Kap's Corner

Can Jim Hendry Fix the Cubs?

Yes, I know he had a brutal winter of 2008-09 and I know that the Cubs have had a very disappointing 2009 season. But I still believe that GM Jim Hendry is the man to fix what ails his baseball team heading into 2010. Sources have confirmed to me that Hendry will indeed be retained as the GM after the 2009 season ends and he will be given a fair shot to straighten out what went wrong with his club this season.

Hendry has been down this road before when he needed to do a far bigger overhaul both after the 2002 season when he was first hired as the GM, and again after the 2006 season when he changed managers, added several new players, and built the core of 2008's 97 win team. Add in three division titles in 7 years for a franchise that, until he arrived, hadn't had back to back winning seasons, and he has accomplished more than any other GM in the Cubs recent history.

Last winter Hendry set out to fix what he thought was the main problem with his team and that was a lack of left handed run production to add, as he said at the time, balance to the Cubs right handed dominant starting lineup. By acquiring Milton Bradley, Hendry felt he was adding a switch hitter who was an on-base machine in Texas last season and he envisioned Bradley driving in runs and being a constant presence on the base paths. 
When Bradley signed I interviewed Hendry, and he told me that his biggest concern was keeping Milton healthy enough to play 135 games or so in right field. Hendry felt that if Bradley stayed relatively injury free, he could be the bat that Lou Piniella was craving to balance his batting order. Well, Bradley stayed healthy physically, but his emotional inability to handle all that goes with playing for the Cubs blew up in the GM's face.

However, the biggest thing that the Cubs and Hendry failed to contemplate was the effect that letting clubhouse leaders like Mark DeRosa and Kerry Wood leave would have on the club. First of all, if you have never been in the Cubs clubhouse at Wrigley Field you can't begin to understand how different it is from every other locker room in baseball. It is cramped, it is packed with media who hover around a player's locker, and it allows a player who is not comfortable in the media spotlight very little opportunity to get away and relax.

Taking two guys like Wood and DeRosa who thrived in that environment and replacing them with a guy like Milton Bradley, who was extremely uncomfortable in that situation, was one of the biggest mistakes that Hendry and his staff made in their off season evaluations. Add in the fact that, as one player told me on Monday, Milton Bradley brought tension to the locker room from the first day he joined the team in spring training. No one felt comfortable around him and everyone tried unbelievably hard to make him feel welcome and accepted on the team.

The second area of player evaluation that must improve is the Cubs knowing just what they have in their system before they go out and spend money in free agency on mediocre players. Aaron Miles has had a very rough season, but when you look at his numbers from 2008 in St. Louis it is hard to fathom just how far he has fallen. Miles hit .317 last season and also hit .317 as a left handed hitter. In day games Miles hit an astounding .392 and when he left St. Louis for the Cubs people in St. Louis were disappointed to lose him.

He has failed so spectacularly with the Cubs that you have to believe that something is going on in his life that we just haven't been privy to. No one goes from the season he had in 2008 to looking completely lost in 2009. Here's hoping that he is okay.

In addition, the Cubs and Hendry have to do a better job of knowing what they have in their system before they spend money in free agency. Having Andres Blanco in the Cubs minor leagues should have been enough to keep them from spending 4.9 million dollars on Miles but instead of going with the cheaper alternative they spent the money on Miles.

Add in the trade of Jason Marquis, who was a decent starter for the Cubs, and was always healthy and willing to take the ball as another move that backfired in a big way. Marquis leads the National League in wins and the fact that the Cubs paid 5 million dollars to entice

GM Jim Hendry will be given the chance to fix the problems that derailed the 2009 Cubs including trading Milton Bradley.

Colorado to take him off the North Siders hands makes the trade look even worse.

Hendry has several good qualities that a GM needs including his ability to work with agents which is a critical component in the game today. "Jim Hendry is great to work with. We may not always agree on a particular player but he always shoots straight and his honesty is as good as it gets in our business," said Mark Pieper of SFX Basebal,l an agency that represents many of the game's top stars.

Pieper went on to say that Hendry is extremely energetic and he said that he appreciates his willingness to cut to the chase which saves both the agent and the team a ton of time that is often wasted in negotiations. Barry Meister is another well known agent who has negotiated with Hendry for several of his clients, and he too likes working with the Cubs GM. "If indeed the Cubs are in recovery mode this off season and they are trying to fix their club then I believe that Jim Hendry is as good as it gets trying to fix a team on the fly," Meister said.

