Sorry for the delay of Part 3 of our epic Roundtable. Today's focus is on the lackluster 2010 Cubs. Sit back and enjoy. Part 4 will be up tomorrow.
3. What was your biggest disappointment in 2010, other than wins and losses?
A.J.: It was sad to see the team fail to innovate in the first two months, as Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez continued to struggle. And in Aramis’ case, it was worse than a struggle — the man just looked lost. I wonder how Byrd, Soriano and Soto would have responded if they were asked to hit, say, 3-4-5 while Aramis took his two weeks on the DL.
Sayers40: I was mildly upset about our first round draft pick. I realize that this isn’t something we really know about yet, but Hayden Simpson just seemed like such a leap and my feeling is that the future of this team is tied up in the ability to develop young talent coupled with going after free agents. I am very skeptical about the future of Simpson with the Cubs. I’m rooting for him, but as #1 draft picks go, I’d rather have had Anthony Ranaudo but that’s just me.
Rob: I had assumed Randy Wells was the kind of mentally tough pitcher that would hone his craft and take a step forward in his third season. I had also assumed that Carlos Zambrano had finally regulated his online computer usage, his consumption of water, and now that his oldest daughter was watching the games and starting to feel embarrassed about her father's antics, that he would finally function as an adult and perform accordingly.
The biggest disappointment, though, in my expectations for the Cubs continues to be Alfonso Soriano. Many people forget that in 2006 he put up one of the all-time great statistical seasons, which is why he was given so much money for so long a period. Each year since then, he has dealt with leg issues, and my hope is always that he is going to show up one of these years healthy and hungry and put up one more historical season. I am now 100% convinced that it will never happen.
Mike: Geo Soto's continued inability to stay healthy. Love the bat, but he's got to be able to get more than 340 AB.
Kurt: I was frankly crushed by the resurgence of Carlos Zambrano. I really thought the guy was about two weeks away from ripping the foul poles apart with his bare teeth, and he had to disappoint us all by rebounding and giving us the most promising 1/4 of a season he's perhaps EVER had. Where's the drama? The hijinx and hilarity? The bamboozles and tom-foolery? I just don't get Carlos anymore!
Peter: The Carlos Zambrano Debacle. Big Z traditionally just gets lit on opening day. Like clockwork, he gets lit up and the team hits the panic button and throws him in the pen soonafter. I just hated how all of it was handled from the get-go. That being said, maybe it did some good with how he ended the season.
Yarbage: Jim Hendry's inability to get value from some of the guys when they are playing well. Hendry could have dealt Kosuke Fukudome when he was red-hot in May, but held onto him. Maybe, I'm naive in thinking he could have dealt him, but I think a lot of teams would have given him a chance if Hendry would have eaten most of the money for 2010. It's kind of like already spent money, so why not move him and open up a spot for Colvin. Other than that, it's the fact that Jim Hendry is getting a third chance at a rebuild. I think the Cubs are years off from actually contending for a title.
The current state of the Cubs:
All you really need to know is that Aramis Ramirez is hitting mistakes again.
At the beginning of the year, he wasn't. He wasn't hitting anything. Neither was Derrek Lee. And outside of the couple of times our bullpen blew leads early in the season, and the other night with Marmol, this was pretty much the story of the year. Guys would get on base and Lee and Ramirez would strand them. Over and over again.
Now Ramirez has healed, and is hitting like he always has, and a few days after that, so has Lee and Soto. The word is that Lee is the clubhouse leader on the Cubs, and that is unfortunate because not only does he not have the personality to truly lead, he is also largely irrelevant offensively.
He has had two monster years with us, 2005 and 2009. The Cubs finished below .500 both years. Ramirez has had big years in 2004, 2007 and 2008, all winning years. As Ramirez goes, so does the Cubs offense. There is a greater statistical correlation as well as a practical correlation between what Ramirez contributes and what Lee contributes in terms of offense-to-wins. This is what makes teammates sit up and listen, and only if Aramis could back up his practical relevance with words.
But he chooses to defer, like he did after each of the playoff sweeps, and this is why I went bat feces when he did. Ramirez SHOULD lead the Chicago Cubs. When he hits, we win. As long as he keeps it up, we should have a winning second half, even though the decent starting pitching is beginning to falter.
Lou's retirement announcement, and why we are yawning
This was the biggest non-announcement ever. Of course Lou is retiring. Some say he retired 2 years ago. He did it so people will quit asking him. Some say he has earned the right to finish this year on his terms, and he will. I'm not one of them, but there is the sentimental side of me who will give the man his respect.
