What do Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, and Milton Bradley all have in common? Scratch that -- the more appropriate question is what don't they have in common.
All three have big contracts, given to them by a general manager who was likely bidding against himself.
All three are putting up "worst case scenario" numbers -- statistics you won't likely see from a playoff-bound outfield. Soriano is batting a meager .243 with a .303 OBP, 19 homers, 52 RBI, and 110 strikeouts in 108 games. (That's 7 more than he had last season in 12 more at bats.) Fukudome is batting .272 with a .390 OBP, 10 homers, 43 RBI, and a 43% success rate at stealing bases. And Bradley is batting .259 with a .390 OBP, 8 homers, 30 RBI, and a bad attitude. Oh, and collectively they're making something like 40 million dollars this season.
But apart from their big contracts and offensive suck, they have something else in common too -- they were coveted by OCD Hendry for years before he signed them. Soriano had been a target of the Cubs since his earliest days with the Yankees, where he was a reported Target of Interest in the never-occurred Sosa trade. Fukudome was being spoken of at Wrigley from as early as 2003, and Hendry had vowed to pursue him even before the 2006 season. And Bradley was a target of Jim's back in the Dusty days, with Baker pondering his ability to manage the troubled star should a trade come-to-fruition.
At this point, Hendry's idiosyncracies aren't even disputed anymore. He will always go out and acquire three of whatever he needs -- when the one that would suffice goes elsewhere. And he'll always covet certain players who, mark our words, will someday make their way to Wrigleyville. In a way, it's miraculous that ex Reds (and current Nationals) Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns -- perhaps Hendry's Most Coveted -- have avoided a Cubs uniform, but if Jim remains in charge it's probably only a matter of time.
So now we're left asking how the Cubs repair these mistakes. Let's break it down by player and problem:
When Soriano signed with the Cubs, my initial reaction was of joy and despair, mixed in equal portions. I wrote at the time that only Hendry could turn the joy of such an acquisition into a move that we'd all hate within three-or-so years (while also saying I wouldn't care if the Cubs won a Series beforehand).
So, here we are, at Year Three on the cusp of a possible -- if not probable -- Soriano decline. He has 5 years remaining, he'll make something like 18 million per year until he's done, and the Cubs are stuck with him. One reader suggested that Sori should be waived and given to the first team that claims him, although that's putting a huge assumption in any team stepping up to eat that albatross of a contract. I EMailed one Cubs beat writer asking if he knew as to whether or not Sori passed through waivers, and he said, "clubs, and particularly the Cubs, try to keep that stuff private. But I'm sure he was put on waivers, and I'm sure he cleared easily. Who would want that contract? Nobody in their right mind."
Therefore the Cubs may need to first hope that he will rebound from this horrible season, which remains a strong possibility. Soriano is 34 next season, and while he will almost certainly never hit 40 homeruns again it's still possible that he'll be a 30 homer guy if he gets everything working. As for his defense, he clearly belongs in the American League where they can hide him in the DH spot, but since that's not going to happen then the Cubs probably have to consider posturing to move him to first base once Lee's contract ends.
Otherwise, Hendry will need to consider dealing Soriano and eating probably half his remaining contract to find an interested buyer. For a guy already in his 30's when he signed, an 8-year 130+ million deal was just ridiculous. There's no way his career ends on a high note, unless his last homerun is a walk-off that wins the World Series.
We were hoping he'd be Our Ichiro. Turns out that was a bit of a mistake on our part. But while Fukudome is not, based on his numbers, a 14-million-a-year guy, he is defensively solid and he's not a negative presence in the lineup. It's just that he doesn't give enough positive, either. Still, in 160 fewer at bats this season he's already matched-or-surpassed last year's totals in doubles, triples and homers. I don't know if Rob would still call Fukudome a "bust," but he's certainly a winner only if we view him with diminished expectations.
On a team where Soriano is killing the ball, Fukudome's decent-but-not-rah-rah-great statistics would be acceptable. On a team where he is flanked by Milton Bradley, however, Fooky is a disappointment.
Earlier this year I compared him with Moises Alou, whose first-of-three years with the Cubs was a huge disappointment. The difference was that Alou got mad, stayed mad, and hit the crap out of the ball. When Milton gets mad, though, he seems to come apart mentally. Not good. He may not have the fortitude to ever succeed in Chicago.
