Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Jim Hendry is under contract for three more years, but you'd never know it with all the recent chatter about his potential ousting. Having made more bad moves in the offseason than did Tom DeLay on "Dancing with the Stars," his future is filled with more question marks than a Spanish exam. The Trib's Rick Morrissey says he deserves another shot; the Sun-Times says the Milton Bradley signing may have sealed his fate.
There's no doubt this past offseason was a bust. From The Useless One (Joey Gathright) and The Awful One (Aaron Miles) to the trade of Mark DeRosa and the signing of Milton Bradley, Hendry turned a great, 97-win team into a slightly above average, 83-win team. It was a huge disappointment, no doubt, though they did finish five games over .500 and second in the NL Central. It was nice to see them on the right side of .500 for the third consecutive season, but with a $134 million payroll, that wasn't exactly the goal.
The decline wasn't all Hendry's fault: there were injuries, including those to Ramirez, Zambrano, Harden, Lilly and others. There were unexpectedly subpar seasons, including those by Soriano and Soto.
But Hendry does deserve the lion's share of the blame, having built a team unprepared to weather these storms. He removed leadership by trading DeRosa and letting Kerry Wood walk (though I'm still okay with the latter). He failed to build a reliable bullpen. He has now spent $78 million on average/terrible left-handed right fielders over the last two years.
The Cubs' team ERA actually improved slightly from last year, down to 3.84 from 3.87. And on defense, they committed six more errors this year versus last. But the big problem (if you hadn't yet figured this out after 161 games) was the offense: 707 runs this year after leading the league with 855 last season.
In the general managing world, Hendry didn't just strike out on 2009, he got the golden sombrero. But just as a player or manager can't be judged by one season alone, neither can a general manager. I think it's only fair that new owner Tom Ricketts look at Hendry's entire resume before deciding his fate. At the moment, Hendry's name is synonymous with Milton Bradley's, but that doesn't tell the entire story.
MLB Trade Rumors compiled a detailed history of Jim Hendry's moves as Cubs GM. It was posted last July, so it doesn't include the debacle of this past offseason, but it's interesting to look at the many moves he has made since Andy MacPhail promoted him seven years ago.
Can you recall Hendry's first move as Cubs GM? Of course you can: he traded Darren Lewis for Chad Hermansen. Who could forget that? But wait. That trade wasn't as insignificant as it sounds. Less than five months later, Hendry traded Hermansen and Todd Hundley for Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros, a move that helped lead to a division title for the Cubs. It was also the first sign that Jim Hendry might be a direct descendant of King Midas. This is the kind of rabbit Hendry will need to pull out of his hat when it comes to unloading Milton Bradley.
But it was 2003's trade deadline fleecing of Pirates GM Dave Littlefield that really ignited a love affair between Hendry and Cubs fans: Jose Hernandez, Matt Bruback and Bobby Hill for Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton, and cash! Littlefield then gave the Cubs Randall "Sausage Beater" Simon a few weeks later (that nickname sounds dirty, but in case you've forgotten the incident that begot such a nickname, please click the link).
In an attempt to out-GM himself, Hendry pulled off a Hee Seop Choi for Derrek Lee trade in the 2003 offseason. He also got Michael Barrett for Damian Miller and traded for Nomar at the 2004 deadline, and the Cubs won 89 games that year, though they choked away a playoff spot in the final week of the season.
Hendry has other good moves he can point to, such as trading Sammy Sosa after he turned his back on the Cubs (and integrity), and getting rid of Michael Barrett at the right time. He also made mistakes beyond those of this past offseason, such as giving up three young pitchers for Juan Pierre and giving away Greg Maddux for Cesar "♪ You can ring my be-e-ell, You can ring my bell ♪ " Izturis.
Those are the specifics, here's the bottom line: Hendry has produced three NL Central titles in his seven years at the helm. The Cubs hadn't seen that kind of consistent success since 1938 when they accomplished the exact same feat. In fact, the Cubs have made the playoffs just 16 times in their long history, and Hendry has been behind the desk for three of them. The 182 wins in 2007 and 2008 were the most in back-to-back seasons for the Cubs since 1935-36. It's fine to lay the blame for 2009 at Hendry's feet, but you also have to give him some credit for the products he put on the field in the years prior.
Expectations-wise, 2009 was a disaster of a campaign for the Cubs. But the "W" flag still flew 83 times, and we've also seen some promise from young players such as Randy Wells, Jake Fox and Andres Blanco.
Hendry has created some serious work for whomever is in charge this offseason, but in my opinion, he's earned the chance to do that work himself. As Tom Ricketts takes over the helm, I hope he'll keep Jim Hendry on board.