Cubs.com ran a Q & A with Jim Hendry the other day. I decided that I’d post my responses to the questions and Jim’s answers. Here is the source of the article.
MLB.com: Did anything that happened in the NLDS help you in terms of determining what needs to be done to make the Cubs better in 2008?
Hendry: Not necessarily. From June 1 on, we were the second-best team in all of baseball. It wasn’t like in April or May we beat the Rockies five out of seven. We finished the second half and played extremely well to get in, and we got beat. That same team that looked so good against us [in the NLDS], they turned around and in the next four games, got swept. I thought the Phillies were the best team in the league in September — that’s what our scouts were telling us. When we played the Phillies, it was a tough match for us. And they were three and out [against Colorado]. It’s baseball. If Cleveland beats Boston, it doesn’t mean Boston wasn’t the best team in the American League over 162 games.
Joe Aiello: I’ve got a few things for you Jim. Double plays sound familiar? How about all the runners left on base? How about the fact that our biggest bats in the lineup forgot to show up for the series? You can tell yourself that your team was the “second-best team in all of baseball” after June 1, but what matters most is what you do from October 1st and on and your team was probably the worst.
MLB.com: So you don’t say, “OK, we need to add players to improve situational hitting?”
Hendry: No. You have to look at it globally. In the second half, we were saying we need to get better on this and that for next year. That was talked about and kicked around before somebody had a bad game in the playoffs. We’re not going to turn our back on Rich Hill, for example, because he had a bad game, or say, “Gee, Ted Lilly was terrible that night [in Game 2 of the NLDS] — what are we going to do with Ted?” We wouldn’t have been playing in the postseason without Ted.
You want to improve and you want to change things. Even if you’re the World Champions, I think you come into camp next year with four or five different guys on your roster. That’s the way the game is now.
Joe Aiello: Jim, the question was about situational hitting and you decide to make your argument with pitching? Why not just answer the writer that called you out with a tough question?
MLB.com: Will most of those changes come from within the Cubs system or will you be active in the free agent market?
Hendry: I don’t know. It’s too early to tell. One thing we’ve been good at in the offseason is with new acquisitions and the free agent signings, which were very good last year, but you can’t predict outside help. You can’t predict somebody wants to come to your place. We’ve had a good track record — people want to play here. Trade-wise, we tried to make a trade or two that would’ve been as significant or more last year than probably any of our free agent signings except [Alfonso] Soriano, and sometimes they don’t work out. The other team isn’t obligated to trade you their better players.
Joe Aiello: What free agents before this year have been overly good? LaTroy Hawkins? Glendon Rusch? Nomar Garciaparra? Perhaps it was the great signing of Neifi Perez or Wade Miller. I’m a fan of your trading, Jim, but don’t get too carried away and think that because your free agent signings did well this year it means you’re the free agent signing god.
MLB.com: I have a tough time convincing fans that.
Hendry: That’s OK. We haven’t made a lot of bad trades over time. You try to look at ways to help your club. If you want to make a trade, you have to go into the offseason thinking you have to have something that’s going to help them, as much as the guy you’re going to get is going to help you.
You probably get a hundred suggestions [from the fans] — “Why don’t they trade this guy and that guy and get so and so?” Those guys, they’re talking about the other team might not want to trade. I think a great majority of the GM’s feel the same way I do, that if you’re going to make a good trade in the modern day now, it’s going to have to be talent for talent.
Every club is doing exactly what we’re doing. Every club is putting their plan together, the one or two things they really need, the things they’d like to get to augment the club. You have to be cognizant of that. You say, “I’m willing to help you maybe even a little more than I’m getting back at times to get that fit.” That’s what we’ll try to do.
Joe Aiello: I agree that sometimes you have to take back less than you want, but don’t go out there and admit that, please.
MLB.com: Is finding a regular catcher a top priority?