But I'm willing to give him the chance. Maybe he's not the guy you want to be the face of the organization, but contrary to what fans seem to hope for, he does not appear to be a clubhouse cancer like Sosa was. Maybe he's never going to play in 150 games in a season, but we knew that coming in. What we were hoping for -- if not expecting, though -- was an OPS around 1.000 in his 120 games played. If he stays strong mentally, I expect him to meet that hope next season.
Still, it's pretty crappy that we have to basically hope for the unlikely -- in his and Sori's return to productivity -- because Hendry has left us with no alternative.
So, that brings us back to the general manager Jim Hendry. His time with the Cubs has been very mixed. He was, at the onset, viewed as a prospect guy. Only that's turned into a bust. Therefore to save his job he had to turn to expensive, somewhat old free agents. It worked, he's still got a gig, but burning the field to save the farm has its setbacks and we are experiencing that now.
So, since he hasn't been able to draft and develop, and since he's backing the Cubs into an unwinnable corner when it comes to huge contracts for untradable players, and since he can't seem to fill his team's gaping holes in a sensible way ...
...perhaps it's time for Jim Hendry to resign, or be fired, or get turned into a scout, or anything to get him out of a decision-making role in Chicago. Enough is enough.
I mean, he does kind of suck, but we did hold the World Champs down to one run in 12 2/3rds innings, and Jayson Werth has been kind of a beast the past two years, particularly to us. So it is unfair to be mad at the Shark. He didn't lose this game. Country Joe Blanton and Rodrigo Lopez are not Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez in their prime. But we've scored 2 runs in 22 innings so far this series. Our lack of offense lost last night's game. So lay off of Samardzija.
It is also not fair to be mad at Aramis Ramirez. He is not even close to 100%. But he came back and played when others might not, because we have no other options. 75% of him is better than anything else we have. Don't be mad at Derrek Lee and Ryan Theriot, either. Neither one did much to help last night, but they are the only two guys (three, counting Z) on the entire roster hitting their weight.
Don't be mad at Fukudome, either. It is fairly plain what he is and what he isn't at this point. He's also the best offensive outfielder we have right now. He will be run out there every day, batting leadoff, because we have no other choice.
Don't be mad at Jake Fox and Micah Hoffpauir, either, for both are, at best, NL pinch hitters or AL designated hitters. There is no reason whatsoever that we need both guys on this roster. One guy who can't catch, fine. (And don't tell me about Hoff's lunge into the stands, either. That was just silly. Nice catch, but it doesn't make him Torii Hunter, either). But one or the other should have been dealt for something we don't have - like a decent backup catcher, for instance.
Speaking of, don't bellyache about Koyie Hill. He sucks, but he's also the only catcher on the roster, and it takes guts to keep dragging your ass out there day after day when you know you aren't going to hit anything. You can be mad at Geo Soto for showing up out of shape and getting hurt. God knows I've been mad all year. Having said that, I hope and pray for his speedy recovery and that he actually runs a mile or two this winter, in prep for 2010.
And as for Jeff Baker, Andres Blanco, Aaron Miles, Mike Fontenot, Ryan Freel, Joey Gathright, and Sam Fuld, they certainly cannot help the fact they are not Chase Utley or Hanley Ramirez. God bless them in their future endeavors, and I hope that when I get a flat tire in their hometowns someday, that they won't try to push them damn Michelins on me or soak me for balancing.
Finally, give Uncle Lou a break. Yep, nearly everything he's tried so far this year has turned to pot. But good lord, he's had to deal with all the sucktasm I've mentioned so far, along with the last two 8-figure guys, Soriano and Bradley, neither of which are hitting .240 at the moment. Finally, Lou is starting to demand his boss trade for some gatdam hitting, and this is the Muskrat reporting this. Who knows what he actually said, and how many expletives he used to say it?
Once again, this is 100% Hendry's fault. He could have had Torii Hunter - he got Soriano instead. He could have had Raul Ibanez - but he had to have Bradley. He thought Fontenot could replace DeRosa, he thought he could get Jake Peavy, he thought Fukudome was back in Japan doing stomach crunches. And NOW, when the one man in baseball BETTER than Peavy is being shopped, we haven't heard a peep from Donut Jim. When Roy Halladay ends up a Phillie, that might be the day I come out here and shovel dirt on our grave, even if we're leading the Central, because then we aren't beating Philly or LA.
