It's decision day for Cubs regarding Addison Russell
Baseball's off-season is filled with little mileposts, some symbolic and some substantive.
Either way, they help get fans through the long, cold winter.
The general managers meetings in November and the winter meetings in December are important, but if nothing in the way of player transactions gets done at either, no big deal. Team general managers have each others' phone numbers and those of player agents on speed-dial.
One real deadline facing major-league teams is Friday's to decide whether to tender their under-control, but unsigned, players contracts for the 2019 season.
The Cubs also must decide -- but under no deadline pressure -- on a new pitching coach to replace Jim Hickey, who resigned last week after one season for personal reasons.
Let's get to the player decisions first.
The name on the most-watched list for the Cubs is shortstop Addison Russell, who is under a 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. The Cubs placed Russell on administrative leave in late September after allegations from Russell's ex-wife of domestic abuse.
Russell accepted the terms of the suspension and has been participating in a confidential evaluation and treatment program.
The Cubs, it seems, will tender a contract to Russell, who could make an estimated (by some sources) $4.3 million next season.
Of course, the Cubs have selfish reasons for wanting to do so and avoid allowing Russell to become a free agent. Despite the obvious and troubling off-field issues and Russell's subpar on-field performance the last two seasons, the Cubs believe he has worth as a player.
They will monitor Russell's performance and behavior during spring training. At worst, they can cut Russell for a fraction of his season's salary and move on. Or they could work out a trade with another team who might need a shortstop as spring training moves along.
Let's remember the Cubs already have Javier Baez, who just may be best shortstop in baseball when he isn't playing second base. If Russell goes, the Cubs can move Baez to short full-time and play any combination of Ben Zobrist/Ian Happ/David Bote at second if they don't acquire an infielder during the off-season.
At best, the Cubs will get a contrite and productive Russell, who made the all-star team in 2016 with 21 homers and 95 RBI.
Like most teams, the Cubs no doubt believe they can "make it work" or even rehabilitate a troubled player. By tendering Russell a contract, the Cubs still will have plenty of time to evaluate the situation and leave themselves opportunities for an out.
On the pitching coach front, the Cubs will have their third in three years following the departures of Hickey this year and Chris Bosio after the 2017 season.
The Cubs are down the road in their search for a new pitching coach. One interesting name floated by The Athletic is Tommy Hottovy, who has worked daily with the pitchers for the past several years as advance-scouting coordinator. Hottovy pitched in 17 big-league games, with the Red Sox and Royals, in 2011-12. Although he has not been a pitching coach, he has a good rapport with the staff as he has worked in game-planning and video study.
Another name out there is Rick Kranitz, fired after the season by the Phillies. Kranitz spent many years in the Cubs system, both at the major-league and minor-league levels, and served as pitching coach of the Marlins, Orioles and Brewers before going to Philadelphia.