Point/Counterpoint: Would the Cubs Consider Trading Addison Russell?

Point/Counterpoint pins two lifelong Chicago sports fans against each other on topics across the Windy City. With nothing off limits, we take a look at both sides of the argument and let you decide who is right.

Stephen Johnson: We are closing in on the MLB Trade Deadline and the rumors are once again heating up. The Chicago Cubs, having already made a surprising deal with the crosstown rival White Sox, may still be looking to deal leading up to July 31, but what makes the most sense for the reigning champs?

Ryan Marinelli: While the Cubs have made the most of downward-trending veterans in their rotation (John Lackey and Jake Arrieta, the latter being a shell of his former self), the need for quality starting pitching is still glaringly evident.

SJ: Another starter would definitely be ideal. Mr. “I came for jewelry, not a haircut” beaned three Sox in a single inning during Tuesday’s start and despite only giving up two runs before getting pulled in the sixth, there was once again that feeling of uneasiness while he was out on the mound. Theo’s plan all along has been to deal the farm, not major league talent. Does he even have the pieces left to make another significant deal?

RM: Unfortunately, dipping into everyday players may be inevitable. With Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease traded across town, the Cubs number one prospect (by lack of position only) Jeimer Candelario, may be the only appealing trade piece from the farm system. We’re fast approaching that point in the season where Theo has to decide if he can trust his aging staff or dip into the core of the team that won the Northsiders their first World Series in 108 years.

SJ: Candelario is all but gone in my mind. Look at it as a similar situation to Gleyber Torres last season. He’s virtually blocked at the position he excels at. No chance will anyone ever say “Man, I wish Jeimer Candelario was starting instead of Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo”. However the question is what can a guy who is nowhere near the top of baseball’s Top 100 Prospects list get in return? A 3 month rental? A so-so guy signed through next season? Where do they go in adding extra pieces to get a more desired, controllable player?

RM: Acquiring another quality, team-controlled starting pitcher who can make a difference this season will require (deep breath Cub fans) trading an everyday player. But the real question is who? Who can the Cubs trade away without negatively affecting the on-field product and the clubhouse mentality that Joe Maddon has so carefully constructed? In short, who best qualifies as “addition by subtraction”?

SJ: In my mind, that player is Albert Almora Jr. You look at the current outfield picture, you have Heyward solidified in right field, a platoon of Jay, Almora and Happ in center, and another platoon of Zobrist and Schwarber in left field. Don’t get me wrong, I love Almora. I think he is a future Gold Glove winner, but how often is he going to fit into the starting lineup in the future without additional moves being made? Wait for Zobrist and Jay to fall by the wayside? I know Jay will be a free agent but it will still be a crowded bunch.

RM: Let us not forget it wasn’t that long ago that Kris Bryant was lining up in center field. With a pitching staff that’s relying less on strikeouts and more on balls in play, defense will need to be anything but a liability not only this season but in the near future.

That being said, the Cubs are set up strong on the infield both now and in the future. For the past two years, Javier Baez’s name has been thrown around as potential trade bait. Baez is the true definition of “high risk/high reward” both at the plate and in the field.

His double-play partner, Addison Russell has garnered high praise for his work in the field despite committing 7 more errors at 2B/SS in three seasons than Baez has at the same positions in four. That work has long been used as an acceptable excuse to warrant playing time despite his abysmal performance at the plate. I say dangle Russell’s name in a package with Candelario while the league still regards Russell’s “potential” before they realize he’s simply an above-average fielder who struggles to hit above the Mendoza line.

SJ: Addison Russell, the Len Kasper-anointed future MVP of the league? That’s a bold statement. You’re right, his statistics this year have not been pretty with a .238/.303/.414 line, but let’s not forget he’s only 23 and the third youngest player on this roster behind Almora and Ian Happ.

Considering his off-field antics — having fathered children from two different women, a pending divorce and an investigation into alleged domestic abuse — it could be said his on-field performance has not been at the forefront of his mind. You mention the clubhouse mentality, do you think his subtraction would really benefit this team? Who is the backup shortstop for this squad if that trade occurs?

RM: His off-field issues this season hardly excuse a career .240 hitter (his highest BA being his rookie season – a whopping .242). Those same issues are what lead me to believe that he is not the right presence for the fun-loving, care-free, team-first attitude that has become the trademark of the off-the-field Cubs.

Baez, on the other hand, has the infectious attitude towards the game that the rest of the world got to see on display throughout the 2017 playoffs and the World Baseball Classic. But, as evident by acquiring Aroldis Chapman last season, the Cubs have shown they’re willing to offer second chances and stand by their athletes. So, taking off-field issues and age (Baez is only 24) out of the equation, performance emerges as the sole factor when evaluating gain/loss of trading either one.

SJ: If performance is the sole factor, you can’t deny the range that Russell brings to the table. Yes, his fielding percentage is not one of the best in the NL, and that has been an issue the team has looked at repeatedly over the last three seasons — there have been points during this 2017 season where you can tell he’s trying new mechanics in throwing to first.

With that being said, his DWAR (Defensive Wins Above Replacement) has gone from fourth to third to second best in the MLB in his three years as a pro (albeit he has dropped off .8 points in that category from last season). This is still a young, promising player. Offensively the talent is there too. He had 21 homers and 95 RBI last year. You don’t think there’s room to improve there?

RM: I believe Russell was a product of both the stacked lineup and pure bang or bust luck last season, which was magical for multiple reasons. However, both Baez and Russell have proven to be consistent in who they are as baseball players. Russell shows, every once in awhile, flashes of the potential that keeps him around, before coming back down to Earth as he hovers near his mind-boggling career batting average.

To avoid the dreaded internet comments of “too long/didn’t read/trade Schwarber”, I believe the Cubs need to include Russell in a potential trade package while his value is still high around the rest of the league. Shift Baez to short, move Zobrist back home to second base while Happ waits in the wings as successor and platoon Almora/Jay in center both now and in the future. If the Cubs don’t stand pat with what they have, under-performing “potential” will have to go.

SJ: Happ waiting in the wings? There’s a discussion for another day. Russell’s defense alone could command a straight up one-for-one trade. He’s not a free agent until 2022. That type of control with someone who has flashed that type of top-tier defensive ability, arguably at the most important fielding position outside of catcher, is not something the Cubs can risk right now. That trade leaves Baez as the only legitimate player to play shortstop. If he goes down, the position becomes a significant concern in an otherwise solid defensive lineup. A team would have to deliver an offer that would knock Theo and Co. off their feet and I don’t see that happening any time soon. You know…unless it’s for Mike Trout (Side note, Cardinals fans on Twitter legitimately have said they wouldn’t trade Yadier Molina for Trout).

RM: Thank God for Twitter. Anyway, regardless of what Theo and Company decide to do, the front office has earned our trust in evaluating talent on both sides of the negotiating table. The Cubs need pitching, the Cubs need a consistent offense and quite frankly, to agree with you, a team would have to offer a knockout trade to get Theo to budge on either Russell or Baez. Whether someone like Chris Archer or Sonny Gray (it’s certainly not Justin Verlander or Yu Darvish) are that knockout is the question — one that will be answered by Monday afternoon.

Will the Cubs trade for another starting pitcher before the deadline? Do you think Theo is considering moving major league talent to pull off another deal? Sound off in the comments below.

Stephen Johnson

Host of ChiCitySports’ The Bear Front podcast, Stephen previously spent 8 years with ESPN Radio and as a TV reporter. He is an avid fantasy sports player and is a former Fantasy Football Expert for Chicago’s 670am The Score.

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