If he is being held hostage by Crane Kenney, Sam Zell and the sale of the team, he needs to step up and assert his authority, or resign. Of course, he isn't going to do that. If on the other hand, he has had free reign all along, and this is the best he can do, then he needs to be fired. Of course, Kenney isn't going to fire him. There will NOT be a deadline trade to Save the Cubs, and Soriano, Bradley, Fukudome, Ramirez and Soto are NOT going to come back in 2009 and play the way YOU THINK they are capable of, because they already ARE.
The only hope we have as fans to ever see another postseason game is for the freakin' sale to finally happen, and for Ricketts to find a capable GM. Until then, enjoy your .511 winning percentage, your .247 batting average and 15th best offense in the NL, because that's what we have. It is now late July. It is no longer early, and we do not have the luxury of playing Washington, Pittsburgh and San Diego the rest of the way. It is what it is. This is as good as it gets.
I met Jim Hendry once a few years back. I was shadowing a Sun-Times reporter for the day and was able to hang out in the Cubs dugout for a little while during batting practice. While sitting on the bench next to Jacque Jones, Hendry sat down on my other side and we started to make small talk. It was nice of him to give a young journalism student 10 minutes of his time to just shoot the breeze about whatever. Among other things, we talked about Park Ridge (where we both live) and high school football. It was nice and he was nice.
Unfortunately nice isn’t enough anymore. Especially when it comes to the GM of the Chicago Cubs.
Before the 2009 season started, lots of fans were excited at the idea of having Mark Cuban own the Cubs because we knew he was a passionate owner who would spare no expense in winning a championship. Now 70 games into the season, we’re all screaming for manager Lou Piniella to show some fire and get this team motivated.
But we are looking for passion and fire in the wrong place. We need it in our general manager.
We need a GM who doesn’t just want to win, but needs to win. We need a guy with a competitive fury that rivals that of the players on the field. We need a GM who will rip the competitions’ head off and defecate down their necks without thinking twice.
Not too long ago I read “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis and the type of psychotic behavior displayed by Oakland GM Billy Beane is the exact attitude I want my GM to have. This dude is throwing chairs through walls, telling people to eff off, and putting up 300 lbs. on the bench press during games. He is completely obsessed. All he wants to do is win. That’s what I want my GM to do.
Then I look at guys like White Sox GM Kenny Williams. Is he the smartest guy in the world? No. Does he have the biggest budget in baseball? No. But the guy makes moves that count and when he hits, he hits hard. Say what you will about Kenny, but he doesn’t believe in rebuilding and always does something that opens some eyes.
Or how about Cardinals GM John Mozeliak who not only got one of the best hitters on the trading block right now, but simultaneously gave Cubs nation a big “FU” at the same time.
Where’s our statement trade? Where’s our “FU” to our rivals?
For those of you who want to defend Hendry for not having the financial freedom to do anything because of the Cubs ownership issues, let me say that I only see this handcuffing as yet another reason to get rid of Hendry. If the Cubs can’t do anything to their roster and if Piniella’s job is safe, then there is only one move that we can/must do: Fire Hendry. We have no other options.
Jim, I like you and you’ve been a decent GM who has tried to make significant moves. Unfortunately you have come up empty over the past few years. Dems the breaks fella. Nice guys finish last today.
I have not read a single paper; or surfed the internet today; or listened to any monotonous sports radio. All I have done since 6 o'clock last night was watch the Cubs game, and come out here to see if anyone had anything to say.
No game recap. Well, I can't blame anybody for that. It is just too discouraging.
I have felt since March, when this team broke camp, that it was flawed. I thought they'd play far better than they have - then again, everybody save for The Riot, Ted Lilly, Angel Guzman, and possibly Derrek Lee the past two months have played to the absolute bottom of their expectations.
So I spent some time out here ripping on Geo Soto for showing up fat; on Milton Bradley for the miserable start of his Cubs Experience, and for having his head up his ass, as usual. I alluded to Big Z's latest broken promise of maturity, that Lee's best days were far behind him, and Fonz Soriano's typical all-or-nothing approach to the game. Lately I have been forced to admit that Kosuke Fukudome is Japanese for "Mr. April". Fool me once, shame on him. Fool me twice, perhaps this is a performance trend, that he feasts on early season mistakes, but once pitchers get command of their stuff, they can bust him inside and get him spinning like a damn silly top.
