Meet The Player Who Makes Addison Russell Expendable

He Might Not Be Who You’re Thinking

I only write well when I am truly passionate about a subject.

I had a half an article about the Cubs’ deadline moves and how I felt about them, but that feeling is neutral. I dislike Cole Hamels and Brandon Kintzler, I like Jesse Chavez, and the moves were unimpressive and fine. I would grade them a B.

There. You are fully informed on a half an article I did not write, and also the moves the Cubs made at the deadline. I am dispassionate about them, but I am actually incredibly passionate about both of the topics I am going to discuss in this article.

I am not a fan of Addison Russell. Before I mention any baseball reason why that might be the case, I want to recall a time or two his name was in the news for off-field reasons.

First, he was sat down by the Cubs’ front office about his behavior away from the ballpark. Second, he was accused by his wife of cheating on her while they had a very young child, and she divorced him because of this. Third, and most importantly, he was accused of domestic assault by a third party Instagram comment. This was investigated by Major League Baseball but was never confirmed by his wife. These off-field behaviors leave a bad taste in my mouth when I consider the thought of having to cheer for this man. I refuse to root for domestic abusers, and while this particular case is shrouded in mystery, the rest of his off field endeavors turn my opinion sour. Baseball reasons aside, Addison Russell is not a likable guy.

Then we come to his performance. Russell hit 21 home runs in 2016. He also cranked a grand slam in World Series Game 6 to help the Cubs come back from a 3 to 1 deficit to win the 2016 World Series (people forget that).

Since that magical 2016 season, Russell has honestly been a forgettable player. Even in that season, he only posted a 94 wRC+, and has posted a .252/.319/.395 slash line since the start of 2017, good for an 88 wRC+. He has hit 17 home runs in nearly 2 years and has just 3.4 fWAR when he accumulated 3.3 in 2016 alone.

So what happened?

2017 was injury-plagued for Russell. He dealt with a sore shoulder that lead to issues throwing across the diamond and also a foot injury that cost him most of the second half. 2018 has been a mishmash of streaks, where Russell rakes for about 2 weeks, and then falls into a monthlong miserable slump. He is constantly adjusting his mechanics and the Chili Davis approach seems to have sapped his power. I will refrain from rambling more on this subject and instead direct you to Brendan Miller’s article over at Cubs Insider if you want to read more into this.

The conclusion to this rant is that the Cubs cannot continue to wait for Russell to adjust through and reach his potential. Addison Russell is a talented baseball player and an elite fielder at shortstop, but in 2018, there are many elite fielders at shortstop. Jose Iglesias is currently sitting at an 88 wRC+ in 2018 and 2.2 fWAR while Addison Russell has a 90 wRC+ and 2.0 fWAR. Iglesias is a free agent at the end of the year, so the Cubs could replace current Russell in the offseason if they wanted to move on.

The OTHER option is for the Cubs to look into their farm system and it is here that we will find a non-prospect who really should be one. Just look at these numbers:

.257/.380/.493, 16% BB rate, 22% K rate, 146 wRC+

No, that is NOT Kyle Schwarber’s first two months of the 2018 season. That is Zack Short from June 21st through August 8th at AA - a span of 163 plate appearances. Short has made adjustments from the beginning of the season, when he struggled with his new promotion.

The most impressive number Short boasts in that statline above is assuredly his 16% walk rate, which is right in line with his 15.5% walk rate on the season and his 16.8% walk rate across all his 1,225 minor league plate appearances. Zack Short has elite plate discipline and has shown it ever since he first put on a professional uniform.

The question, then, is Zack Shorts’ glove at shortstop. I have to say that I don’t really much care whether or not my shortstop is flashy on defense, as long as he is serviceable in the field. An example of this is that Javy Baez is a completely viable fielding shortstop, even if his numbers suggest he is merely average defensively there.

Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen gave Zack Short a 50 future value on his glove in the field when scouting him on the 20/80 scale. This leads to the belief that Short will be competent yet not spectacular at shortstop. Still, in his article regarding the Cubs’ prospect system last November, he raved about Short while failing to rank him in the top 22 players in the system:

“Players who possess Short’s combination of contact and swing plane are rare at any level. Matt Carpenter, Daniel Murphy, and Justin Turner are the major-league comps. Rhys Hoskins performed a similar feat at Triple-A last year before recording a 158 wRC+ and two wins in just over 200 major-league plate appearances. There are a couple other guys, almost none of whom possess Short’s defensive ability. By all indications, the overall profile is a useful one.”

The Cubs getting production like that from a player who can at least competently play shortstop is simply mind-boggling to consider. Short has already shown the ability to make adjustments in the minor leagues. His overall season line sits at .234/.358/.425 in AA right now, well below the impressive .257/.380/.493 he’s put up recently. The adjustment period seemed to be around 250 plate appearances, which is impressive. It is also 600 fewer plate appearances than Addison Russell got in the majors this season.

Zack Short possesses a brilliant plate approach that CAN play shortstop. At the very least, he will likely be a bench player who can hit well against left-handed pitching and hit in the pinch. Still, some of us believe that this is the guy who makes Addison Russell available in trade this winter, instead of Manny Machado.

One other note in terms of the ability to move on from Addison Russell might be the recent drafting of advanced college shortstop Nico Hoerner from Stanford. While Hoerner could very well be a solid prospect for the Cubs, there is certainly no guarantee as he is already out for the 2018 season with an injury. Also, as we have learned from the 2015 Cubs, you CANNOT have too many shortstops!

If Zack Short’s contact issues — 25% K rate as a whole this year, though it is down since June 21 — continue to be a problem as he rises through the ranks, then so be it. This plate approach is the kind that can succeed at the major league level. I look forward to continuing to follow Zack Short and hope the Cubs can find a way to move on from Addison Russell.