Addison Russell is a dealmaker for Anthony Rizzo.
The Cubs definitely felt the emotional letdown and talent drop-off after trading Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s, heading into Wednesday with a five-game losing streak since the Fourth of July fireworks.
But Rizzo still looked at the big picture and saw Russell, a 20-year-old shortstop who’s been all over the top-prospect lists since getting drafted 11th overall in 2012.
“We got a great player, from what I understand,” Rizzo said. “We all feel it. A couple years ago, I think people knew that it was kind of a long ways away. And now, two years later, I think it’s coming to that time where it’s about the time we start contending.”
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Remember Rizzo Watch? After generating so much hype at Triple-A Iowa, the first baseman debuted with the Cubs on June 26, 2012 and instantly made an impact. The Cubs went 18-10 from Rizzo’s promotion up to the July 31 deadline, another selloff that accelerated the countdown to 101 losses.
Whether or not they hit triple digits again, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said this should be the last year the Cubs are “obvious sellers.”
The Bay Area media ran spring-training stories speculating Russell could be a midsummer call-up or a replacement for Jed Lowrie once the Oakland shortstop becomes a free agent after this season. A hamstring injury slowed down Russell, who’s trying to get back on the fast track at Double-A Tennessee and give the Cubs some options this winter.
While Arismendy Alcantara makes his big-league debut on Wednesday night against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park, Russell joins a stable of position players that includes first-round picks Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Kyle Schwarber, plus $30 million outfielder Jorge Soler.
Seeing that wave of talent coming, the Cubs needed to know what they really had in Rizzo and Starlin Castro after step-back seasons (and an investment worth more than $100 million). They couldn’t afford all those ups and downs while planning for the future and trying to blend even younger players into the lineup.
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The early returns are in: Rizzo’s Final Vote campaign to get a spot on the National League team ends Thursday, while Castro’s already a three-time All-Star at the age of 24.
“He came in with a mission,” Rizzo said. “We just come in and do our work. We got a great group of guys around us. I always say it’s not just me and him — it’s the other 23 guys, too, that help out every day.”
The Cubs scrambled to find pitching in September 2012, with Samardzija shut down as a precaution, Matt Garza injured and Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm traded away to the Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves.
That got ugly, but the Cubs are talking up the potential replacements from Iowa: Tsuyoshi Wada, Dallas Beeler, Kyle Hendricks, etc. They have no choice.
“It’s definitely a blow, but guys are just going to have to step up,” Rizzo said. “That’s it.”