Besides, Crane Kenney and Jim Hendry aren't going anywhere, so even if they got to choose a new man this afternoon, he would be no better than the last two guys they hired.
There seems to be no accountability in this organization. Lou has the freedom to do one wild, crazy move after another, and when he is asked to explain himself, he either stutters and/or gets testy. Jim has developed a decent drafting mechanism, and he is the king of the desperation trade and the fire-sale steals, but he has never made a good value-for-value straight trade in his whole tenure. Not to mention, of course, his poor free-agent record, as well as his aversion to conflict, which has resulted in avoidance of arbitration - and overpaying players.
But, neither one of these guys can say they have done their job as badly as the Tribune holdover, Crane Kenney. What exactly DOES he do? How is the Triangle building doing? How about the Great Wrigley Field reclamation? What great marketing angles have we exploited lately? When can we expect to watch the Cubs Network? When Jim Hendry sucks, who calls him on it? And if Hendry were to get fired, who would pick the next guy?
A corporate lawyer with no baseball background?
I want a baseball man put in Kenney's place. Someone who can evaluate Hendry fairly, and determine if he is the man or not. A new manager needs to be found. Do we do the popular thing and stick Ryno in there? Is Joe Girardi the guy? How about Bob Brenly or Alan Trammel? I heard Joe Torre mentioned? Who do you choose? They all have their own qualities.
There needs to be a organizational direction, which is developed and regulated by the President (the Kenney position), communicated throughout the competitive organization by the GM, and implemented on the field by the manager. Depending on that direction, it could be Brenly, Torre, Ryno, Girardi, the frozen head of Ted Williams...but we need a direction first, and Kenney is not the guy to set it.
The President needs to see the middling-to-slightly above average health of the farm system, as well as the capabilities of what I am calling the Core of the 2011 Cubs, the guys who will definitely be here.
Soriano, Byrd, Marmol, Dempster, Soto, Ramirez, Castro. Everyone else, even Zambrano, I could see a scenario where they may not be here next year. These seven individuals will be, and the direction starts with what we are going to surround these seven guys with.
I don't know if Hendry is or isn't that guy. I'd really like a real baseball man to evaluate what he has done. I don't like his results, myself, but then again, he hasn't had much to work with from above. That's the biggest question going forward for us.
My story as a Cubs fan has been detailed all over this blog, and in other places, so I'm not going to bother retelling it now. But what you should know about me is this: I am a life-long Cubs fan who has, at times, been passionately driven by nothing more than a Cubs World Series victory. The key phrase in that last sentence is "at times." Last season I felt barely involved in the Cubs, despite writing about them every single day, and this year is no different. So they're floating at around 10 games under .500. So Aramis Ramirez can't bat Ryan Theriot's weight, and Derrek Lee is looking his age. So Alfono Soriano has the defensive range of a lead box. So Carlos Zambrano is pitching out of the bullpen. Okay -- fine. That last one still makes me sick to my stomach. And yet, I don't feel too upset by any of this. I'm not losing sleep over the Cubs' woes. I don't feel angry. God, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I mostly don't care. In my 30 years, I've lived with a long-lasting, pervasive belief that the Cubs will win the World Series someday. I still believe that. I belive it will happen soon -- before I am 40 for sure. Then again, when I was 20 years old, wouldn't I have been shocked to know the Cubs'd still be titleless a decade later? It will happen; only it's not going to happen soon. Just look at the facts -- the Cubs have tried to buy their way into contention for a few years now, kind of like the Yankees. Except the Yankees have a history of burying bad, big contracts with new bad, big contracts. When Player X stops producing 4 years into his 8 year contract, the Yankees just go out and buy Player Y and keep on winning. The Cubs can't do that. Not to mention the continued questionable production of the farm system. Geo Soto may or may not grow into the stud we saw back in 2008. (Things are looking good.) Starlin Castro may or may not be a shortstop slightly better than Shawon Duston was. Same with Josh Vitters. Despite being owned by a rich Cubs fan (who, you'd think, would be super competitive and extremely hungry for a title), the Cubs are being run by the same people, in the same way as they have been for the past few decades. That model doesn't work. Jim Hendry doesn't have the skills necessary to be a game-changing GM, which is unfortunate for the Cubs since he's been in a position of authority for more than a decade now. A decade! We have seen in the past that teams turn around their fortunes on a shockingly regular basis. It's entirely possible that the 2011 Cubs will be much, much better than their '10 counterparts. But for that to happen, the Cubs will need to do the following: Purge. (What, you thought there'd be more? That's all they need!) Seriously. Fire Jim Hendry. Let Lou Piniella ride off into the sunset. Dispense with their talented, expensive, over-30 players. Roll the dice on some younger guys with a ton of potential. But, most important of all, the Cubs need to get a guy in the front office who is a fearless, hungry, baseball genius. I'm talking about somebody who, first and foremost, seeks any advantage to win. That means rolling the dice on picking up undervalued players whose significant skill-sets are only obvious when considering little-known statistics. That means ridding the team of anybody who is even remotely cancerous. That means being unafraid to mouth back at the media, to shout down angry fans, to awe us all. These guys are rare, but they are essential. When I look at Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella, what I don’t see are Type A personalities with an overwhelming passion to win. Maybe they used to be, back in the day, but not anymore. Ironically, then, I will not be passionate about the Cubs until the Cubs are passionate about winning. The window has closed on Jim and Lou. It’s time to let somebody else have a shot. Until then, it’s a whole bunch of insignificant thunder.
