Jim Hendry’s Tenure As Cubs GM—An Evenhanded Analysis

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I’m not about vitriol nor praise just for the sake of partisan politics. Reactionary analysis is untrustworthy in the positive and negative sense. It’s almost universally based on the last game, week or season. Many times, the media and fans can twist a situation due to selfish interests, a lack of knowledge  or unhappiness with whomever is their target of the moment.

The Cubs fired general manager Jim Hendry yesterday. He will be replaced on an interim basis by assistant GM Randy Bush and owner Tom Ricketts is going to conduct a search, do interviews and has said he wants to hire someone from outside the organization.

What kind of job did Hendry do in his nearly nine years at the helm of one of the most difficult teams in sports—the Cubs?

Let’s take a look.

Trades.

Before anything else, Baseball-Reference saved me hours of digging through Hendry’s various trades with a handy historical record of all trades made between franchises. Check it out.

  • The good:

February 2, 2005: The Chicago Cubs traded Sammy Sosa and cash to the Baltimore Orioles for Dave Crouthers (minors), Mike Fontenot and Jerry Hairston.

Sosa had to go and the Cubs got the useful Fontenot and Hairston for him.

November 25, 2003: The Florida Marlins traded Derrek Lee to the Chicago Cubs for Mike Nannini (minors) and Hee-Seop Choi.

Lee was a leader and had several fine years for the Cubs.

December 4, 2002: The Los Angeles Dodgers traded Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros to the Chicago Cubs for Chad Hermansen and Todd Hundley.

Hundley was finished; Grudzielanek and Karros were two experienced veterans who contributed greatly to the 2003 Cubs who came within five outs of a World Series berth.

November 26, 2002: The Milwaukee Brewers traded Paul Bako to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later. The Chicago Cubs sent Ryan Gripp (minors) (December 16, 2002) to the Milwaukee Brewers to complete the trade.

Bako made Greg Maddux happy.

December 15, 2003: The Chicago Cubs traded Damian Miller and cash to the Oakland Athletics for Michael Barrett.

Barrett put up solid numbers and set Chicago ablaze with his classic one-punch knockout of A.J. Pierzynski.

July 30, 2009: The Pittsburgh Pirates traded Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow to the Chicago Cubs for Jose Ascanio, Josh Harrison and Kevin Hart.

Hendry robbed the Pirates.

July 23, 2003: The Pittsburgh Pirates traded Kenny Lofton, Aramis Ramirez and cash to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later, Matt Bruback (minors) and Jose Hernandez. The Chicago Cubs sent Bobby Hill (August 15, 2003) to the Pittsburgh Pirates to complete the trade.

Two words: Aramis….Ramirez.

December 18, 2009: The Seattle Mariners traded Carlos Silva and cash to the Chicago Cubs for Milton Bradley.

Getting rid of Milton Bradley—even for Silva—deserves credit.

  • The bad.

December 7, 2006: The Cincinnati Reds purchased Josh Hamilton from the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs had a deal in place with the Reds before the fact to take Hamilton and trade him to the Reds and made a few bucks; needless to say, they should’ve taken a shot on Hamilton, but it’s understandable—given his history—that they didn’t.

December 31, 2008: The Chicago Cubs traded Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians for Chris Archer (minors), John Gaub (minors) and Jeff Stevens.

The Cubs got some solid young talent for DeRosa, but the machinations were misplaced. DeRosa was their unsung hero on and off the field in 2008; manager Lou Piniella didn’t want to trade him; and the trade of DeRosa was made essentially so they could sign Bradley.

A team trying to win a championship can’t be trading versatile veteran leaders to restock the farm system and then sign a Milton Bradley.

January 6, 2009: The Chicago Cubs traded Jason Marquis to the Colorado Rockies for Luis Vizcaino.

You know what you’re getting from Maquis and that’s okay; you also know what you’re getting from Vizcaino and that’s not okay.

November 13, 2008: The Florida Marlins traded Kevin Gregg to the Chicago Cubs for Jose Ceda.

Ceda’s done nothing for the Marlins despite ridiculous minor league strikeout numbers and a wicked slider; if the Cubs were getting Gregg as a set-up man for Carlos Marmol, then fine, but they weren’t. They got him to close. Gregg was and is entirely untrustworthy as a closer.

I understood the logic by letting Marmol do the heavy lifting before the ninth and to let Gregg rack up the overrated save stat, but it didn’t work. It was a bad idea. Marmol should’ve closed from the beginning of the season; he wound up taking over late in the season when it was already too late.

December 7, 2005: The Florida Marlins traded Juan Pierre to the Chicago Cubs for Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco and Renyel Pinto.

Yeah. This was not a good trade.

July 31, 2006: The Chicago Cubs traded Greg Maddux to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Cesar Izturis.

