Cubs stick to Baez plan after trading Bonifacio, Russell to Braves

Cubs stick to Baez plan after trading Bonifacio, Russell to Braves
July 31, 2014, 6:00 pm
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A teammate hugged Emilio Bonifacio moments after he walked into the Wrigley Field clubhouse on Thursday morning. Another player angled for extra locker space once Bonifacio got traded.

Bonifacio followed the team’s dress code and wore a suit for the flight to Los Angeles that night, but the Cubs didn’t expect their super-utility guy to make that road trip. The nonstop rumors had Jake Arrieta joking he would be scratched from his start against the Colorado Rockies.

The Cubs made only one trade before the 3 p.m. Chicago deadline, sending Bonifacio, lefty reliever James Russell and cash to the Atlanta Braves in a deal for catching prospect Victor Caratini, a second-round pick in last year’s draft out of Miami Dade Community College.

So when is Javier Baez walking through that door?

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“We’re not going to change our timetable on any of the prospects based on a move we’ve made at the big-league level,” Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said during a 3-1 victory over the Rockies. “When we feel like those guys are ready, and they can contribute, we’ll do that.

“Certainly, a deal like this doesn’t speed that along.”

Baez has started playing second base at Triple-A Iowa, preparing for a potential big-league future off shortstop with Starlin Castro already a three-time All-Star and elite prospect Addison Russell at Double-A Tennessee.

Through 100 games with Iowa, Baez is hitting .255 with 20 homers, 76 RBI and an .804 OPS. Striking out 125 times in 400-plus plate appearances is part of his aggressive nature, but he’s made significant adjustments as a 21-year-old in the Pacific Coast League.

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“All the stuff that you hear about the young guys down in the minor leagues, you hear it for a reason,” Russell said. “You know they’re going to be good. There’s a reason that everybody gets that much coverage and stuff like that. It will be fun to see them come up here and start contributing.”

The Jim Hendry administration drafted Russell and gave him an over-slot bonus for a 14th-round pick in 2007, when the Cubs faced huge expectations and would win back-to-back division titles.

Russell debuted in 2010 and played for Lou Piniella, Mike Quade, Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria. Russell played with Kerry Wood, Ted Lilly, Derrek Lee and Alfonso Soriano.

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“It was different just going through that facelift,” Russell said. “We thought early that we had a really good chance of having some good teams and obviously it didn’t work out.

“Next thing you know, we’re doing a merry-go-round with managers and moving guys every which way. It will be fun to see things kind of slowly stop, and then pieces get added, and watch things take their course here.”

Russell is a bit of a free spirit with long hair, a thick beard and a colorful collection of hats and T-shirts. But he also has the old-school mentality he learned from his father, Jeff, who pitched 14 years in the big leagues.

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Russell took the ball 316 times and put up a 3.87 career ERA here, saying whatever was on his mind and shrugging off all the pressure and what can be a circus atmosphere.

Russell left his spot in the bullpen during the middle of the game, putting reporters on Hug Watch. After getting the news, he returned to say goodbye to his teammates, hugging them and slapping hands with the fans on his way back to the dugout – and into a pennant race with a new team.

So what are these kids walking into in Wrigleyville?

“There’s not many better places to play,” Russell said. “Fans are great. If you’re not playing good, they’ll let you know it. And if you’re playing good, they’ll even let you know that, too. They’re real attentive and they embrace everything that’s going on with the team.

“It will be fun for the young guys to just come up here and see and feel how the fans kind of take everything in. And help you get to where you want to be.”