If you’re a Cub fan, you probably have some sort of opinion on whether the Cubs should continue with Jim Hendry as the GM of the future. 2010 hasn’t quite gone as expected, but that is not to say that he is incapable of doing the job. If you’re not positive where you stand on the issue, allow us (Chet and I) to make the case for and against Hendry in three key areas. I’m not going to tell you who wrote what in this piece, but both of us took a side.
FOR: Looking for a reason to keep Hendry as the GM of this team? What better body of evidence than his history as an excellent trading GM. Find me a GM that has found major cornerstones for his team and been able to get them for next to nothing. Not only did he get Aramis Ramirez from the Pirates in 2003, but he also added Kenny Lofton and Randall Simon all inside of one month. Both were much needed bats that filled out the order down the stretch for a team that was five outs from the World Series. That offseason, Hendry turned failing 1B prospect, Hee Seop Choi into Derrek Lee in a highway robbery deal with the Marlins. Lee would go on to hit 170+ home runs over the next six years with the Cubs while Choi would be out of baseball in 2006. Let’s not forget his negotiating skills when it comes to pulling off a multi-team trade that was the Nomar deal. A last minute deal that was consummated on July 31, 2004, Hendry was the clear winner in a four team trade to bring in Garciaparra at a position the team sorely needed to shore up before year’s end. No one could have predicted that Nomar would get injured the way he did. At the time, that deal was huge and it’s examples like those that show why Hendry is a great GM when it comes to trading.
AGAINST: When I think about a few of the trades Jim Hendry has pulled off over the past eight years the names Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez come to mind. I don’t remember them because they were great trades, and they were, but because of the magic spell they cast on Hendry backers all over Wrigleyville. When these names are mentioned, the faithful Hendry-ites tend to whoop and holler. But what about the failures? What about the trades that never happened, even more the trades that should have happened?
A few that stick out: Ricky Nolasco was shipped off for next to nothing, as was Angel Pagan. Both players have put together solid careers since.Pagan is a mainstay in the Mets outfield, and Nolasco has put together a few very nice seasons as a starter with the Marlins since 2006 (he went 28-17 in 2008 and 2009 combined). Nolasco was traded along with Sergio Mitre and Reynel Pinto for Juan Pierre. Juan lasted a season and was not re-signed. All three of these pitchers went on to contribute at the Major League level while Juan Pierre gave us very little in the time he was here. What irritates me even more are the trades that didn’t happen, or at least happened later than when they should have. Rich Hill was held onto for far too long. One year prior to the Cubs trading him for next to nobody, they could have had some real value. Instead of striking while the iron was hot, they felt pride in the fact that he was a homegrown guy and held on…..unfortunately a little too long. Remember Corey Patterson? I do. I remember him being at the top of every team’s wish list. After he spent a millennium developing in the minors, he flamed out at the big league level. Nate Spears and Carlos Perez were the rewards we got for waiting. Ever heard of them? I didn’t think so. While I feel trading is one of Jim’s strong suits, I am not too sure his timing or his foresight are very good. There seems to be a lot that was left on the table four or five years ago that could have been used to secure some great players or prospects for today’s team.
FOR: There is a lot of debate in this area. Some may argue that it’s his long-term contracts including “no trade” clauses that have sealed Hendry’s fate as a GM that needs to be fired. I would argue the opposite. If you look over the past few years, Hendry had worked for two owners before the Ricketts family. The Tribune Company wanted to go out as winners and were willing to approve the deals knowing they wouldn’t be paying for it. Sam Zell wanted the same result, but for the purpose of increasing the value of the franchise come bidding time for potential owners. Both essentially gave Hendry approval to make the deals he saw fit to bring a winner. He took that money and brought in the best free agent on the market in Alfonso Soriano. Hindsight would show that Soriano was a mistake, but a 40-40 guy isn’t supposed to fall off the face of the earth as quickly as he has. At the time, it was a bold statement that the Cubs were here to win and be competitive year in and year out. What people forget to mention when discussing Hendry’s free agent track record is the good signings he made that were widely criticized at the time. No one felt that Mark DeRosa was a good move. He was coming off what many considered a career year and couldn’t be counted on to be a starter for someone. DeRosa proved Hendry right and became one of the more productive and versatile Cubs in recent memory, at a bargain basement price nonetheless.
