As I've said many times in the past, this is a transitional year for the Cubs. Many of the Cubs financial mistakes are coming off the books after this season -- up to $60M worth. The team will have a lot of financial flexibility heading into a strong free agent offseason class that includes first basemen Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. The question is, who will be the guy in charge of completing the transition? Will it be Jim Hendry or will it be someone else?
Hendry has taken a lot of heat as the Cubs GM despite 3 playoff teams and it's first postseason series victory since 1908. Much of it stems from the spending spree that is largely symbolized by the giant contract given to Alfonso Soriano. Some of this criticism is warranted but to put it all on Hendry is a gross oversimplification. Here's why...
There are a couple of issues to consider here. First of all, the climate favored the players. Hendry wasn't the only GM giving out big contracts and no-trade clauses in the mid 2000's. Other recently successful teams also had their share of blunders. That doesn't absolve Hendry, but it's safe to say he had plenty of company. Here's a very small sample:
- Dodgers: Juan Pierre (5 yrs/44M)
- Giants: Barry Zito (7 yrs/126M) and Aaron Rowand (5 yrs/60M)
- Blue Jays: Vernon Wells (7 yrs/126M)
- Angels: Gary Matthews, Jr. (5 yrs/50M)
- Red Sox: A series of consecutive SS blunders from 2004-2006 that included Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez, and Julio Lugo. All told? 9 yrs and $79M for guys who produced no better than your average utility SS.
There's a lot more...but you get the point.
The second thing to consider is that Hendry wasn't alone in making these decisions. The Tribune was getting ready to sell the team and were looking to increase the value of the franchise. After years of working on a budget that saw Hendry and the Cubs land no big name free agents, the philosophy suddenly changed course in 2006. Hendry was given a blank check with the expectation that he had to land a marquee player to excite fans and instantly make the Cubs a more attractive team for potential buyers. That player turned out to be Alfonso Soriano and the Tribune deserves some share of the blame for this short-term thinking.
2) Overlooked Successes
We've mentioned the unprecedented postseason success but we also have to consider that some of the signings and trades Hendry made were quite good. The Cubs obtained Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez for practically nothing. They originally signed Ryan Dempster off the scrap heap. Their farm produced great arms headlined by Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Zambrano and they had some shrewd free agent signings like Ted Lilly and Mark DeRosa. These deals show that Hendry is capable of making solid value deals and that perhaps he deserves a shot at repeating his earlier successes under the new Ricketts ownership that values efficiency over excess.
Is that enough to warrant trust? Should the Cubs be giving Jimmy Hendry the keys going into what figures to be the Cubs biggest offseason opportunity since 2006? Despite a lot of the criticism directed at Hendry, I believe the jury is still out. This is Hendry's 2nd year to try and prove he can duplicate the success he had in 2003 when he had a more limited payroll. Nobody expects the Cubs to win the division this year, much less a World Series title -- but the team does need to show progress. The Cubs need to show that they are headed in the right direction again after veering off the path in recent years. If the Cubs can get production out of their young players and finish strong this season -- and perhaps salvage some value at the trade deadline for a couple of big money players, then it's likely we'll see Jim Hendry get one last chance in what figures to be a short-term extenstion... but if the team begins to spiral downward, Tom Ricketts may have no choice but to put a new GM behind the wheel.