So from there I went on to notice that our fearless leader, Sweet Lou Piniella, had seemed to settle into a routine where he'd spend his days on the bench looking like he was suffering from sour stomach, then spend his evenings fielding questions and stuttering like Muhammad Ali. The man isn't exactly fit and trim; maybe he's suffering from some sort of dementia, brought on by blocked arteries to his brain caused by too much mayonnaise on his tortas back home? Could he just become stupid in the span of a year? Maybe he can't help it, maybe it's a age thing we all will deal with sooner or later?
Thing is, firing Lou Piniella ain't gonna fix anything. He isn't the problem. The problem has manifested itself in many ways, but all you had to see was the seventh inning of last night's game to understand.
Two outs, tie score, bases loaded, and Aaron (Gas Can) Heilman on the mound. Anything you get from him is gravy. Well, he induces the grounder to third, and what in the hell is Jake Fox doing down there? He dives for the ball, because a normal third baseman with normal infielder instincts would have fielded it cleanly, standing up. He snags it (yay) and gets up to fire over to Lee for the inning-ender. Except he isn't an infielder; in fact, he has no more acrobatic ability than you or I. He's a DH, a first baseman at best. He stumbles as he rises, double clutches, and does not get the runner at first. The lead run scores, Gas Can walks in another run because he's so rattled, and the way we're hitting these days with RISP, might as well piss on the fire and call in the dogs.
Fox was in there because Aramis Ramirez dislocated his shoulder, Mike Fontenot has been playing like a whipped dog since he started filling in there, Aaron Miles is as useless as a can of Glade in a landfill, and Andres Blanco has never had a good relationship with Major League pitching. Actually, I think Fox was in there to showcase him for a trade to an AL team. That worked out well, I think.
So now I understand why Sweet Lou is fumbling around. He is a man who values roster versatility, and right now he has none. He has four backup middle infielders, none of which can hit above .250. A second baseman playing shortstop, no backup third baseman. Three first basemen/DH, none of which play another position satisfactorily.
Three corner outfielders, which we are paying over $120 million to in he next three years: The Human Hitting Streak; Don't Wake Daddy who is, to put it kindly, not adjusting well to Cubdom; and Fukudome. None of the three will finish this year hitting over .250.
A young catcher that probably let last year's success go to his head, and a backup with a mangled hand who is regressing to his Mendoza line norm. A bullpen full of question marks, head cases and a long-suffering lefty starter being woefully misused at the moment as a LOOGY.
People, you too would sound constipated if you had to try to win games with the roster Jim Hendry has handed Lou Piniella. No legitimate leadoff hitter, supposed speed guys like Theriot and Soriano that have little speed, and little depth outside of first and second base.
Hendry has woefully miscalculated in his big corner outfield acquisitions; he has not brought in reliable bullpen help; he traded DeRosa for prospects in order to attract the Padres, and then did not follow through on the Peavy trade; and has taken the supposed 'prospects' he has developed (Pie, Murton, Patterson the younger; Hoffpauir, Fox, Gallagher) and gotten little more than a touchy 4th starter, a concussed utility man, and a stumbling clown pretending to be Ron Santo.
(Don't even think about it.......leave THAT line alone.)
Anyway, I don't even think you can blame the ownership situation at this point. Hendry has spent money; but outside of the Lilly signing, which he did flat on his back, all of the money has been pretty much blown.
Let's see if I've got this straight. At this moment, the Cubs have on their 25 roster 12 pitchers and 13 fielders.
Of those 12 pitchers, 7 are relievers. Of those 7 relievers, 1 is a Rule V pick and 1 is a LHP.
Of those 13 fielders, there are 2 catchers, 2 1B (one of whom can theoretically play RF and LF), 2 2B (one who plays third, one who plays shortstop), 1 SS, 1 3B, 2 LF (one who plays CF), 2 CF (one who can play all other outfield positions) and 1 RF.
At the moment, the following players are hurt: Derrek Lee (stiff neck), Aramis Ramirez (sore leg), Milton Bradley (sore groin), Carlos Marmol (sore leg), Geovany Soto (sore shoulder in my opinion).
