Put a frog in a pot of boiling water and it’ll jump out. Put a frog in a pot of cool water and turn the temperature up slowly, you’ll have frog soup. I don’t know whether the frog in this case is Addison Russell, the Cubs, or fans, but the organization has opted for more of an acclimation period.
Russell’s seven-day assignment with Iowa has ended and he could have been activated to the 25-man roster at the end of the week, but the Cubs will option him to Iowa when his suspension concludes. In talking with the media prior to Tuesday’s game in Seattle, Theo Epstein said this was a baseball decision.
“There have been some real promising signs with his play,” Epstein explained. “Six games just isn’t enough to get fully up to speed to come up to the big league club.”
The Cubs’ baseball boss acknowledged the need for Russell to continue growing as an individual and not just a baseball player, so it’s safe to assume this wasn’t just about baseball. And if you consider all the outside influences and temptations available in Chicago, you can see why maybe Des Moines is a better place to keep working on things for now.
“There has been progress, even though there is a tremendous amount of work ahead for him,” Epstein said. “He’s put a lot of work in, as he needed to. Talking to the people in his life, they notice improvements in the way he’s handling himself in important situations, improvements in his relationships and the way he’s functioning as a father and a partner. Those are all good signs.”
Though the Cubs have maintained that Russell’s return to the big club is “conditional,” reiterating that they’ve not established a finish line, there has been some educated speculation as to when a promotion might come. Starting back out at Wrigley probably isn’t in the cards, even against a Cards team Russell has historically hit well against.
There are a lot of fans who will gladly stand and applaud Russell as some sort of misunderstood hero back from an undue banishment, but more than a few others feel quite differently. Then you factor in the Cards’ first trip to Wrigley this season, which is sure to bring plenty of red to the ballpark. Not a great environment, and I don’t mean for Russell.
Mix two parts rivalry with four parts disagreement then soak it in alcohol for a few hours and you’ve got a recipe for riot juice. For a Cubs organization that hasn’t always operated with a great deal of foresight or tact in PR matters, it’s a good thing to avoid this to whatever degree they can. That likely means no home debut at all for Russell.
The Cubs need to give the infielder at least another week at Triple-A, whether it’s actually to “get fully up to speed” or to plausibly uphold the notion that that’s why he’s there. He’ll be spending equal time at second and short, but the players from whom he’ll usurp playing time are all doing really well right now and it’d be foolish to upset that rhythm. Then there’s another frequent Cubs tactic weighing pretty heavily.
By and large, the team has chosen to schedule highly-anticipated debuts on the road over the last few seasons. Junior Lake (hey, it was 2013 and there wasn’t much else to cheer about) and Javy Báez came up in Colorado, Russell played his first game in Pittsburgh, Ian Happ got his first cuts in St. Louis. Kyle Schwarber would have debuted in Cleveland had Miguel Montero not gotten himself tossed late from a game at Wrigley.
Only Kris Bryant started his career in Chicago, and that was because the Cubs had gotten their extra year of service time and needed him at third because Opening Day starter Mike Olt had suffered a broken wrist.
Ed. note: I actually watched one of Bryant’s early games, the one in Pittsburgh when he shifted out to center late, sitting next to Olt at a bar in Mesa.
Putting everything together, there’s a fairly good chance we see Russell recalled for the May 14 game against the Reds in Cincinnati. That gives him nearly two more weeks in the minors while the Cubs have more time to see how things are playing out with the current roster. And Cincy offers a softer landing than most visiting ballparks since the crowd will be at least half blue and much more docile in general.
That trip to the Queen City starts a six-game road trip for the Cubs as well, so Russell’s home debut wouldn’t come until at least May 20 against the Phillies. While there will certainly be a lot of emotion, some of the sharpest edges may have been sanded down by both time and the prospect of Bryce Harper and Jake Arrieta coming to town.
Or, you know, something happens during the Marlins series and Russell shows up next Thursday afternoon. Still, May 14 in Cincy is my call. Anyone else care to make a guess?