My story as a Cubs fan has been detailed all over this blog, and in other places, so I'm not going to bother retelling it now. But what you should know about me is this: I am a life-long Cubs fan who has, at times, been passionately driven by nothing more than a Cubs World Series victory.
The key phrase in that last sentence is "at times." Last season I felt barely involved in the Cubs, despite writing about them every single day, and this year is no different. So they're floating at around 10 games under .500. So Aramis Ramirez can't bat Ryan Theriot's weight, and Derrek Lee is looking his age. So Alfono Soriano has the defensive range of a lead box. So Carlos Zambrano is pitching out of the bullpen.
Okay -- fine. That last one still makes me sick to my stomach.
And yet, I don't feel too upset by any of this. I'm not losing sleep over the Cubs' woes. I don't feel angry. God, I can't believe I'm saying this, but I mostly don't care.
In my 30 years, I've lived with a long-lasting, pervasive belief that the Cubs will win the World Series someday. I still believe that. I belive it will happen soon -- before I am 40 for sure. Then again, when I was 20 years old, wouldn't I have been shocked to know the Cubs'd still be titleless a decade later?
It will happen; only it's not going to happen soon. Just look at the facts -- the Cubs have tried to buy their way into contention for a few years now, kind of like the Yankees. Except the Yankees have a history of burying bad, big contracts with new bad, big contracts. When Player X stops producing 4 years into his 8 year contract, the Yankees just go out and buy Player Y and keep on winning. The Cubs can't do that.
Not to mention the continued questionable production of the farm system. Geo Soto may or may not grow into the stud we saw back in 2008. (Things are looking good.) Starlin Castro may or may not be a shortstop slightly better than Shawon Duston was. Same with Josh Vitters.
Despite being owned by a rich Cubs fan (who, you'd think, would be super competitive and extremely hungry for a title), the Cubs are being run by the same people, in the same way as they have been for the past few decades. That model doesn't work. Jim Hendry doesn't have the skills necessary to be a game-changing GM, which is unfortunate for the Cubs since he's been in a position of authority for more than a decade now. A decade!
We have seen in the past that teams turn around their fortunes on a shockingly regular basis. It's entirely possible that the 2011 Cubs will be much, much better than their '10 counterparts. But for that to happen, the Cubs will need to do the following:
(What, you thought there'd be more? That's all they need!)
Seriously. Fire Jim Hendry. Let Lou Piniella ride off into the sunset. Dispense with their talented, expensive, over-30 players. Roll the dice on some younger guys with a ton of potential. But, most important of all, the Cubs need to get a guy in the front office who is a fearless, hungry, baseball genius.
I'm talking about somebody who, first and foremost, seeks any advantage to win. That means rolling the dice on picking up undervalued players whose significant skill-sets are only obvious when considering little-known statistics. That means ridding the team of anybody who is even remotely cancerous. That means being unafraid to mouth back at the media, to shout down angry fans, to awe us all.
These guys are rare, but they are essential. When I look at Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella, what I don’t see are Type A personalities with an overwhelming passion to win. Maybe they used to be, back in the day, but not anymore.
Ironically, then, I will not be passionate about the Cubs until the Cubs are passionate about winning. The window has closed on Jim and Lou. It’s time to let somebody else have a shot. Until then, it’s a whole bunch of insignificant thunder.
I've come around to the belief that the Cubs will be better off letting Hendry go now and letting Randy Bush be the GM on an interim basis.
