob Nightengale on anything, you’re on the wrong one.

There is nothing comfortable about anything surrounding Russell right now. His suspension, the Cubs handling of him, his impending return, but most of all who he is and what he’s done, and whether or not he has any interest in not being that (sure doesn’t feel like it). While I am as uncomfortable as anyone, just because I’m uncomfortable doesn’t mean I can’t see where the Cubs are on this at the base level. Since the suspension, which at first they didn’t handle well at all, Theo Epstein’s openness has been if not welcome, at least a change. There is no clear answer on whether or not heaving Russell out of Chicago and his job is beneficial to Melisa Reidy and to survivors at large. Some say it does worse damage, others say it doesn’t. Perhaps the Cubs cherry-picked the experts they talked to, but in this day and age a sports organization talking to anyone is a step in the right direction.

Theo has been careful to mention Melisa and their child’s interest at every turn, and even has said Melisa herself didn’t want Russell cut loose. Maybe that’s not exactly what went down, but if it went against her wishes I think we’d know at this point. And considering the hell she and their child have been through, they are deserving of whatever share of a major league paycheck they get. Maybe it’s uncomfortable and upsetting that Russell will continue to get to work here specifically for most, and I get that because no one wants this around. At the same time, it may be that it has to be somewhere. You’re not supposed to feel good about it, or like it, or comfortable, but just because it lacks all of those things doesn’t mean it’s completely wrong. Yes, the point of sports fandom is to feel good and happy and fun, but this is also real life, which is basically none of those things most of the time.

I won’t really know what’s going on until Russell screws up again, which it seems like he will because no one other than those with vested interests have made it seem like he’s even considered at least contrition. Or maybe until the Cubs make it clear what they feel like is screwing up again and then cut him loose. What’s their threshold? Then we’ll know where their interests lie, whether it truly is a life concern and helping or whether it’s simply about baseball concerns (and considering the makeup of the Cubs infield right now, even that seems like it shouldn’t be much of a concern for them either).

But with this, the Cubs aren’t taking responsibility as they’ve said they would and in some ways have. The awkwardness, to be polite, of the the whole thing is part of the story. Trying to whitewash what Russell has done and who he is  is part of the problem. Russell carries this with him everywhere he goes, and will from here on out, which is part of what I would assume his therapy is. The Cubs, by deciding to keep Russell for whatever process they want to run through, chose to take that on. They didn’t have to. So coverage of that isn’t wrong or unfair. It’s the story.

The Cubs can’t have it both ways, though lord knows they’ve spent the offseason and now into this season trying. They made work of making it clear just how transparent they’ve been to everyone about everything, but then are snippy when that bites them in the ass, however true it may have been. The Cubs could have avoided this conflict, at least on this particular problem, and these kinds of tactics by not choosing to retain Russell. Here we are. One wonders if they’re so thorny on this because they know that Russell is just a fuckwad who will do fuckwad things again and are trying to shield themselves.

Figuring out the endgame of this particular tactic is not uplifting. One can only assume the Cubs thought that a rash of positive, “overcoming” stories would make fans forget what had gone on, bringing questions about it to an end, and smoothing over as much as possible what is going to be an even stickier situation than it already is when Russell gets here (if he gets here, which he doesn’t have to, and the Cubs might want to consider that one strongly. Iowa is…well I don’t care what it is this time of year, but an extended stay there is certainly a card to play). Which is in direct opposition to the things they’ve said since Russell got suspended, which has emphasized what he did and what he must do pretty much at every point.

The Cubs keep saying they want to be part of the solution and lead. It might be just words. But if they’re truly to set a new way of sports dealing with domestic violence, that means accepting all that comes with it and not just the aspects that make yourself look good. No one is going to look good out of this. That’s the path the Cubs chose, and I don’t know if it’s necessarily the wrong one. It’s just the much harder one. And maybe they’re balking at just how hard it is. But it’s too late for that.