What Should We Expect From Addison Russell?
You know, it's just not fair.
Last year, the Chicago Cubs traded two starting pitchers, one of them a low-end number-one starter in Jeff Samardzija and the other a number-three or four starter Jason Hammel, both on the final years of their contracts, to the Oakland A's for their prized infield prospect Addison Russell.
Keep in mind Chicago already had a star shortstop in Starlin Castro, and were bursting at the seams with position player prospects like Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler, not to mention a young and established Major League first baseman in Anthony Rizzo.
The Cubs acquiring Russell was like Jay Leno buying a new Bentley. He doesn't need it, but he got it anyway.
Well, on Tuesday, Chicago decided it was time for that new luxury item to start paying dividends, calling up Russell to start at second base before a big early-season series against the Pirates in Pittsburgh.
Clearly, the Cubs feel as though they have the pieces to win some games this season, and promoting Russell to play second base should help patch a huge deficiency for Chicago. The Cubs came into Tuesday night's game with the worst production at second base of any team in baseball. Their -0.4 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) at the position was dead last in the Majors, as was their weighted on base average (.175 wOBA), weighted runs created (6 wRC+) and OPS (.357).
The Cubs had been using Jonathan Herrera (.192/.222/.192 in 28 plate appearances) and Arismendy Alcantara (.077/.226/.077 in 32 plate appearances) at second, so even if Russell comes in and bombs, they're still not losing anything. And although he went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in his big league debut on Tuesday, the odds are better than not he'll end up being a big improvement over what was there before.
Addition by subtraction and all.
While Russell performed well at Double-A last year in both the Oakland and Chicago organizations (.939 OPS in 57 plate appearances and .868 OPS in 205 plate appearances, respectively), he only accumulated 46 plate appearances at Triple-A so far this year. Of course, he was hitting well, batting .318/.326/.477, but it was deep in the land of small sample sizes. If manager Joe Maddon had his druthers, he likely would have preferred to call up last year's second baseman Baez, but Baez is still on extended leave from the team to be with his family after the death of his younger sister.
When Baez comes back, he'll likely need to spend time in Triple-A, both to shake off the rust and work on some of the plate discipline issues that have plagued him throughout his young career, as evidenced by his unfathomable 41.5% strikeout rate and 6.6% walk rate in the Majors last year. The intriguing question is, who is the odd man out if and when Baez is ready to return to the Cubs?
Castro is certainly not getting evicted out of shortstop, unless the team decides to trade him, which is unlikely. If Russell is hitting well and playing good defense, does Baez simply stay stuck in Iowa? Do they look to move one of these two young potential studs?
Much will be determined based on how Russell is playing, which means getting off to a good start will be key to keeping his big league job.
For fantasy purposes, Russell has both eligibility at shortstop and second, which gives you a little flexibility there. If you're looking to take a chance on a player with upside, I'd probably have him among the top 12 second basemen in fantasy, ahead of guys like Daniel Murphy, Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick. And at shortstop, he's a better option than Jhonny Peralta, Elvis Andrus and Jed Lowrie.
Chicago brought Russell up to help them win right now, just the latest in a parade of young studs to make their debut for one of the most exciting and enjoyable teams to watch in baseball.