Add in the fact that Hendry's work ethic is legendary, and you have a guy who should be extremely motivated to turn around a team that had just about everything go wrong for it in 2009. Teams always want players in their contract year because their performance tends to improve. How about an executive who had a bad season and has new ownership coming in? Sounds to me like the perfect recipe for turning around the Chicago Cubs in 2010.

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25 Comments

TracyT said:

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Kap, I hope Jim Hendry gets the chance to turn the team around. But lets look at this from the only perspective that matters: Is he the GM that will get this team to the World Series? I just don't know anymore. He's definitely done great things by making this club a division winner multiple times, and for that he should be commended. But does he have what it takes to take this team to the next level? With bad contracts, no-trade clauses all over the place, and a mediocre farm system, I'd say no.

If Tom Ricketts were an aggressive owner, he would ask this question himself and answer it by either extending Hendry sooner than later or cutting bait two years before Hendry's contract expired and installing a new GM or President who has actually built a WS winner/contender.

*dan bradley said:

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I dunno Kap. In 2003 Hendry added several pieces to what was already in place, possibly his best effort. In 2007 he won a very weak division with a team that simply went on a great run at the end of the year. And in 2008 (and still) we have a team that cannot win if it's not hitting home runs (ie. the Cubs' phenomenal home record last year, and penchant for offensive droughts).

I want to like him. He's made good moves like Lee and Lilly. But I find that he is too often duped (ex. Soriano was NEVER what he was advertised to be). I'm not sure if we should judge his success by the 96 years of utter failure that preceded it. Yes, he's made the playoffs a few times, but he's yet to prove that he can have consistent success without massive roster changes and an endless wallet (that's now run out.. and remember, he didn't have the pocket change yet in 2005-6 and his teams failed).

That said - I'll give him one more year - that contract year you spoke of. But he's on a VERY short leash.

Mike_thoms said:

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The Cubs were hardly a home run dependent team last year. Or at least, they were hardly the type of team that depended on 1 or 2 bashers to hit home runs. I know you didn't say they were, but generally when people deride teams who's only offense is via the long ball, you're talking about a team with two sluggers and a bunch of other guys who every time they hit a home run you go "wow, I didn't know he had it in him". The Cubs of 2008 spread out their home runs to a lot of different players and I think that's a huge difference. They also hit with RISP like it was their job. The bottom of the line-up was insanely productive.

*dan bradley said:

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yeah yeah.. i kinda agree with what you say. but from that, now, you've got guys who refuse to do anything but swing for the fences (ie. Soto, Soriano, and even Z). And i can't even count how many warning track home runs we hit... and that includes 08 and 09.

ronsta said:

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Looks like today is save Jim Hendry's job day - since Rick Morrisey is puffing up the same story. I notice 2 words missing from your article - Soriano & Zambrano. HENDRY is the guy that gave these guys & Bradley - the long term, no trade clauses. You fail to mention that. Hendry may be a nice guy & hard worker, but he should be fired for this mess.

backslap said:

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This mess, this mess, etc. When is everyone going to realize that this team was in first place on August 1st with Soriano injured, ARAM injured and missing 45 games and every one of the top 4 starters missing at least three starts. St. Louis and Colorado played out of their minds and then when the Cubs were three out of the Wildcard at the end of August the whole Bradley "hatred" tirade reared its ugly head. This team needs tinkering (They are still going to win 86-88 games). The problem Jim had was trusting Bradley and not getting a closer, the rest I blame on the injuries and the lack of ability to take on salary at the trade deadline (the Cards added Holliday and DeRosa we added Grabow). And give the Soriano 8 year deal-Jim Hendry nonsense already...It was John McDonaugh who added the years when the Cubs originally offered 5 which made more sense, he didn't want a repeat of the Rafeal Furcal debacle again where the Dodgers swooped in at the last minute. Soriano has been exactly what he was expected to be the first two years here and if healthy next year will be a decent number 5/6 hitter who will hit 30 HR and have 90 RBI, be a good clubhouse guy, plus he will be a butcher in Left Field who needs to be replaced in the late innings every time we have a lead or the game is close and he just batted late in the last inning. This team needs a bonafide leadoff hitter (preferably center field or short/second with Theriot playing the other spot), another good arm in the pen, and top of the rotation guy and they will be the favorites in the NL Central.St. Louis is going to lose Holliday and DeRosa plus a few of their pitchers.