Hendry: I’m happy with [Geovany] Soto. I think Soto has a great chance to be the catcher on Opening Day.
Joe Aiello: I agree 100%. I don’t think you can afford to make an offer to Jason Kendall based on his resurgence down the stretch, and you already have close to $3 million invested in Henry Blanco. Give Soto a shot and see if he can turn into the real deal behind the plate for cheap.
MLB.com: Does the Tribune Co.’s situation and the pending sale of the Cubs affect what you can do this offseason?
Hendry: I don’t think so. I believe in the near future, I’ll get the payroll for the offseason. I have no complaints about how we went about our business in the last 12 months. Everything that [team president John McDonough] told me and [Tribune executives Dennis FitzSimons and Crane Kenney] above John told us that we would be able to do last offseason and this season, they backed that up. There’s been no indication that we’re not going to do anything but go forward.
I commend the company for allowing us to try to put the best product on the field in very tough times for them. It’s very admirable to sit in this seat, knowing what they went through in the last 12 months, and whether it was all the things we did in the offseason and signing [Carlos] Zambrano for $91.5 million, there was never a “No.”
I believe our payroll will go up [in 2008]. I don’t know how much. If it stayed the same or close to the same, I wouldn’t complain about it.
Joe Aiello: The one thing that makes me a little nervous about Jim’s response here is the first sentence. Any time he’s been asked about if the sale of the team affects his ability to make trades or sign players, he has always stated that it doesn’t. To see him say now, “I don’t think so”, makes me a little nervous that he’s not 100% certain it won’t come into play. I don’t look for a big off-season from this team.
MLB.com: Will there be any changes to manager Lou Piniella’s coaching staff?
Hendry: I’ll go see Lou this next week [to discuss that]. We won the division, and I felt [the coaches’] work ethic was good. I think you have to give the coaching staff credit, not just Lou, when you’re in last place at the end of May, and you end up having the fortitude to win the division.
Joe Aiello: The only one I could see being removed would be Mike Quade. I’m not sure where they’d send him, but I don’t expect him to coach third base next season.
MLB.com: The Cubs farm system has been maligned in the past, and this season produced several standout players who contributed.
Hendry: We felt last offseason, the farm system was better than advertised. When the big league club had a bad year, like last year, and somebody doesn’t come up and be Willie Mays right away, the whole farm system was maligned. It wasn’t easy to sit back all winter and watch [player development director Oneri Fleita] take some abuse I knew he didn’t deserve, and I’m glad for him now [to be rewarded with a promotion]. [The Cubs’ farm system] was never maligned in the general manager world by my peers. I think a lot of people critical of our farm system couldn’t name 10 people in our farm system.
The other thing that people don’t realize is that way larger than 50 percent of the equation of player development is your scouting department. It doesn’t matter who you are, but if you don’t have the talent to begin with, it’s hard to develop them. We now have arguably if not the top, certainly one of the top three scouting directors in baseball [in Tim Wilken]. You have a 20-year history with Tim and you can put his record up against anybody. I see an upswing in our farm system after his first two Drafts. If he can do that for three or four more, and we’re increasing our commitment in Latin America, and increasing our commitment in Asia and Europe, we’ll get even better. Do we have a little gap of the same kind of players maybe the last two drafts from a couple previous? Yes. Maybe some of the guys we were high on in Tim’s Draft, maybe they won’t pan out.
I can promise as a general manager, I have zero worries that between Tim Wilken, and Fleita, and [scouts] Paul Weaver and Steve Wilson in the international market we will have a continual flow of Major League players.
Joe Aiello: I really like Tim Wilken. During his tenure with the Blue Jays, they had 12 straight first round picks reach the Majors. Roy Halladay, Shannon Stewart, and Vernon Wells are just a few of the names. If he can do with the Cubs what he did in Toronto and Tampa Bay in terms of young talent, the Cubs will be in great shape. I’m excited to monitor some of the young talent this year in the minor league focus.