That means the Cubs effectively have 2 catchers (Soto, Three Finger), 1 first baseman (Hoffpauir), 1 second baseman (Miles), 1 shortstop (Theriot), 1 third baseman (Fontenot), 2 left fielders (Soriano, Gathright), 1 center fielder (Johnson), and 1 right fielder (Fukudome).
This. Is. Not. GOOD.
But worse than this current situation of gum and twine is the fact that even if everybody is healthy they're still dangerously thin due to Lou's insistance of keeping 7 relievers and a backup first baseman. We've seen already just how easy it is for the Cubs to come undone by a few troublesome injuries. Therefore I am going to propose the following simple moves that the Cubs can take to rectify their current situation.
Round One: Disabled List Roll Call
- Place the following players on the DL: Milton Bradley, Geovany Soto, Carlos Marmol. Let's be honest. Bradley's a waste right now. Geo Soto has something wrong. Maybe a trip to the DL will help him straighten out his problems. And Marmol might be ok and not needing a trip to the DL, but better safe than sorry with your best arm out of the pen.
- I'd replace my DL'd Cubs with the following 3 players:
IF Bobby Scales - One of my favorite players from Spring Training, Scales has started out hot in Iowa batting .328 in 67 at bats. He'd be the eventual equivilent replacement of Joey Gathright once Bradley came back.
IF/OF/C Jake Fox - Fox plays first, third, and left field (and has caught in the past). Fox has already hit 11 homeruns in Iowa and was doing well in Spring Training before he got cut.
LHP Jason Waddell - the Cubs aren't exactly brimming with lefty talent this year, but Neal Cotts needs help. (Actually he needs to be cut but it ain't gonna happen just yet). I think the Cubs should promote Waddell - who has an ERA of 3.12 in 9 relief appearances - and, should Waddell be capable of handling major league hitting, cut Cotts and replace him with another lefty down the line.
Round 2: Roster Moves
So long as my three Cubs remained on the DL, I'd probably hold off on making too many roster cuts. However, once Bradley, Soto, and Marmol were set to return, I would cut the following players:
- Cut Joey Gathright. Whatever he brings to the table can't possibly be better than that of any number of minor league outfielders in the Cubs system. Maybe Lou chose to keep him around on the assumption that Milton Bradley would eventually get hurt, but Gathright is not receiving the play time - nor putting up the numbers - to justify a roster spot on a major league club.
- Cut David Patton. Sorry, I know, we love his unlikely story and the fact that he says Yogi Berraesque things. But the Cubs bullpen is too weak to justify his continued prescence. In fact, I reallllly don't understand this need for 7 relief pitchers. Let's just cut Patton and go with 6.
- Cut Angel Guzman. See above. It's time for Jim Hendry to let go; Guzman's ability does not justify his place on the roster, especially if Samardzija has been promoted to pitch in relief for the Cubs.
This would basically ensure a better balance on the Cubs. They'd no longer have 7 relievers, but the 6 in place would theoretically be a lot better at their jobs -- and as I previously mentioned, once Waddell proves himself as a lefty in the majors I'd cut Cotts and find somebody else to replace him.
Anyway, here's what the lineup would look like once everybody is healthy:
SP - Zambrano, Lilly, Dempster, Harden, Marshall
Bullpen - LHP Cotts, Waddell, RHP - Samardzija, Heilman, Marmol, CL Gregg
C - Soto, Hill
IF - Lee, Fontenot, Theriot, Ramirez, Hoffpauir, Miles, Scales, Fox
OF - Soriano, Fukudome, Bradley, Johnson, Hoffpauir, Fox
The team would be better balanced, they'd have greater depth, and they'd be less inclined to go all topsy-turvy at the first sign of multiple freak injuries. But maybe it makes too much sense to ever happen? You decide.
Yesterday I wrote a fairly long post on this topic, only to witness it disappear to the etherealms. Basically, there are a lot of ways to build a winning team - certainly more than the three-or-so I mentioned in yesterday's post. But to outline them a bit...
The Yankee Method: Throw as much cash at it as possible. With apologies to Jason, I don't think this one really works so well. The Yankees have spent more money on free agents just this year alone than what most third world countries spend in a fiscal year. I'm sure they are playoff bound - or at least, they'll be in competition to be for a long time - but throwing mounds of cash around has been proven to not always be the most successful way to win. Lucky for them, the Yankees also have a good farm system despite their decade-plus of winning. With players like Cano and Joba developing well and delivering at the Major League Level, it's not always about the biggest contracts for the Yankees.