*dan bradley said:

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What! WHAT!! "Soriano has been exactly what we expected him to be"??? I'm sorry, backslap, but he was advertised as a 40/40/40 guy (HRs/SBs/2Bs).... And all we've seen is a lot of him swinging for the fences!

Alan Thavisouk said:

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I agree with everyone's comments. Everyone has made great cases. I appreciate the insights on the Cubs' locker room. Losing DeRosa and Wood was huge. This was a terrible year and the accountability starts on top. The changes this past offseason backfired. We can never predict how a season is going to go during the offseason transaction. At this point, the Cubs have to do a strong analysis of the current state and make sure they don't make the same mistakes for 2010. There is still a lot of talent on this team. I don't think the Cubs should spend mega-millions on a star player. They need good players with great characters that play the game right. These players will motivate others and build the team chemistry. It is obvious that the Cubs had no chemistry this year. Every day, the starting line-up changes. I blame Pinella for this. Guys are always shifting. It is unfair for a player to stay consistent throughout the entire season when they are in and out of the lineup or hitting in different positions. I really don't like Pinella's strategy here. A lot can be solved once the Cubs do go and find a capable leadoff man.

IvyChatChuck said:

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So, a guy who ran the minors from 1995 to 2002 and has run the full operation since gets one more chance?

The minors have never produced on his watch.

The team he had in 2003 was destroyed by 2006.

He fixed 2006 by spending a third of a billion dollars. He can't do that to fix 2009.

14 years of minimal success and a self-created bottleneck to future success.

By all means, bring him back.

JF said:

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If you give Jim Hendry enough money to work with, then he can probably improve the offense of this year's team by next season. Without the money to work with, then there probably won't be much improvement between now and next year. So, this depends on new ownership taking over and on what Ricketts can spend or wants to spend.

Assessing team needs and player decisions are Hendry's responsibility while the mortgaging involved with bad contracts was presumably the Tribune Co.'s doing.

Part of the question is whether Jim Hendry can do as well or better going forward than could another GM of choice. If he can than he is going to have to stop the practice of free agent signings on the fly, trading players on the fly, and dumping players on the fly. Unless ownership has a bottomless wallet, fixing the team on the fly doesn't get the best bang for the buck.

fan said:

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One of your better columns Kap.
However, I must point out that Kerry Wood is not worth $20 mil no matter how good a clubhouse guy he was. It was time to let him go. Secondly, for 2 years the press, the talk shows and the fans ripped Marquis and demanded the Cubs get rid of him because of his check. I also remember Hendry getting ripped for NOT signing the great Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt and going cheap by signing Lilly and Marquis. Yes, Bradley turned out to be a very bad move, but stats geeks everywhere were elated because of his OBP. Let's not forget that moving Marquis' and DeRosa's money wasn't just for Bradley but also for Peavy until the Trib pulled the plug on tying up Peavy's contract before the sale.
The key to this miserable season was the awful start by the offense incleding DLee and Aram's injury. The starters were outstanding for the most part, but the bullpen and offense failed.

David Kaplan said:

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Thanks for the kind words. I don't disagree that it was time for Kerry Wood to go but the Cubs did not replace his leadership and by dumping both Wood and DeRosa they lost a huge part of their clubhouse. Everyone always says that chemistry is overrated, until they don't have and then they wish they had it. The Cubs need to add some leadership to their team.

Mike_thoms said:

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Kap...this is unrelated to this specific topic but I didn't know how else to contact you. Can you give us any info about the story about the IRS investigating the sale? Does this spell more doom and delay for the Ricketts family finally taking over?

Mike_thoms said:

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Thanks...that's a huge relief. Plus Sam Zell still gets screwed...everyone wins.

IvyChatChuck said:

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Sam's not getting screwed. Trib shareholders (read: employees) and companies to whom the Trib owes money are getting screwed.

