Cubs won't have No. 1 shortstop to start season, but they'll have their best
The Chicago Cubs will open the 2019 season with their starting shortstop under suspension.
The Cubs will open the 2019 season with their best shortstop on the field and at short.
Make sense? It does.
Addison Russell has 29 games to go on his 40-game suspension for violating the terms of Major League Baseball's domestic-abuse policy.
Assuming Russell does all the Cubs ask this spring and they keep him instead of cutting him, he is sure to regain his spot when the suspension is over.
Until then, the Cubs are in the good hands and potential Gold Glove of Javier Baez at shortstop.
Baez, who was drafted by the Cubs as a shortstop in 2011, seamlessly made the transition from second base (where he was third in Gold Glove voting) to short when Russell was placed on administrative leave last Sept. 21. He was just as dazzling there as he was at second base.
This spring, he's preparing to open at short.
"It's not going to be any different for me," he said. "I move all over the infield. Obviously, I can't wait for Addison to get back and join us. We'll see if I'm going to play second or short during the year."
Both Baez's offense and his defense earned him runner-up status for the National League's Most Valuable Player award last year. Baez appeared to be the front-runner for the award until the final week of the season, when Christian Yelich led the Milwaukee Brewer past the Cubs in the NL Central on his way to the MVP.
Baez led the NL in RBI with 111 and had an over all line of .290/.326/.554 with 34 home runs and 40 doubles. If there's one area of his game he says he'd like to improve, it's his on-base percentage of .326. To do that, he'll need to draw more walks -- he had 29 walks and 167 strikeouts last year in 606 at-bats.
Russell has been able to take part in spring training, including games, while under suspension. His presence was greeted mainly by fan indifference as he made his Cactus League debut. He played in 130 games last season with a line of .250/.317/.340 with 5 homers and 38 RBI before being sent away. In the Cubs' world-championship season of 2016, Russell hit 21 homers and drove in 95.
Through Wedneday in Cactus League play, Russell was 5-for-11 with 2 doubles and 2 RBI.
The Cubs will be able to give Baez break if he needs it in the early going. David Bote appeared twice at short last year in his rookie season. Daniel Descalso, signed as a free agent this off-season, has 179 games of experience at shortstop.
But things will get really interesting if Russell completes his suspension in good graces and returns to the roster.