Ted Lilly was wasting away in Toronto while fighting anger issues with his manager. He was brought in via free agency and has since become the best starter in Chicago over the past 3 ½ years. Greg Maddux came back to finish his career in grand fashion because of Hendry. He notched his 300th win in Cubbie blue. After briefly parting ways to finish his career on the west coast, he is back with the organization as a coach and consultant.
There are certainly issues with the way Hendry negotiates contracts, but when you look at some of the guys he brings in and their contributions, players that nobody else had confidence in, you can certainly see why he deserves a shot at bringing this team a winner.
AGAINST: While I don’t want to pick on Jim too much for the whole Milton Bradley fiasco, I think it would be irresponsible to not use it as a theme for many of his free agent signings. Paying too much for far too little would be a good tag line for the Hendry free agent era. Let’s just start off with Milton’s three year, $30 million deal and go from there. He paid $10 million per year for a player that has never stayed with a team for three years in his whole career, managed to be reprimanded time and time again for his temper and on-field displays, and was not exactly known as a clubhouse guy anywhere he has been. Milton himself has even said that the expectations of his on-field play were too high. Stats were expected and used as the backbone for signing him to a monster contract, stats that he had never attained in his career. We know how this one ended.
Getting off Milton for a while, how about John Grabow at two years $7.5 million? I think I just threw up in my mouth! This guy has been given two trips to the DL in 2010. These aren’t just any trip to the DL, though. They’re the kind you give a guy when you want him to clear his head and start over. Of course there was an injury noted. When you pitch as bad as he has, there must be something wrong right? These are worse than actually being injured. What about those monster contracts that Soriano and Fukudome are toting around? Soriano signed to an eight year, $136 million deal. The only problem I have is that he was 28 years old, and at his peak when he signed. Players go downhill after that age. Then there is always Aramis Ramirez. I liked the first four-year deal. Nice work, but did you have to turn it into five more years at $75 million? The second he got this deal, his stats started plummeting and the injuries started mounting. The cherry on top all of these deals is the patented Jim Hendry ‘no trade clause’. Yes, we are stuck with them for the latter half of many of these albatross contracts. Get used to seeing Soriano fumble balls in left field while swinging for the fences every time at the plate. Have a blast watching Aramis ride the DL wagon for the next couple seasons because the Cubs are stuck with them.
FOR: Still need convincing that Hendry is the right man for the job? Look no further than the intangibles. It’s under his regime that this team has made the playoffs almost half the time. Think about that for a second. It’s the Cubs and they’ve been consistently respectable under his watch. This is a guy that has built a farm system that, for the first time in a long time, is reasonably stocked with potential talent. It’s a GM that has put together a player development team that has helped facilitate the development of twelve home grown players that have made a difference for this year’s team. Before you go running Hendry out of town, consider the fact that he’s always dedicated to the job. He even phoned in the finishing touches on a contract with Lilly from the hospital while hooked up to an EKG machine. This is a guy that is deserving of the position he has and deserves to be kept on as we head forward.
AGAINST: While Jim has managed to stay out of the way for a few playoff appearances since taking over the GM role in 2002, it comes down to his inability to sign the right players to get the team over the top. He has consistently failed to find an on-field leader for this team; a true outspoken ballplayer, who not only leads vocally, but with his play. Instead, he has plagued the clubhouse with guys like Bradley and players who are here as one-year rentals only to move along in the shuffle when the season is over. Chemistry has been an issue over the past eight years as a result. While this team has not had bad chemistry, with the exception being the 2009 season, I don’t feel they have gelled well enough to be a champion. It is not only Hendry’s job to find the talented players, but to start finding the right players. Players with winning attitudes, players that will listen when coaches speak, players that want to win above all else and win as a team. Now my question is: Does he know how to identify these players? I think eight years and the National League’s highest payroll, resulting in barely a sniff of the postseason past the first round equals failure. You now have the evidence. It’s up to you to make up your mind and decide in which camp you want to pitch your tent.