Addison Russell stays focused as Machado rumors swirl

Brett Davis/USA Today Sports

CINCINNATI -- Even though the calendar says it's way premature for any serious trade rumors, it hasn’t stopped people from talking about the idea of Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado ending up in a Chicago Cubs uniform. It would undoubtedly mean their current starting shortstop, Addison Russell, would have to be on the move.

“I really don’t pay attention to all that,” Russell said on Saturday, a day after reaching base five times in a game against the Cincinnati Reds. “I like this team. I like this organization. I like this ball club.”

It’s something a player usually says in July, as the rumor mill heats up, but considering the Orioles are already double-digit games out of the AL East race -- and Machado is clearly not re-signing with them as a free agent next winter -- it has given rise to early rumors.

“I’ve been in a trade once,” Russell said. “The Cubs have stuck with me when I went through a lot of things. It would be sad if I ever had to leave, but I’m very thankful to the Cubs for giving me an opportunity to play. As far as trade rumors, if it happens, it happens; I don’t pay them any attention. The only time when I even hear about them is the media bringing it up to me.”

Russell got off to a slow start in 2018 after a bad year last season. Off-field problems and injuries combined to basically wipe out his 2017 campaign. His name was brought up in trade talks during the winter, according to sources familiar with the situation, but the Cubs never moved him. He’s just 24 years old, with some untapped potential, but he’s no Manny Machado.

Either way, there are so many variables at play with the Orioles star, it’s almost impossible to handicap this early what it would take to get him and who would be interested. For now, Russell can increase his trade value and help the Cubs if he continues to hit like he did on Friday, when he went 4-for-4.

“I think he’s arriving,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I’ve seen his at-bats get better. He’s fouling some tough pitches off and getting to his next pitch. I just like his on-base percentage. That tells me he has his strike zone in order. He has a lot of talent at the plate.”

Russell smacked 21 home runs in 2016 when he went to the All-Star Game, but the pop in his bat has mostly been missing since. A ninth-inning, game-tying double against the Braves on Tuesday might have jump-started him. Reaching base five times on Friday didn’t hurt, either -- though he went 0-for-5 in Game 1 of a doubleheader on Saturday. Still, the Cubs believe there is potential there. Will the Orioles?

The teams will talk when Baltimore declares itself open for business, but that’s far from meaning a deal will be made. Besides, the Cubs might not need Machado if their offense lives up to expectations, and that includes Russell.

“He has really strong hands,” Maddon said. “If he attacks pitches that he’s supposed to, he’s going to hit. He’s going to drive in runs. You’re starting to see that.”