The Yankees have a plan to fill the hole at shortstop. But it has flaws. Addison Russell, blemishes and all, offers a better solution.
The Yankees, for reasons they have yet to reveal, continue with the shunning of Didi Gregorius.
They offer Gleyber Torres as a natural shortstop who can move over from second base, which in turn opens up a permanent spot for DJ LeMahieu.
The plan is a good one, except for the fact that Torres is still a growing boy. He’s (naturally) bulking up as witnessed by the 38 home runs that pleasantly surprised everyone.
This raises a question about his range at shortstop, together with his knack for blowing the easiest of routine plays at times.
With more balls hit to shortstop, the Yankees need a reliable, steady fielder in that all-important up the middle position. Addison Russell can be that player.
Hopes were sky-high for Addison Russell when he was drafted in the first round and 11th overall pick by the Oakland A’s in the 2012 amateur draft.
A subsequent trade brought Russell to the Chicago Cubs, where he settled in as their regular shortstop from 2015-2018.
When you take a look at Russell’s Baseball-Reference page, there is nothing remarkable about his career thus far, only that he made the All-Star team and finished 19th in the MVP voting in 2016.
So why would the Yankees have any interest in him?
Addison Russell: A Bit player who can help
If nothing less, Russell offers infield depth as a second baseman/shortstop. If the Yankees insist Gleyber Torres is the shortstop he was two years ago, and they move him there, Russell can replace LeMahieu at second, playing LeMahieu at first base.
Or, he can be a veteran on the bench, available to Aaron Boone when and where he is needed.
If it sounds like the Abbott and Costello routine, it is. Complicating matters is that the Yankees don’t have a firm idea of what they’ll get from Luke Voit or Mike Ford, both of whom are slated to battle each other in Spring Training for the job.
Alas, accept it. There are no ethics in baseball
And then there’s the proverbial elephant in the room to deal with, which is Russell’s 80-game suspension last season in a case involving domestic violence.
Ergo, do the Yankees want to become known as the team welcoming abusers of women into their fold? Adding Russell to Aroldis Chapman, and Domingo German is a risky business. But it also makes good baseball and business sense.
And Lord knows how easy it is for the Mets to write off the criminal past of their new owner, Steve Cohen when it suits their needs.
Or, for the Boston Red Sox to ignore the presence of evil in their owner Tom Yawkey and his open disregard for players and people with dark skin.
In the case of Russell, though, it helps to listen to what Theo Epstein said in the statement announcing Russell was being non-tendered (not offered a contract) by the Cubs.
Epstein offered that “We decided to non-tender Addison Russell today simply because the role we expected him to play for the 2020 Cubs was inconsistent with how he would have been treated in the salary arbitration process.” – i.e., a pure payroll decision.
Epstein went on to say, “he (Russell) has lived up to his promise to put in the important self-improvement work necessary off the field and has shown growth as a person, as a partner, as a parent, and as a citizen.”
At 26, Addison Russell is in his second year of arbitration with free-agency waiting in 2022. Russell’s salary last year was $3.4 million.
Given his willful conduct, still requiring a need to prove that behavior is of the past, it’s likely Russell will receive only a perfunctory raise related to service time in the majors.
Yankees: Didi Gregorius is at the bottom of it all
Most Yankees fans, this one included, are still scratching their heads, wondering why Didi Gregorius is not yet a New York Yankee.
Forgive the Yankees for not making an $18 million qualifying offer – that part is understandable. But to sit there letting Gregorius go to another team…?
Nevertheless, Addison Russell should at least be in play by the Yankees.
Russell is not a difference-maker in the Yankee’s lineup, but he is undoubtedly a player who has something to prove, if not to himself, then certainly to his family and friends.
And that can make all the difference…