They were dealing Maddux because he was a free agent at the end of the year, but it should be illegal to trade Greg Maddux for Cesar Izturis in any case.

January 5, 2008: The Chicago Cubs traded Angel Pagan to the New York Mets for Corey Coles (minors) and Ryan Meyers (minors).

The Cubs could’ve used Pagan.

February 2, 2009: The Chicago Cubs traded Michael Wuertz to the Oakland Athletics for Richie Robnett (minors) and Justin Sellers.

Wuertz was highly underrated.

  • Either/or; neither/nor.

July 31, 2004: As part of a 4-team trade: The Boston Red Sox sent Nomar Garciaparra and Matt Murton to the Chicago Cubs. The Minnesota Twins sent Doug Mientkiewicz to the Boston Red Sox. The Montreal Expos sent Orlando Cabrera to the Boston Red Sox. The Chicago Cubs sent Francis Beltran, Alex Gonzalez and Brendan Harris to the Montreal Expos. The Chicago Cubs sent Justin Jones (minors) to the Minnesota Twins.

This was a gutsy move on all ends and could’ve worked big time for the Cubs had they not faded at the end of the season and missed the playoffs. Nomar played well for them over those last two months.

January 8, 2011: The Chicago Cubs traded Chris Archer (minors), Hak-Ju Lee (minors), Robinson Chirinos, Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer to the Tampa Bay Rays for Zach Rosscup (minors), Matt Garza and Fernando Perez.

The Cubs gave up a lot to get Garza; Garza’s pitched well this year and in some bad luck. He’ll be with the Cubs through 2013 unless he’s traded; they’ll be able to recoup their prospects if they do that.

July 31, 2010: The Chicago Cubs traded Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot and cash to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Brett Wallach (minors), Kyle Smit (minors) and Blake DeWitt.

DeWitt has use; they got some young talent for Lilly and Theriot.

***

Contracts.

This will include both free agent signing and extensions given to players already with the Cubs.

OF Moises Alou—3-years, $25 million.

Alou was excellent in his time with the Cubs.

RHP Greg Maddux—3-years, $24 million.

Maddux was his durable, consistent self in his return to the organization that drafted him.

RHP Ryan Dempster—free agent for $300,000 after being released by the Reds in 2003; signed a 4-year, $52 million contract after 2008.

Dempster was used as a closer and was mediocre; he moved into the starting rotation in 2008 and was masterful. He’s a good, consistent starter who’s delivered more than could ever have been expected.

RHP Bob Howry, 3-years, $12 million.

Howry was durable and mostly good.

INF/OF Mark DeRosa—3-years, $13 million.

It appeared to be a classic overspend on DeRosa, but as stated earlier, he was the key player in their 2008 run to the best record in the National League.

OF Alfonso Soriano—8-years, $136 million.

A disaster. Plain and simple.

LHP Ted Lilly—4-years, $40 million.

Lilly was a good pitcher for the Cubs.

OF Jim Edmonds—signed in May 2008 after being released by the Padres.

Edmonds looked shot for the Padres, got to the Cubs and rejuvenated his career with 19 homers in 85 games.

OF Kosuke Fukudome—4-years, $48 million.

Fukudome was an underappreciated all-around player with pop and a good eye.

OF Milton Bradley—3-years, $30 million.

Bradley had a great year with the Rangers in 2008 on and off the field; there were no problems whatsoever. Was it reasonable to think he’d continue that trend with the expectations the Cubs had after their 2008 flameout and Bradley’s status as the “missing piece”?

No.

OF Marlon Byrd—3-years, $15 million.

Byrd’s been everything the Cubs expected on and off the field.

1B Carlos Pena—1-year, $10 million.

They knew what they were getting. Homers, walks and a .200 batting average.

3B Aramis Ramirez—5-years, $75 million with 2012 option for $16 million with a $2 million buyout.

Ramirez has been one of the best and most underrated third basemen in baseball for years; he’s also been an intensely loyal Cub.

RHP Carlos Zambrano—5-years, $91.5 million with 2013 vesting option.

Of course it looks horrific now, but when Zambrano signed the contract, he was 26; in the middle of an 18-win, 2007 season; had pitched over 200 innings for 5 straight years; looked like he was a rising star because he was a rising star; and he could hit.

Why wouldn’t you lock up a pitcher with Zambrano’s talent at that age?

Who knew he was going to freak out the way he has? Signing him up until he was 31 or 32—through his prime, healthy years—made complete sense. There were no problematic behaviors; no major attitude issues to note or be concerned about.

It hasn’t worked. Hendry’s not to blame for Zambrano.

***

Drafting and development.

In 2003 the Cubs drafted Sean Marshall, Jake Fox, Casey McGehee, and Sam Fuld. They took Tim Lincecum out of high school in the 48th round.