Mike_thoms said:

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Well Sam gets screwed if the IRS investigates it, doesn't he?

jack said:

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Not really, since he has given up on his rather minuscule investment. Whatever stake the ESOP had is also toast, and the IRS issue won't have much impact on that. It depends on what happens in the Tribune Co. bankruptcy, but basically it appears that the question is whether the bank creditors who reportedly want to take control of the Tribune Co. lose priority because of this (as well as a result of the preexisting creditors' fraudulent conveyance claim.

I'm sure you took Walter Blum's Bankruptcy and Reorganizations class.

Alan Thavisouk said:

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You are so right about the leadership aspect. You can have a team with mediocre talent that rises above the rest simply of team chemistry, great management, and strong LEADERSHIP. If baseball was simply a game of talent and skills, then the Yankees would win every year. Even Toe Torre writes about how he lost his team chemistry once the old Yankees from the late 90's team like Paul O'Neil left or retired. Their solution was to buy the best players and they did have the best players but time and time again, having the best is not enough. It comes down to leadership!

jack said:

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I was going to say that the Cubs were emulating primarily the Yankees' pattern of paying whatever for free agents, which didn't seem to work until this year. Maybe Girardi is a better manager than the Cubs or Marlins thought.

At least the Red Sox use some Sabremetrics before throwing money around (although it now appear that roids had a lot to do with their 2 World Series teams).

Edelweiss said:

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Earlier i wouldn't have thought that one bad apple could spoil the barrel, but after hearing what the players said, it makes perfect sense. If everything were going well, Bradley might not have made a difference, but after the team's best hitter had such a serious injury, Lou had to spend too much time dealing with Bradley, and was unable to offer Fontenot the emotional support he needed to master a completely new position, while playing his first full season. Up until the injury, the team was doing well, but after that, they all fell apart because the smallest player in MLB could not carry the team. Not only did Fontenot's hitting suffer, but Miles could not be an every day player, so second base was unproductive. Had Piniella been available to lead, things might have turned out better, but he had to be the reform school teacher.

*dan bradley said:

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My final comment is this-- the Atlanta Braves won 14 consecutive division titles. Are we, in this new "culture of winning," content to say that Jim Hendry is a good GM with 3 division titles in 6 years, and an awful losing streak in the playoffs? Because I'm not satisfied.

hjb4971 said:

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We love you Kap, but rspectfully disagree. It is time for a new GM and we knew that in June when most sports writers were saying don't dispair, things will get better because this team can't be this bad. They were and they are and Jim Hendry was the reason. Last years's team won 97 games, and he ruined it. We can only wonder how many games this team would have won WITH DaRossa and Wood.

Hendry is loved by agents because he regularly overpays for mediocre talent. He made bad deals getting rid of Wood, DeRossa, and Marquis, and acquiring Gregg, Bradley, Fukadome, Miles, and Heilman. Listen to Santo and he often mistakes Bradley for Jacques Jones, another of Hendry's "great acqusitions."

This team needs at least two outfielders, (and a serious change for Sorianno), a mid-infielder that can hit and probably two credible starters as it appears they are ready to pull the plug on Harden. They also need a real closer. Again we say Heath Bell was available since July for a trade and Hendry did NOTHING. In fact we are so sick of hearing about his inability to help the team like the Cards and Dodgers did to theirs, because of the sale of the team we could throw up. Let's just shorten that to Hendry was incapable of acquiring players to help the team....no excuses.

That tell us he needs to go, and someone needs to do serious re-building. We also think it is probably time to begin the pursuit of Joe Girardi.
HJB

jack said:

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Add to that, Hendry gave Z the big money, without any question. Didn't the history of emotionally violent behavior and cramps precede that deal? Also, that was about the same time that the Sox and Buehrle were agonizing over the home town discount and no trade clause, while the Cubs had no such issue with Z. Just give him Torii Hunter money. Yet, I was surprised when it was said that Z has been in the bigs for 9 years, in that he has still not matured.

The Cubs are starting the sound like the CTA--just give us another chance to clean up our mess. Even when the mess gets too bad, Daley sends in another body. Ricketts's hands are already somewhat tied by the high purchase price, and the big contracts. Let him at least bring in his own personnel.

Ben said:

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Here's my suggestion: Cubs create a website where fans can donate to pick up Milton Bradley's money. Say, hey, put $10 (or more, as they wish) to let him sit wherever he chooses to chill.

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