Good and Bad News - Hendry to Return
As Colin will probably have reported by the time I post this, the Cubs have officially inked Jim Hendry to a 4 year extension. I think that we are generally in support of this - Hendry has shown a tenacity to improve the ballclub since the Dusty Days have passed.
Before the start of the '08 season, I took a particularly critical stance toward Jim. My basic point at the time was that most teams with the Cubs salary will compete, so Hendry isn't special for using that money to go out and buy the players the team needs. Additionally, I argued that, over the span of his time either directing the farm system or General Managing the team, Hendry has developed a frighteningly scant number of game-changing offensive prospects, even while supplying the team with a respectable number of pitching studs. On top of that, I argued that since 2004, Hendry hadn't made a season-changing trade and most of his deals were in fact duds.
Since then, Hendry went out and plucked Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds off the scrap pile, and more importantly made a huge trade for Rich Harden. These are all reasons to love and support the guy.
At this point, I'm going to take a middle-ground stance to his re-signing. It's good for the team because Hendry has his players who are very loyal. He is committed to winning, he hasn't lost a single star in his tenure, and since the Cubs have opened the coffers he's signed pretty much every player he's targeted on the free agent market.
However, I wouldn't be very honest if I didn't call into question the negatives. First, foremost, and most importantly, the Cubs remain lacking in the farm system, particularly in offensive prospects. A large number of first round draft picks have failed. As we watch a home-grown Tampa Bay team play in their first-ever World Series, I can't help but question how much stronger the Cubs would be right now with a different farm system philosophy.
Second, while Hendry has done excellently at improving the team in recent years, he seems to get on these obsessive binges to upgrade at certain positions - he'll go out and get 3 second basemen, or 2 center fielders, or what have you. However, this complaint pales in comparison with the first one.
Over all, I'd say that the Cubs probably can't do better than Hendry at this time. I think it partly has to do with the uncertainty of the pending sale of the club, and also because I question - nay, I full-on doubt - the ability of the team to find the kind of General Manager who has the right skills for the team's needs.
Basically, my perspective is that the Cubs are stuck in the 20th century, while many teams are developing players based on 21st century concepts. The Cubs have a system-wide philosophy on hitting that is damaging their prospects. Maybe it's changing with the presence of Lou Piniella, but the Cubs have historically developed aggressive hitters who draw few walks while striking out often. I believe that the person most likely responsible for this philosophy is Hendry, but I don't trust the people actually running the team to know enough to grab the "right" kind of GM.
For that reason, let Hendry have his 4 year contract; he will provide the team with stability during the transition. Perhaps he'll last a year with the next owner, maybe he'll be sent home with his contract. Either way, he's probably the best option for the team at this time. But in a year or two, I'll probably have my fingers crossed for some new blood to come along.