Cubs cut ties with Addison Russell. Theo Epstein says it's simply a baseball decision.
AP

Cubs cut ties with Addison Russell. Theo Epstein says it's simply a baseball decision.

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Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell heads to the dugout after striking out in the seventh inning against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday, May 24, 2019 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Russell was not tendered a contract by the Cubs Monday night.

Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell heads to the dugout after striking out in the seventh inning against the Cincinnati Reds on Friday, May 24, 2019 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Russell was not tendered a contract by the Cubs Monday night. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

CHICAGO - Addison Russell, one of the final players added to the Cubs' rebuilding program that resulted in a 2016 World Series title, was not tendered a contract Monday night in the first major roster move of the team's offseason.

Russell, 25, is now a free agent, three seasons after he hit 21 home runs and drove in 95 - both career highs. The move comes as little surprise, since the decline of his offensive production coincided with his 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's domestic-violence policy near the end of the 2018 season.

Russell could have earned $5 million as an arbitration-eligible player.

In a statement, President Theo Epstein said the decision to not tender a contract to Russell was "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. In the year since we decided to tender Addison a contract last November, he 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.

"We hope and believe that Addison's work and growth will continue, and we have offered our continued support of him and his family, including (ex-wife) Melisa."

The Cubs announced they did tender contracts to six arbitration-eligible players - Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr. and Kyle Ryan.

Pitcher Jharel Cotton, a recent acquisition who was arbitration-eligible, agreed to a $640,000 contract. Left-hander Danny Hultzen was not tendered a contract. The Cubs tendered contracts to 19 players not yet eligible for arbitration.

Russell was accused of physical and emotional abuse of his now ex-wife, Melisa Reidy, in social media posts dating to June 2017, first by a person identified as a friend of Reidy's and then by Reidy herself in a blog post in September 2018. MLB placed Russell on paid administrative leave Sept. 21, 2018, before suspending him in October.

Epstein subsequently said the Cubs would support Reidy and require all team employees to go through a domestic-violence prevention program.

After his suspension, Russell rejoined the Cubs on May 8 as a part-time second baseman and backup to Javier Baez at shortstop, but his lack of power and occasional lapses in the field and on the basepaths resulted in him being optioned to Triple-A Iowa on July 24.

Russell rejoined the Cubs on Aug. 16 and took over at shortstop on Sept. 2 after Baez suffered a hairline fracture of his left thumb. But six days later Russell was beaned by a pitch from the Brewers' Adrian Houser and missed 14 games.

Rookie Nico Hoerner was promoted from Double-A Tennessee and played exceptional defense in addition to batting .278 in 78 at-bats. Hoerner could be the leading candidate to start at second base unless the Cubs accelerate their pursuit of a second baseman who can hit at or near the top of the order, such as Whit Merrifield of the Royals.

David Bote and Daniel Descalso, both of whom are signed for 2020, also can play second base. So can shortstop Zack Short, who was added to the 40-man roster.

Moving on from Russell, who has produced only 26 home runs and 104 RBIs over the last three seasons, gives the Cubs some financial flexibility. They have 11 players under contract at nearly $121 million, and the six arbitration-eligible players could earn about $43 million.

The Cubs need to add starting pitching and relief depth, in addition to resolving their lack of contact at the plate.

Meanwhile, Epstein said the Cubs will continue to stress domestic-violence prevention throughout the organization.

"We also offered healthy-relationship workshops for the players' partners and provided intensive, expert domestic-violence prevention training for player-facing staff," Epstein said. "This heightened training and our increased community involvement on the urgent issue of domestic-violence prevention will continue indefinitely.

"We wish Addison and his family well."

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

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