Kurt was right. The next several months are critical to the Cubs' future success. When I say critical, I mean CRITICAL. The Cubs have a fairly high draft pick coming up in June and have two trading chips they could use in Derrek Lee and Ted Lilly. We need someone who believes (even if it's not true) that's he's responsible for turning this team into the dynasty that it should become. Hendry has to know that his time is up.
If Hendry stays, I hope he does NOT trade Lee or Lilly and I hope he does nothing or very little in the trade market at all even to help "fix" some of the Cubs' problems. We aren't going anywhere this year but the future is very bright. It probably won't come until 2012 but everything the Cubs do over the next 20 months or so needs to be with the intention of building a ball busting team that will run roughshod over the NL Central and hopefully the NL and baseball as a whole from 2012-2017 at the very least.
The 2010's are going to be the decade of the Cubs, Jim Hendry will have very little to do with this. It is time for us to begin building THAT team.
Those are the Cubs' first round draft picks since 2002. Colvin is the first to make it to the major leagues. You know about him. Chances are you know about Vitters, Cashner and Jackson as well. This is a big year for Vitters. Despite hitting .444 in big league spring camp this Spring, Vitters didn't draw a single walk, and was reassigned to High - A Daytona, where he has a .300 OBP and is OPSing only .657. Last year, split between A - Peoria and High - A Daytona, Vitters had an OBP of .314 and only walked 12 times in almost 500 plate appearances. Not. Good.
Of course if you know anything about Tyler Colvin's minor league career, you know I could be describing him as well. Tyler raked his way onto the big league club this Spring, but he failed to draw a single walk in all of Spring Training. In limited action (27 plate appearances) this April, Colvin has drawn 3 walks and K'd 5 times, for a respectable OBP of .346. He's also played the OF well in limited playing time. This is encouraging, but its an extremely small sample size. It would be the first time in Colvin's professional career that he's shown any kind of strike zone judgment.
Unfortunately, this is the type of position player that Hendry continues to favor. Both Colvin and Vitters were toolsy ameteurs with little regard for the strike zone. Brett Jackson has shown more patience early in his professional career, but his BB% has dropped from 20% in rookie ball, to 16% at low - A Boise, to 8% at A - Peoria. Jackson is a college hitter, so its not as if he's very young for his level. This isn't an encouraging trend.
As for the pitchers, Brownlie and Pawelek were absolute busts. Brownlie is with his third organization and has a career FIP over 5.00. Pawelek hurt his arm tripping over his X Box, and then picked the controller back up and continued playing. He's with the Reds' High - A affiliate right now, praying he doesn't get called up to the big league squad. Dusty Baker has a taste for rookie pitchers' bone marrow. Sucks it right out of their pitching arms. Look it up.
Here's the point: The Cubs have not done well in the draft, and its cost them at the big league level. When you can't develop your own high performing ballplayers, you have to buy them from someone else. That's how you end up with Milton Bradley in RF. Most of the top teams in baseball have star players on the big league roster playing for less than they would receive in free agency. Let me walk you through it:
NYY - Robinson Cano was worth 4.7 WAR last season, and was only paid $6 million.
Boston - Kevin Youkilis was worth 6 WAR, and Dustin Pedroia was worth 4.9. Together they were paid $8 million.
Tampa - Evan Longoria was worth 7.2 WAR. Ben Zobrist was worth 8.3 WAR.Carl Crawford was worth 5.5. This team would have finished with the best record in the National League. Their triumvirate of home grown stars made less than $10 million together, most of it going to Crawford.
Minnesota - Joe Mauer put up 8 WAR despite missing an entire month of the season. Unreal. Morneau, Span and Kubel were all above 3, and Morneau likely would have topped 4 WAR if he'd been healthy. Scott Baker put up 3.5 WAR while making less than a million dollars.
You might inquire how the top NL teams did. It's the same story in the Senior Circuit:
Philadelphia - Chase Utley was worth 7.6 WAR. Ryan Howard was worth 4.9 WAR. Jayson Werth totaled 4.8 WAR.The Phillies actually paid for Howard and Utley, who earned $11 and $15 million a piece, while Werth was a steal at $2.5 million.
St. Louis - Pujols was worth 8.6 WAR.Wainwright was worth 5.7 WAR.Together they earned about what Soriano is being paid in a single season.
Los Angeles - Matt Kemp was worth 5 WAR. Clayton Kershaw was worth 4.2 WAR. Jonathon Broxton somehow contributed 3 WAR as a CLOSER. He's good, folks. That production cost the Dodgers less than $3 million. Or a weekend in Cabo for Jamie McCourt.
