The Detroit Tigers have interest in former Chicago Cubs shortstop Addison Russell, according to a report from MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. Russell, now a free agent, was part of the Cubs’ 2016 World Series title run at just 22 years of age, but poor performance and rising cost in arbitration finally led to the Cubs releasing him earlier this week.
Off the field, Russell’s reputation has been in tatters since allegations of domestic violence against his now ex-wife emerged back in June 2017. After an investigation by the league under MLB’s domestic violence protocols, Russell served a 40-game suspension as a result of violating the MLB’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy.
Russell was originally selected out of high school by the Oakland Athletics with the 11th overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft. As one of the top shortstop prospects in the game, he was the centerpiece of a 2014 trade with the Cubs that sent starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics.
Russell’s career has been in free fall since an apparent breakout in 2016 that saw him post 3.3 fWAR as the starting shortstop on a World Series championship winning club. The former top prospect has put up mediocre offensive numbers in each of the last three seasons, though he remains an excellent defensive shortstop with experience at second base as well.
Currently, the Tigers don’t have the players in-house to field a passable middle infield, but it is unclear whether the club would attempt to remedy that in free agency. It appeared any help acquired would come at second base after general manager Al Avila told reporters that Niko Goodrum would be given “every chance” chance to hold down the shortstop position.
“All the indicators seem to point to him being the guy that can play shortstop for us in 2020,” Avila said. “He’ll certainly receive that opportunity. He’s done a fantastic job as a super-utility guy and that’s really probably his best role. But in our situation right now, (shortstop) might turn out to be the best bet.”
Russell would be a low-cost option as the Tigers search to address the problems with their worst-in-the-game offensive corps without inflating payroll. He could probably serve capably as a second-tier starter, as he did with the Cubs, and there remains potential for more. There’s not much need among postseason competitors for a shortstop, meaning his best bet for significant playing time would probably come on a team not expected to contend in 2020.
Still, Russell comes with a lot of problems the Tigers may not be prepared to deal with. The Cubs front office and ownership have been widely criticized for their handling of Russell’s domestic violence allegations and the aftermath. We won’t go into the details yet, but you can read a breakdown of relevant events written by the Chicago Tribune. The Athletic published an interview with Melisa Reidy (formerly Russell) in October 2018.
If you are experiencing domestic violence or any kind of physical or emotional abuse, please seek help. Call 911 or the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.