The Cubs have optioned infielder Addison Russell to Triple-A Iowa and activated catcher Willson Contreras from the injured list, the team announced to reporters (Twitter link via ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers).
Russell, 25, began the season on the restricted list while he served out a 40-game suspension under the league’s domestic abuse policy. His return to the lineup has been underwhelming — not surprising for a player who has never posted a league-average offensive season by measure of OPS+ or wRC+ — as he’s posted a .247/.329/.404 line in 158 plate appearances. Much of Russell’s career-high 10.7 percent walk rate has been a function of batting seventh or eighth in front of the pitcher.
In recent weeks, Russell has begun to cede time at second base and in the lineup to rookie Robel Garcia, who now stands to receive additional starts at the keystone. Russell’s demotion could also open up some time for David Bote at second base, although he’s been used exclusively at third base since late June. Still, he’ll be a depth option there and perhaps at shortstop as well, given that Russell had been the primary fallback option should Javier Baez ever need to come out of a game.
The Cubs have been tied to Eric Sogard on the rumor mill recently, and it stands to reason that they’re also exploring the possibility of adding another cost-efficient option at second base while waiting to see whether Ben Zobrist returns to the lineup in 2019. Speculatively, that could include players such as Jonathan Villar, Tim Beckham, Adeiny Hechavarria or Neil Walker, though a move isn’t a foregone conclusion.
Clearly, the demotion only further calls into question Russell’s future with the club. That’s been the case since the time of his suspension, although the Cubs chose to stand by Russell, with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein speaking of second chances and supporting Russell in “stabilizing his life” and “growing.” That said, Epstein was also candid that the club would be prepared to move on from Russell if need be. His lackluster performance at the plate, recent defensive miscues — he dropped a pair of pop-ups over the weekend — and recent, eye-opening acknowledgment that he “need[s] to become more familiar with the signs” (via Rogers) in the wake of a baserunning gaffe certainly don’t paint a favorable outlook.