Colorado - This team is the Rays of the National League. They are an absolute pipeline of above average, cost controlled talent. Ubaldo Jimenez (he of the no hitter last week) was worth 5.7 WAR.Troy Tulowitzki was worth 5.5 WAR. Jason Hammel contributed 3.8 WAR. Jorge De La Rosa put up 3.7. They got all that for less than $4 million. And they have a host of great players who will make a huge impact this season, like Carlos Gonzalez, Ian Stewart and Franklin Gutierrez.
Lets look at the Cubs now. Care to guess how many homegrown players put up 4 WAR or better last season? The answer is NO ONE. Only Zambrano and Wells even topped the 3 WAR mark, making them above average but not great pitchers. And for the record, Soriano's WAR last season was slightly below zero. For the uninitiated, that implies the Cubs would have been better sending an average AAA outfielder out to LF instead of Soriano. He was paid $17 million for his efforts.
The ability to develop star players is key to sustained success in today's major leagues. No team, not even the Yankees can simply spend their way to a World Championship. The Cubs continue to scuffle in player development, which is the root cause of their woes in free agency. The free agent market should be a supplement to your roster, not the bedrock on which your team is built. The Cubs entire OF was bought in free agency, and it's a below average group making a ton of money. This isn't working. Unless the Cubs can begin to perform better in the draft, in international free agency, and in developing their young prospects, they will not challenge for a title. I'm excited about the minor leagues for the first time in a long time, but there are plenty of warning signs from even our best prospects. The 'untouchable' Starlin Castro has the same hack first, ask questions later mentality that has held back Vitters and I suspect will limit Colvin. Cashner may not be able to start at the major league level, although I hope the Cubs resist the urge to bring him up now and put him in the bullpen. And years of Korey Patterson/Bobbie Brownlie/Felix Pie/Jeff Samardzija failures have left me a jaded, bitter fan. The farm system just hasn't gotten it done under Hendry's supervision. The Cubs aren't getting the right players into the system, and they aren't developing the players they do have properly. Jim Hendry should be fired.
Question: if this season is toast, what good does it do to maintain the status quo and allow Jim Hendry and Lou Piniella their jobs?
Elaboration: This season isn't toast -- not quite yet. I know that Rob made the bold claim that teams don't do 180's, despite the fact that the '09 Rockies, '03 Marlins, and -- most pertinent -- the '07 Cubs would disagree with him. So this entire article is more rhetorical than anything else.
But when do we raise the white flag, surrender on the season, and look to 2011 to rebuild?
Personally, I'd vote for June 1. If the Cubs are battling it out with the Astros for the bottom of the division by June 1st, then it's over. Or if they are 10 games out of a playoff spot, or 10 games under .500, it's over. At that point, I no longer see the need to defend Lou Piniella or Jim Hendry.
GROTA contributor Sayers40 has voiced the opinion that no good would come from replacing Hendry or Lou, because it's a) not what a top team/organization would do and b) no good would come from it. While I really enjoy reading Sayers' take on things, I've got to disagree with him here for a few reasons.
First -- top organizations do not flinch when disposing of broken parts. If the Yankees were done for by the end of May, you can bet you'd see Joe Girardi on the breadline. If the Red Sox looked like they'd been assembled by an incompetent oaf, with income-heavy, useless players eating up the team's payroll, you can bet that Theo Epstein would be getting a job elsewhere. And they wouldn't wait until October to do it -- good organizations never sleep, not even when they suck at winning.
Second -- if the Cubs do indeed fall out of contention, as they appear to be doing in rapid order, do you really want Jim Hendry around to rebuild them? This team will not be able to get better if he's steering the ship, because he has clearly demonstrated the inclination to crash us into Soriano-shaped rocks.
Hendry has already demonstrated a failure to build the farm system -- and, sorry Starlin Castro lovers, but he has just a bit more plate discipline than Corey Patterson, and while he doesn't swing at balls the way C-Pat did, I'll believe in his success when I see it -- he has demonstrated an inability to build a team without spending gobs of money on players with limited shelf-lives, and he has not done anything to convince me that he knows how to fix things.
Therefore, the Cubs need to consider making a few moves. If, on June 1st, they are out of it, they need to consider axing Hendry, appointing a temporary successor at GM, and possibly even removing Lou Piniella unless they are comfortable with keeping him as a lame-duck manager. Then they need to consider expelling the valuable parts of their bloated team -- Ryan Dempster, who will never be more valuable than he is right now, Ted Lilly, who is unlikely to return anyway, Aramis Ramirez, who is on the wrong side of 30, anybody and everybody who has value should be up for trade.
