Cubs Release Statements from Addison Russell and Theo Epstein Explaining Contract Tender, Next Steps

In conjunction with tendering Addison Russell a contract offer for 2019, the Cubs released dual statements from Russell and Theo Epstein to explain the club’s thought process and the next steps for the shortstop. Russell expressed more contrition than he’d shown previously, though that’s easy to do when his previous statements have all denied any allegations against him.

The shortstop also accepted responsibility for his actions and laid out an ongoing treatment plan that has included a personal therapist in addition to the counseling mandated by MLB. Below is the full text of Russell’s statement, after which I’ll have a short preamble to Epstein’s comments. Then we’ll meet up again at the end for a little more discussion.

“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.  Here are the first steps I’ve taken:

“I accepted my suspension and did not appeal.  I am responsible for my actions.

“I am complying with the MLB-MLBPA treatment plan, and I will be meeting regularly with different experts, counselors, and therapists. Even before any mandated treatment, I took the extra initiative of obtaining my own therapist and I have been meeting with that therapist several times a week for the last two months and plan to continue this therapy beyond the MLB treatment plan.  With that therapy, I am attempting to improve myself by learning new outlooks and understanding different emotions.

“After I have done my own therapy and gained new insights into myself, I hope to be able to work with non-profit groups in Pensacola, Chicago, and Arizona to support their missions and become part of the solution.

“Finally, I recently met with Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein to explain my progress and goals.  They outlined the Cubs’ expectations for me.  I accept and am completely committed to meeting those expectations.  I am grateful for their support.

“I am just in the early stages of this process.  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 that 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.”

I’m not going to tell you what to think about what Russell is saying here, but it is at least a step in the right direction that he’s approaching it differently from what we’ve seen in the past. Of course, the only way to change one’s behavior is to be committed to doing so. If he’s just paying lip service and is doing the therapy simply because it’s mandatory, well, that’s no good for anyone.

Epstein’s statement echoed much of what he has already expressed to the media on the matter and dovetailed with several of Russell’s points as well. Gee, it’s almost as if these weren’t just crafted separately. Not that anyone should have expected that to be the case, of course, though it does make you wonder about exactly how heartfelt and sincere at least one of them is.

The full text of Epstein’s statement is below, with the emphasis on certain sections my own doing.

“The behavior that led to Addison Russell’s suspension under Major League Baseball’s Joint Domestic Violence Policy happened on our watch. We traded for Addison when he was a 20-year-old Double-A player, helped him develop into a world champion and welcomed the praise that came along with his triumphs. 

“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?

“After a very thorough process, we have chosen to take action to try to become a small part of the solution for Addison, his family, Melisa Reidy and the larger issue of domestic violence prevention. In determining our path forward, we’ve maintained regular dialogue with Melisa to support her and to listen. We’ve also consulted with a number of domestic violence experts. Over the past few months, I’ve maintained frequent communication with Addison, and Cubs personnel have met with him regularly. Earlier this week, Tom Ricketts and I met with Addison in Chicago to assess his progress and communicate our expectations as he works to earn back the trust of our fans and entire organization. He affirmed he understands and accepts those expectations.

“As Addison detailed in his statement, he has taken the initial steps to hold himself accountable for his past behavior and begin the rehabilitation process. He is working closely with his own therapist – help he proactively sought on his own beyond the league-mandated treatment – and plans to continue this work once the mandated program is completed. We are encouraged by his early effort and will continue to evaluate and verify his progress. 

“Today, we are taking the procedural step of tendering Addison a non-guaranteed contract in conjunction with Major League Baseball’s deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. 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. It does however reflect our support for him as long as he continues to make progress and demonstrates his commitment to these important issues.

“Just as Addison has a responsibility to own his actions and put in significant work to grow, our organization has a responsibility to act as well. We’re taking a hard look at how we can support domestic violence prevention. In our own workplace, we are dedicating more resources to expand training for our players, their families and our coaching staff and front office. We will engage the appropriate experts to help us design programs for the Cubs which raise awareness of domestic violence, help prevent future incidents and make us the safest workplace possible. We also have connected with Family Rescue, a Chicago-based organization dedicated to serving survivors of domestic violence and community education and prevention. We’re exploring ways we can support their award-winning efforts to eradicate domestic violence in Chicago.

“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. 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.”

With the full understanding that reading through both statements may have exhausted your attention span already, I do want to weigh in on a few things here. First is the idea that that we deserve any additional transparency that what we’ve gotten here, which I’m usually loath to request. In this particular case, however, I do believe fans are owed more than usual.

If a team is going to make decisions that could potentially alienate wide swaths of fans, it’s incumbent upon them to lay out exactly why those decisions are being made. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the amount of detail in the statements above, though Epstein’s seemed far more revelatory in this case. Russell did put forth more than I’d expected, even if some may have hoped for more.

What we don’t need or deserve, however, are intimate details of exactly what led to Russell’s suspension. Melisa Reidy offered more than enough in the blog post that led MLB to reopen its investigation of her ex-husband, but anything further being made public is up to the parties involved.

All we need to know is that a pattern of reprehensible behavior that included psychological and physical abuse led to this point and that Russell has accepted responsibility for that behavior. And please don’t make the mistake of explaining this as some flight of youthful indiscretion. While culture and upbringing no doubt influence our sense of propriety, there’s no excuse for a total ignorance of social mores.

As for how you feel about Russell being back, or the sincerity with which he and Epstein crafted these statements, well, that’s another matter. I can’t speak to that because I don’t know. I can only hope that Russell is indeed contrite and that he is as serious about his treatment as the Cubs claim to be about helping him with it.

Truth be told, I remain conflicted about this whole matter. What it comes down to for me in the end is that simply non-tendering Russell would have felt like a cop-out to me because it would have simply amounted to the Cubs making him someone else’s problem. A pessimist could look at them keeping him around as a baseball decision aimed simply at hoping to extract the latent potential he’s not been able to express fully. And maybe that’s all this is.

What I’d really like to be true is that the Cubs do feel a sense of responsibility here and that they are committed to seeing the process through. Or at least the initial stages of the process, since this isn’t an issue that magically goes away in a few months even with regular counseling sessions. And as Epstein said, Russell’s future with the Cubs isn’t set in stone. They could still trade him or release him.

The latter seems like the last resort if they believe Russell is not engaged in the treatment program, but the former could still be an option even if the Cubs believe he’s made progress. There are ways to remain actively involved in a solution on both an individual and more global scale even without employing a player who’s been suspended for domestic violence.

This situation is anything but simple and I’m not sure whether there are truly any right or wrong answers to it. I mean, there could have been some really wrong answers, but I don’t believe any are in play at this point. I’ll leave off here since I’ve already gone in circles and have probably exhausted any of my immediate thoughts. I’ll be in the comments, though, so hit me up there if you like.

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