They picked someone named Ryan Harvey with the sixth pick in the 1st round that year directly in front of Nick Markakis; Chad Billingsley was taken by the Dodgers at 24.

In 2004 they drafted Fuld again and Micah Owings. They didn’t have a 1st round pick.

The only Cubs draftee from 2005 to make it to the big leagues is a pitcher named Donald Veal. Their 1st round pick was a lefty pitcher named Mark Pawelek; later in the 1st round, Garza, Clay Buchholz and Jed Lowrie were taken.

In 2006 they drafted Tyler Colvin in the 1st round and Jeff Samardzija in the 5th. Kyle Drabek, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Chris Coghlan, Daniel Bard and Chris Perez were taken later in the 1st round.

That year, they signed Starlin Castro as an amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic.

In 2007 they had the third pick in the 1st round and selected a third baseman named Josh Vitters; Vitters is struggling in Double A. In that draft, they took Darwin Barney, Brandon Guyer and Andrew Cashner.

Matt Wieters, Matt Dominguez, Madison Bumgarner and Jason Heyward were taken later in the 1st round.

They drafted Cashner again in 2008, this time in the 1st round. Not much of note was taken after him in the 1st.

The success/failure or 2009-2011 has yet to be determined.

***

Managers.

Hendry hired Dusty Baker after the 2002 season after Baker’s bitter divorce from the pennant-winning Giants.

When you hire Baker, you know what you’re getting. He’s probably going to win; he’s going to push his starting pitchers hard; he’ll rely on his veterans and players he likes. There’s been a long-running debate as to whom is responsible for the injury-wracked careers of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.

Wood was battered as a rookie by Jim Riggleman. This is fact.

As for Prior, by now I’d say it’s clear that even if there’d been a set of usage guidelines to stop him from throwing 120-130 pitches on a regular basis, he still would’ve gotten hurt. You can lay the responsibility on Hendry or Baker if you like, but I disagree with it.

There was the choice of worrying about tomorrow tomorrow or trying to win when there was an opening; the Cubs went for it and almost made it. Baker came close to getting the Cubs over the threshold to the World Series and it didn’t happen.

After Baker, the Cubs hired Lou Piniella.

After his negative experience and allegations of being lied to about how much money would be spent when he managed the Devil Rays, Piniella wanted to win; he wanted to win immediately; and he wanted veteran players to do it.

The Cubs under Hendry gave him what he wanted and he, like Baker, almost won. In fact, had Piniella chosen to start Lilly over Dempster in game 1 of the 2008 NLDS, he might have. It was a tactical blunder on the part of the manager that gave the Dodgers the first game of the series and the momentum to sweep. Lilly didn’t pitch in the series.

Piniella is a frontrunner and when things are going good, he’s fine; but he was unable to get through to Bradley (and openly said he hadn’t wanted to trade DeRosa). It was Piniella’s mistake to entrust the closer’s role to Gregg. By 2010, the manager was halfway out the door and quit in August.

Mike Quade earned the managing job with a solid showing after taking over for Piniella. He was selected over the more popular choice, former Cubs hero Ryne Sandberg. Quade has had disciplinary trouble with Zambrano and the team is a dysfunctional mess as evidenced by the firing of Hendry. He can’t be blamed for the majority of this season and it’s hard to imagine Sandberg having done much better.

***

Records.

The Cubs records and results went as follows under Hendry’s reign:

2003: 88-74, 1st place; lost in NLCS to Florida Marlins 4 games to 3.

2004: 89-73, 3rd place.

2005: 79-83, 4th place.

2006: 66-96, 6th place.

2007: 85-77, 1st place; lost in NLDS to Arizona Diamondbacks 3 games to 0.

2008: 97-64, 1st place; lost in NLDS to Los Angeles Dodgers 3 games to 0.

2009: 83-78, 2nd place.

2010: 75-87, 5th place.

2011: 54-70; 5th place.

***

The final analysis.

I found it absurd how Hendry was vilified for a large number of things that weren’t his fault; that people were reacting to his dismissal as if the Cubs had won that ever-elusive pennant and/or World Series.

Perhaps firings are all they have to celebrate.

Like most GMs, Hendry made some great moves; he made some nothing moves; and he made some terrible moves. While the Cubs were right in deciding to find a new direction for the franchise with a different GM, Hendry is a respectable and competent baseball man who in no way deserved the treatment he received from the public and media upon losing his job.

The Cubs came close to winning with Hendry in charge.

Considering it’s the Cubs, it’s all one can reasonably ask.

The new GM will get a brief honeymoon, but odds are he’s going to eventually end up in the same position as Jim Hendry was in. Will he come as close? By 2016, we’ll know the answer.

Or we won’t.

It is the Cubs after all.

//

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