But, sadly, no matter who takes over, no matter what magic they can work, the Cubs are likely stuck with Soriano, Fukudome, Silva, and Zambrano (although I bull-headedly refuse to consider Carlos Zambrano to be a problem). These contract albatrosses will continue to weigh the team down for parts of the next decade.
Hopefully, then, the next Cubs GM will somehow figure out a way to build around them. Since that's a pretty tall order, the Cubs definitely can not afford to hesitate on their search to find that guy, whoever he is. But one thing is clear -- that guy is not Jim Hendry, and the sooner Hendry is removed from his decision-making responsibilities, the better.
Jim Hendry has been the Cubs GM since mid 2002, so we’ve got a lot of trades to look at. I’m going to highlight one or two from each season that strike me as particularly important or illuminating.
2002: Cubs trade Todd Hundley&Chad Hermansen for Mark Grudzeilanek&Eric Karros.
Hundley is my least favorite Cub of all time. He was shitty. He was overpaid. And he was a mean son of a bitch. The Cubs handed him a 4 year, $23.5 million contract before the 2001 season. In his two years as a Cub, Hundley totaled 579 plate appearances and posted an OPS below 700. For those who prefer batting average, Todd hit .187 and .211 in 2001 and ’02. He’s most famous in Chicago for flipping off the home fans while rounding the bases after a home run. He was like Fukudome without the production, pleasant demeanor or sobriety.
Somehow, Jimbo convinced the Dodgers to take this sad sack off our hands, and send us something useful in return. Both Grudzeilanek and Karros contributed to the division winning squad in 2003. Grudz became our starting 2B, and he could inside out the ball to the opposite field as well as any hitter I’ve ever seen. I’ll never forget watching Karros videotaping the playoffs from the Cubs dugout during the NLCS. It really felt like he was one of us. He wasn’t a bad platoon first baseman either.
Oh, and Hundley was pumped full of steroids for much of his career. So there’s that.
2003: Cubs trade Jose Hernandez, Matt Bruback&a PTBNL for Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton&Cash.
Cubs trade Ray Sadler for Randall Simon.
2003 was Hendry’s finest season. The Cubs would not have won their division that season were it not for Ramirez, Lofton and Simon. Lofton and Simon are long gone, while Aramis remains as the greatest Cubs 3B since Ron Santo. And Hendry gave up practically nothing to get them. Thanks, Pittsburgh!
2004: Cubs trade Hee Seop Choi for Derrek Lee.
Cubs trade Brendan Harris, Alex Gonzalez&Francis Beltran for Nomar Garciappara & Matt Murton.
The Choi for Lee deal rivals the Aramis Ramirez trade for the best of Hendry’s career. Clearly, Jim was on his game in the early nineties. Choi never realized his potential, and is probably best remembered for being carted off the field after an in game collision with Kerry Wood. Derrek’s achievements speak for themselves. He is my favorite Cub, and I will be sad to see him go if this is truly his last season here.
As much as the Nomar trade did not work out, I believe now as I believed then that is was the right move to make. The Cubs SHOULD have won their division that season and were trying to add the missing piece for a postseason run. Obviously things didn’t work out. Mercker bitched, LaTroy imploded, Sammy stepped out, and the Cubs massively underachieved and missed the postseason altogether. The following April, Nomar suffered the most excruciating injury imaginable, and that was that. He was on the DL until August, and by that time the only interesting question left was whether DLee would win the 2005 NL MVP. The Cubs finished 21 games behind the Ratbirds, who won 100 times that year.
2005: Cubs trade Sammy Sosa & Cash for Jerry Hairston Jr., Mike Fontenot and David Crouthers.
Cubs trade Ricky Nolaso, Sergio Mitre & Renyel Pinto for Juan Pierre.
2005 was the first year that Hendry really pissed me off. These two trades, which neatly wrap around a lost season, signal a real change in Jim’s ability to maximize value on the trade market. Let’s tackle the Sosa deal first. Sosa was a diva who didn’t mesh well with his teammates. He was getting older and was obviously on the decline. He still hit 35 HR in 2004. He should have brought more in return than he did. I believe he would have, if not for the systematic way the Cubs undermined any leverage they might have had in trading him. As you all undoubtedly remember, Sammy left the ballpark 15 minutes into the final game of the 2004 season. This became public, and it shortly became obvious that Sosa would never be welcomed back into the Cubs clubhouse. When 29 teams know you have to trade a guy, 29 teams will not give you good value in return. Fontenot was the only piece worth mentioning here, and he’s a platoon 2B who was nearly DFA’d by the club this past offseason.
