Now that I've had a day to think about this, I've decided to put a little perspective on the news that Jim Hendry is likely staying on as Cubs GM. The goal here is to try and be as balanced as possible in this situation -- to come up with realistic solutions instead of just belly aching about the guy in charge. The easiest thing in the world would be for me to bash Hendry. It's been done before many times by many different people. If you want to find that kind of article you won't have to search very far to find one. It's a little harder to think of a way to make the present situation work toward the Cubs advantage going forward.
The truth is that we are going to have to live with Jim Hendry for at least part of another season. That means one more offseason and, more than likely, at least one more trading deadline with the embattled Cubs GM. With that being the case, here is what the Cubs should do...
1. First off, utilize Hendry's strengths better. Do not try to turn him into something he isn't. He's a tools guy, not a numbers guy. When he has tried to venture into advanced statistics, it has ended in mediocrity (Carlos Pena), misjudgment of value (Kosuke Fukudome), or downright disaster (Milton Bradley). Let Hendry be Hendry. He's an old school scout and one of the best at networking in baseball. He has connections all over the league and is well-liked by both players and his peers. That by itself isn't enough, however, so read on to #2...
2. Hire a better support staff around Hendry. We know Hendry has his weaknesses. And they just so happen to be the kind of weaknesses that the new wave of economic/statistic oriented analysts tend to focus on most: money and advanced statistics. Nowhere does Hendry get more criticism than places like Fangraphs and similar sites, and with good reason. Hendry is as inefficient in these areas as any GM in baseball.
- The first move would be to fire Crane Kenney and put a baseball man over Hendry. This is imperative. The Cubs need someone to set the tone for the organization the way Andy McPhail did early in Hendry's career. I wasn't crazy about GROTA's suggestion that Kim Ng step in as next GM, but as team president I think I like it a bit more. But the best case scenario is an experienced baseball exec who would command instant respect from a veteran front office. Whoever gets hired at this position has to be better with money than Hendry is and be able to curb his compulsion to overpay for players he likes.
- The next step is to promote Ari Kaplan to Assistant GM. He was named one of SI's top 10 GM candidates last month. He is a numbers guru, perhaps the best there is in the game. He has his own set of weaknesses, however. He doesn't network well. He has trouble communicating with scouts...those just happen to mesh perfectly with Hendry's strengths. Meanwhile, Kaplan would have Hendry's ear on all trade matters -- and unlike his current staff, Kaplan can give Hendry an alternative, statistics-based evaluation. Those two fit together like two pieces in a puzzle
3. Help Jim Hendry find his youth. The Cubs are better off if he can find the inner, young, promising GM that Hendry once was. We need him to be the guy who signed Ryan Dempster off the scrap heap for peanuts; the guy who traded questionable prospects for Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and Nomar Garciaparra; and the guy who helped build one of the most respected farm systems in the game in the early 2000s. Yes, many of those guys didn't pan out, but the reputation was there and he was able to parlay that into young, established major league players. Hendry seemed to try this formula again last offseason when he acquired Matt Garza. He probably paid more than he had to, but it wouldn't surprise me if he ended up with the better end of the deal when all is said and done. And it may be a good idea to trade with someone other than the Rays or Rangers, both of whom tend to demand way too much in return.
There isn't much we can do now about Hendry being our GM next season, but it doesn't mean the Cubs can't make some changes and start moving toward a more modern approach to baseball -- even with Hendry at the helm. If he can't succeed in these circumstances, however, then Ricketts will have to reconsider his stance on Hendry.
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