The best case scenario for Addison Russell is he’ll return with about two weeks left in the regular season.
But since he just suffered a setback in his pesky foot injury, nothing is guaranteed.
Thursday was the last day the Cubs could complete any sort of trade for another shortstop outside the organization, meaning unless somebody of value is suddenly released or granted free agency, the shortstop depth chart on the North Side of Chicago isn’t changing anytime soon:
1. Javy Baez
2. Ben Zobrist
3. Mike Freeman
When — or maybe more aptly IF — Addison Russell comes back, he would move to the front of that line with Baez back to a super utility role and playing a lot of second base.
“Hopefully you don’t have to go beyond that,” Joe Maddon said. “The thing about depth, you’re looking to play Javy as often as possible, either getting him off his feet in a good or bad game or just giving him a day off and picking the right spot with that.
“Moving forward, I’ll keep an eye on all that different stuff. I got nothing but glowing reports about Freeman as an infielder. Great kid. Really grounded, solid, not intimidated, overwhelmed or anything. I don’t get that from him. I think he can help us a lot. Our minor-league people and Theo [Epstein] and Jed [Hoyer] speak very highly of him.”
Freeman was recently called up from Triple-A Iowa when rosters expanded Friday. The 30-year-old journeyman infielder stepped foot in his sixth clubhouse of 2017 this weekend after stints with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners and the Triple-A clubs for both teams prior to joining the Cubs on Aug. 6. He was granted free agency by the Dodgers on Aug. 5 and gambled on his market before taking a job with the defending world champs.
“This has been an interesting year, to say the least,” Freeman said. “But wherever there’s opportunity, I’m happy to go. Whatever role I could fill and however I can help the team win, I’m looking forward to doing it.”
Freeman has played in 41 big-league games in his career, hitting only .123 with a .399 OPS in 63 plate appearances. His minor-league line looks a lot more promising — .292/.364/.383 over eight seasons.
The left-handed-hitting Freeman has played every position but catcher in his professional career.
The Cubs found out about Russell’s three-week setback on the final day of August, allowing them a few hours to go out and try to acquire another shortstop ahead of the waiver deadline. The problem is, that market was shockingly poor.
“We looked; the list of guys that cleared waivers at that position was really small,” Hoyer said. “But there was a lot of blocking this year. There was an active waiver wire — tons of guys got claimed by a lot of teams.
“We looked around and we signed Freeman for a reason. He was the best option. We did look, but there wasn’t anything that was more appealing.”
Zobrist has played 234 games at shortstop in his career, but he’s seen just 11 innings at the position since 2014 and is now a 36-year-old who has struggled with knicks and pains all season after back-to-back World Series runs. Freeman represents the ultimate insurance in case anything happens to Baez and Zobrist can’t keep up with the most demanding position besides pitcher and catcher.
But for now, Baez is flourishing as the everyday guy, employing his #ElMago routine on a seemingly daily basis.
“You’ve gotta make sure you’re prepared for anything, but at the same time, these are important games,” Hoyer said. “Javy’s been playing great; he really answered the challenge of playing every day. He’s playing with great energy and great confidence.
“He’s gonna be out there and hopefully he keeps it going. I’m really proud of the way he’s responded to this challenge and I think he’s playing with consistency. We’re seeing aspects of his game that we haven’t seen in the past.”
Which is good news for the Cubs, given the clock is ticking and they cannot count on Russell returning as a given.
“I’m optimistic about it, but I think counting on it…,” Hoyer said, “listen, that injury is an injury that gets reaggravated as we’ve seen. We need to get him healthy. I do hope we get him back for sure.
“Our defense is notably better with both Javy and Addy in the lineup at the same time. I’m hopeful, I’m optimistic. But we gotta get this guy healthy and hopefully not have a setback next time.”