For the better part of two months now, the Addison Russell situation has loomed over the Chicago Cubs’ off-season. In late-September, allegations of domestic violence resurfaced after first coming to light in the summer of 2017.
With their divorce finalized, Russell’s ex-wife, Melisa Reidy-Russell begun cooperating with an investigation led by Major League Baseball into the All-Star infielder’s past. What resulted was a 40-game suspension, one to be served, at least in part, before Russell can step foot onto the diamond in 2019.
Now just days from the non-tender deadline (the date at which clubs must offer arbitration eligible players like Russell a contract), the 24-year-old’s fate with the Cubs is coming into focus. Estimated to be due around $4 million for 2019, Russell seems to be on a track to re-join the Cubs for his fifth season at the major league level.
Still, questions surround not only his off-field issues, but his play on the diamond. In his four seasons with the Cubs, Russell has managed an OPS-plus of just 87 with a .242 batting average and .313 OBP. Last season, Russell’s OPS-plus dipped to a career-low 74 (26 percent worse than league average) while his slugging percentage (.340) and OPS (.657) also took tumbles.
No one can question Russell’s defensive work at shortstop as he represents one of the best fielders in baseball. However, his recent actions toward women have left a sour taste in the mouths of Cubs fans, such a taste that has many unwilling to welcome the youngster back next season.
Perhaps the Cubs’ move on Wednesday afternoon signaled which path the club will take in handling the matter.
In a trade with the New York Yankees, the Cubs swapped a player to be named later or cash for middle infielder Ronald Torreyes. Torreyes, 26, made his major league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015. Before that, Torreyes was a part of the Cubs’ minor league system, playing for their Advanced Class-A affiliate in 2012 and their Double-A club a year later after being part of a trade with the Cincinnati Reds.
At 19 and 20 years old, Torreyes put up solid numbers within the Cubs’ system before making stops in five different towns, eventually making it back to the Cubs a handful of years later. All told, Torreyes has racked up 615 plate appearances at the big league level, slashing .281/.310/.375/.685 with an OPS-plus of 81 in that time.
With just four career home runs, Torreyes is never going to possess the pop of Javier Baez, or even Ben Zobrist for that matter. Additionally, the youngster had earned the reputation for never taking walks, accepting just two free passes in 41 games last year. That’s right, Torreyes owned a lower walk rate (two percent) than Baez, while maintaining a respectable strikeout percentage (15.7 percent).
For his career, those numbers don’t vary much, sitting at 3.9 and 13 percent respectively.
Like Russell, Torreyes suffered the worst offensive campaign of his career in 2018. The already light-hitting infielder’s OBP dropped from .314 in ’17 to .294 in ’18, leading to a career-low OPS (.664) and wRC-plus (78).
Defensively, Torreyes is a much more valuable player, one able to man three different infield positions: second base, third base and shortstop. For his career, Torreyes has amassed more than 300 innings at each position, with second base leading the way at 636 frames. That also just happens to be his best position in terms of defensive runs saved (plus-one), while he lags behind at the other two spots (negative-three runs saved at each position).
Nevertheless, Torreyes gives the Cubs something they didn’t have much of previously, major league ready depth up the middle. Assuming Russell is not offered a contract, the Cubs would have no doubt started Baez at shortstop on Opening Day with Zobrist manning second base. Their depth in that situation would be Tommy La Stella, David Bote and in an emergency, Ian Happ.
While those may seem like solid options, La Stella is much better off the bench and is a liability on defense (possibly putting his roster spot in jeopardy) as Bote’s best position moving forward will be third base, assuming he makes the roster out of Spring Training.
If Russell is offered and accepts a contract from the Cubs, we would likely see someone like Mark Zagunis, or Torreyes himself, DFA’d to make room on the 40-man and active rosters.
All told, adding Torreyes gives the Cubs added flexibility as they navigate the Russell situation over the coming days, adding a cheap, cost-controlled option to the mix.
Cubs Add a Lefty to the Bullpen
Since losing Justin Wilson to free agency following last season, the Cubs have been in the market for a left-handed bullpen option to replace him. Set to break camp with three left-handed relievers (Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing and Randy Rosario), the Cubs desperately lack the type of lock-down, late-inning southpaw Wilson was in 2018.
For large chucks of the regular season, Montgomery served in the starting rotation, making 19 stats, a career-high. Duensing, who had a near-career year in 2017 (2.74 ERA in 62.1 innings) declined sharply (7.65 ERA in 37.2 innings) following his two-year, $7 million deal last off-season.
Even though Rosario fared well in his first real taste of big league action (3.66 ERA across 46.2 innings), his lackluster strikeout rate (15 percent) and lofty walk percentage (11 percent) inflated his FIP to 4.68, resulting in a negative-0.3 WAR for the southpaw.
Career-wise, Rosario owns the best numbers against left-handed batters, an area Wilson excelled in during the 2018 season. Roasrio has held opposing batters to a .178/.286/.315 slash line over 21.2 innings while Wilson featured a similar line of .188/.301/.342 last season.
Bottom line, the Cubs need a left-handed reliever to fill Wilson’s void, particularly one that can close games if called upon. Just moments after news broke on the Torreyes front, it was announced the Cubs would be adding southpaw Kyle Ryan on a major league contract.
Ryan, 27, pitched for the Cubs’ Triple-A club in 2018, racking up 66 total innings across 22 appearances (eight starts, four games finished). The youngster amassed a solid 2.86 ERA in a do-everything role while averaging 8.3 strikeouts per nine and just 2.5 walks.
Ryan’s last stint in the majors came in 2017 with the Detroit Tigers, a 5.2 inning stretch in which he posted an inflated 7.94 ERA. Prior to that, Ryan appeared in 78 games for the Tigers from 2014 to 2016, seven of which were starts. His 3.68 ERA across 122.1 innings produced a better than league average ERA-plus of 112 despite his 1.267 WHIP.
The 27-year-old is not the type of pitcher to strike out many batters as his 13.1 percent strikeout rate suggests. However, he will not walk many either, bringing his 8.3 percent walk rate to Chicago.
Splits-wise, Ryan has very similar numbers against both left- and right-handed batters for his career. The largest separation comes in the batting average department (.272 vs. LHP, .256 vs. RHP), but the wOBA’s are exactly the same at .314.
Yes, Ryan has finished 18 games in his big league career but has yet to record a save. Those types of numbers suggest the Cubs’ addition of Ryan will not be the final lefty added this winter. Instead, Ryan seems likely to fill the void left by Jesse Chavez, a swing-man that could pitch multiple innings at a time and get both lefties and righties out. Additionally, with Duensing’s roster status uncertain, Ryan would represent a nice depth piece if the Cubs decide to move on from the veteran.
In one day, the Cubs added two depth pieces, filling up their 40-man roster just hours before the non-tender deadline. Both of these players come cheap with Ryan still maintaining his pre-arbitration status and Torreyes in just his first arbitration eligible year.
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