Then there’s Juan Pierre. Hendry’s worst trade as the Cubs’GM. Full disclosure. I despised him then and I still do. Maybe it’s because, along with Josh Beckett and Pudge Rodriguez, I still associate him with the 2003 Marlins. Maybe it’s because he posted a crappy OBP with zero power. Or his limp dick outfield arm. Or maybe it’s because we lost 96 games and I needed a scapegoat. Here’s why this trade still pisses me off to this day: Ricky Nolasco is awesome. He’s exactly the kind of player the Cubs need to keep if they are going to be successful. And Jimbo traded him for one subpar year of a crappy player on a terrible team. GAHHHHHHHHHH.
2006: Cubs trade Greg Maddux for Cesar Izturis.
This one is more emotional than anything else. Hendry traded Maddux to the Dodgers to give him a shot at winning a championship. Respect.
2007: Cubs trade Rocky Cherry and Scott Moore for Steve Trachsel.
WTF? Cherry and Moore were no great shakes, but I can’t begin to fathom what Hendry was hoping to accomplish here. Trachsel was old and finished. Trachsel made a few starts, didn’t pitch well, and was left off the postseason roster.
2008: Cubs trade Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton, Eric Patterson & Josh Donaldson for Rich Harden & Chad Gaudin.
Cubs trade Jose Ceda for Kevin Gregg.
Like the Nomar trade, the Harden deal was a well meaning, but ultimately failed attempt to improve the team for a deep postseason run. I saw Harden’s first Wrigley Field start in person. He was DOMINANT. If memory serves, he went 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 10 K. I was convinced he was the missing piece. Two years later, the Cubs have no rings, and Harden struggles to get out of the third inning with fewer than 100 pitches thrown. At least it doesn’t look like those prospects amount to much.
Kevin Gregg was a disaster and I'm glad he's gone.
2009: Cubs trade Mark DeRosa for Jeff Stevens, John Gaub and Christopher Archer.
And the Trixies wept.
2010: Cubs trade Milton Bradley for Carlos Silva & cash.
Cubs trade Aaron Miles, Jake Fox & cash for Jeff Gray, Ronny Morla and Matt Spencer.
Two things are obvious to me about these most recent trades: First, it is far too early to say anything definitive about these deals. Second, they were all about Hendry fixing his free agency mistakes from the previous offseason. That’s never a good thing for a GM. I was furious with Hendry for suspending Bradley for the last 15 games of the 2009 season, as it robbed him of any leverage he might have had in trade talks. I was furious all over again when the Cubs traded for Silva, who has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball for the last several years. Now I’m just sort of numb. I know Silva isn’t an ace, and his sub – 1.00 ERA is the product of small sample size. I’d be thrilled if he finished the year with an ERA under 4.50, and right now that looks like a possibility. As for Gray, at least he got AAron Miles out of here. Meh.
Hendry made a number of brilliant trades early in his GM career. Since 2004, he’s been significantly less productive in the trade market. It’s not clear whether other teams simply got smarter, Jim lost his touch, or something else altogether, but Hendry hasn’t had an obvious win since the trade that brought Derrek Lee to Chicago. Hendry’s trades aren’t getting it done anymore. He should be fired.
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Lets start with the positives. Hendry signed two of our three best starting pitchers through free agency, and both have wildly exceeded our expectations. Terrible Ted Lilly has been worth 10 WAR since he began his Cubs career in 2007. For comparison's sake, Yovani Gallardo has only been worth 5.5 WAR over the same period of time. Ted has been very, very good.
Ryan Dempster has been even better. In the two seasons since he returned to the rotation, Dempster has been an ace. He's put up 8.7 WAR in that time period, and was able to accumulate 3.6 WAR last season even though he missed a month of the season with a broken toe. Since he joined the rotation, Ryan Dempster has been the Cubs best pitcher.
That's about the extent of the positives. Here are the negatives, in lazy list form: Alfonso Soriano @ 8 years, $136 million with a no trade clause. Kosuke Fukudome @ 4 years, $48 million with a no trade clause. Milton Bradley @ 3 years, $30 million. Jacque Jones @ 3 years, $15 million. Jason Marquis @ 3 years, $21 million. Bob Howry @ 3 years, $12 million. Aaron Miles @ 2 years, $5 million. John Grabow @ 2 years, $7 million. Etc.... These players have a ton in common. Most were coming off a career year. (Jones is a notable exception.) Most did not contribute enough WAR to justify their salaries. All were seemingly signed for too many years. The Cubs roster has been an elephant's graveyard of declining players being paid a ton of money for their past contributions to other teams.
This shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Most MLB team's have gotten smarter about keeping their young, high WAR players away from free agency. The majority of players who reach free agency are players that their original teams didn't deem worth extending, because their likely salaries would exceed their likely contributions. In short, free agency isn't a smart way to try and build a ballclub. Jim Hendry has spent a lot of money in free agency and usually hasn't gotten his money worth. The bad, long term contracts on this Cubs squad have hamstrung him in his efforts to improve the team going forward. The Cubs are older, maddeningly mediocre, and expensive. This team won't contend in 2010, and it won't contend in 2011 either. Because of his nasty habit of making it rain on every flavor of the week free agent who comes a knockin, Hendry should be fired.
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I've made no secret of my desire to see Cruller Jim Hendry given his walking papers. I've heard all the arguments in favor of his retention, and they don't hold water for me. Jim Hendry is a liability to the 2010 Chicago Cubs, and the Cubs should remove him. Hendry should be replaced with a general manager who has a better understanding of the market and of those player skills that more accurately correlate with wins.
Because this is my first blog post, I should share a little about myself. I'm a saber admirer, although I can't do the math myself. I believe a few basic concepts that originated with sabermetrics are so well established as to be taken as fact, and that MLB front offices are negligent if they ignore them. The high correlation between OBP and runs scored is one example.
I will regularly refer to WAR in my posts. WAR stands for "wins above replacement." It's a handy tool for summarizing the total wins any single player contributes above a hypothetical 'replacement level' player. It's important to note that a replacement level player would be a well below average major leaguer. The replacement level player is basically any interchangeable AAA ballplayer. For any math masochists who are reading this, here's an excellent explanation of how a hitter's WAR is calculated: http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2009/6/12/906943/war-lords-of-the-diamond-position. WAR is also a handy stat because it can be used to compare a player's individual contributions with his salary.We can then determine whether that player is providing surplus value relative to his salary, or if he is being paid more than he is worth.
I hope that you will agree that Jim Hendry has to go. He is not a good general manager and the roster he has assembled is not a contender, either this season or in the future. Thanks for reading.
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It has come to my attention that some of you are still holding a candle for the 2009 season. Some of you are still swillin' the Blue kool-aid, although the ice cubes melted long ago and it HAS to be all watery and diluted. Some of you are still wearing your rose-colored shades, even though they're all smudged and need to be wiped badly. Some of you are still sitting in your seats clapping your hands and stomping your feet and chanting "weeee want a hit" even though it's in the bottom of the ninth and we're down 10 runs.
If that is you, my friends, I weep for your naivete, but...
...if your name is Jim Hendry, this is inexcusable. We still have a chance? Says who? Says YOU? Then you, you're either a bad liar, or a dumbass!
Jim, you put every single man on your active roster not on the DL on waivers, and only 12 players were claimed? Twelve! Remember the article I wrote last week when I said there were only 15 guys that ought to be kept, and that includes the reprehensible Soriano and Zambrano contracts (they are no longer men or players, but contracts at this point)? So there were 13 guys worth claiming? Well, it appears even I was too ambitious, since I didn't include Harden or Heilman.
Jim, take the hint. Only 12 guys on your team are good enough for someone else to want, and one of THOSE is the arsonist wearing #47, Heilman? And YOU pulled them all back? Gatdammit, Jim, it's over! Done! There is no harm done for the basement dwellers in Bucktown and the housewives in Keokuk in sticking it out until the bitter end, but you, sir, are in charge of this competitive entity, and you are paid, handsomely, to evaluate talent and construct the most competitive ballclub for the NEXT SEASON IN WHICH YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO WIN!!
And, Jim, that season is 2010. This team could have been better for 2010 if you would have taken the offers other teams were making you for our chaff. No, I don't expect you to let Soto and Ramirez and Lilly and Marmol go, unless of course someone was offering you increased value (which is doubtful, of course). But anyone outside of the "core" of this team, and certainly Heilman and Harden are not part of the "core", you gotta take that chance!
The guy on the other side of town? He's an assclown with delinquent kids, but he knew when to cut bait. He also has a ring. Therefore, he's a more decorated GM than you, and arguably a better one, and maybe you ought to take a cue from him.