The Cubs will tender a 2019 contract to Addison Russell before Friday’s 7 p.m. deadline despite the shortstop’s 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic-violence policy.
“While this decision leaves the door open for Addison to later make an impact for us on the field, it does not represent the finish line nor rubber-stamp his future as a Cub,” team President Theo Epstein said in a statement. “It does, however, reflect our support for him as long as he continues to make progress and demonstrates his commitment to these important issues.”
Russell is one of eight arbitration-eligible players. But all contracts signed by arbitration-eligible players aren’t guaranteed, so the Cubs will continue to monitor Russell’s MLB-mandated counseling. He is eligible to rejoin the team May 3.
The decision is expected to be met with some resistance, especially from some fans who believed Russell should have been released immediately after he was suspended Oct. 3.
Said Russell: “I offer my heartfelt apology to my family and my former wife, Melisa, for my past behavior. I also want to apologize to Cubs fans, the Cubs organization and my teammates for letting them down. Since accepting my suspension, I’ve had time to reflect on my past behavior and think about the next steps I need to take to grow as a person.”
Russell was placed on administrative leave Sept. 21 after his ex-wife revealed she had been abused, more than one year after a third party made allegations on social media.
MLB placed Russell on administrative leave, and he missed the final 11 games of the regular season. MLB then suspended him after its investigation.
In his statement, Russell took responsibility for his actions and is complying with the treatment program MLB and the players association set up. He said he meets regularly with experts, counselors and therapists, adding that he sought his own therapist before undergoing the required counseling. He said he has met with the therapist multiple times a week for two months and will continue the sessions after the MLB-mandated program ends.
After therapy, Russell hopes to work with nonprofit groups in his hometown of Pensacola, Fla., Chicago and Arizona to “support their missions and become part of the solution.”
Russell met with Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts and Epstein to discuss his progress and goals and reviewed the team’s expectations that he said he’s committed to fulfilling.
“I am just in the early stages of this process,” Russell said. “It is work that goes far beyond being a baseball player — it goes to my core values of being the best family man, partner and teammate I can be and giving back to the community and the less fortunate.
“While there is a lot of work ahead for me to earn back the trust of the Cubs fans, my teammates and the entire organization, it’s work that I am 110 percent committed to doing.”
Epstein said the organization felt obligated to become involved because it happened on the team’s watch, adding Russell joined the organization as a 20-year-old minor-league prospect from the Athletics and developed into an instrumental part of the 2016 World Series team.
“If we’re willing to accept credit when a member of our organization succeeds on the field, what should we do if he engages in conduct off the field worthy of discipline from Major League Baseball?” Epstein said.
Epstein said the team has remained in contact with Russell’s ex-wife to lend support, as well as consulted with several domestic-violence experts.
Since the suspension, Epstein and several Cubs officials have remained in contact with Russell, more recently to review his program and stress their expectations.
“He affirmed he understands and accepts those expectations,” Epstein said.
Epstein reiterated the Cubs are committed to the prevention of domestic violence and are dedicating more training resources for the organization. They reached out to Family Rescue, a Chicago-based organization dedicated to help survivors of domestic violence and community education and prevention.
“We understand every action we take and word we use sends a message to our fans — all of whom have their own unique experiences and perspectives, and some of whom have a personal connection to domestic violence,” Epstein said. “The message we would like to leave you with is we take the issue of domestic violence seriously.
“There is a long road ahead for Addison, and we will hold him accountable. There also is a long road ahead for our organization as we attempt to make some good of this situation. We are committed to being a part of the solution.”
Russell, 24, is projected to earn $4.3 million, according to MLBtraderumors.com. He dealt with finger and shoulder injuries in 2018 and batted .250 with five home runs and 38 RBIs in 130 games.