The Red Sox Method: Similar to the Yankees, the Red Sox have mounds of money and they use it well. Also similar to the Yankees, the Red Sox have a strong farm system - again, despite being competitive for better than a decade now - and they have developed their fair share of talent. But something the Sox are doing that the Yankees don't is signing Risk Players... guys like John Smoltz, who are relatively affordable and, if even half of them pan out, then the Sox will be in the plus column.
The Rays Method: They are a poor team who play in the same division as some of the wealthiest in baseball, and yet it was the Rays who reached the World Series last year, beating the Red Sox in the ALCS to do it. They've benefited from prime draft slots, but their method has been admirable - they've grown a ton of talent while signing low-risk high-reward players on the free agent market. It will be hard for the Rays to repeat as AL East Champs in 2009, but I wouldn't be too surprised to see these guys make the playoffs again.
The Cubs Method: The problem with the Cubs situation is that Jim Hendry has been general managing with a sense of urgency ever since he should've been fired at the end of the 2006 season. Because he wants to keep his job, Jim Hendry has not afforded the Cubs time to take chances on home-grown talent like Felix Pie. Consequently, the Cubs have filled most of their biggest vacancies with expensive free agents like Soriano, Fukudome, Bradley, and Lilly. It's worked - the Cubs are back-to-back central champs, but the farm system remains in shambles. Luckily for Hendry, nobody seems to care.
There are a lot of ways to get to the playoffs, and that appears to be as much as anybody can ask for. Once a team is in, anything can happen. It's just been the misfortune of the Cubs that "anything" has so far consisted of "get swept in the first round."
My problem with The Cubs Method is pretty simple - it's not cost effective and it doesn't take advantage of the system. Probably the best way to win, at least in this jay-brone's opinion, is to learn the system and exploit it. Unfortunately for the Cubs, they're still treating their farm system like it was the 80's - they're drafting toolsy players with a ton of athletic ability, and they're hoping that these guys grow into their potential.
The only problem is that they aren't taking advantage of the wide array of statistical tools out there which can help outline the cheapest way to get the most wins, the best way to get the most from your hitters. He's still stuck in this old school way of thinking, and the problem is that old school is not always the best school. When it comes to developing talent, the Cubs are playing the game with their hands over their eyes and ears, ignoring modern ways of evaluation.
And that's why the Cubs are playing at a disadvantage. It hasn't stopped them from competing, and they are likely to three-peat, but as a Cub fan the frustrating thing is knowing that with this franchise, and with their money, they could do so much more and be so much better, which leads us back to this roulette game of finding a new owner. Will the next guy be modern? Will he have any clue about winning baseball? Or will he continue this cycle of overspending for immediate results while ignoring the need to create a foundation of future success?
Lots of questions, no answers so far.
I just spent about half an hour writing a thoughtful piece on different strategies for building a winning team. Then, when I went to save it for publishing, it mysteriously vanished. Damned gremlins.
Anyway, I don't have time to rewrite it right now, but I will try to publish it tonight when I have a chance. Instead, I'll just open the topic to everybody ... in your opinion, what's the best method for building a winning team? The Yankee Method? The Rays Method? The Cubs Method?
Discuss, and don't assume your perception of those methods are universal ... if you pick one, please define it too.
No, I'm not talking about his tab at the local donut shop ... looking back since Hendry first started to work for the Cubs, he has had his hand in every draft since 1995. When he became the GM in the middle of the 2002 season, his duties certainly would have changed at that point, but if there has been one person responsible for the organizational strategy toward development, then it would be Hendry.
In terms of his track record with pitchers, we could call it a success but only perhaps because a few Cubs pitchers have actually run the gauntlet and succeeded in the major leagues. However, his draft picks are spotty at best and he especially has a horrible track record with hitters. I pointed it out in a recent article and I'll say it again - the last Cub batters who had a long-term positive effect were Raffy Palmeiro and Mark Grace. There have been others since then who stayed in the majors for a while, guys like Rey Sanchez, Jose Vizcaino, Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith banged around the league for a while, Rick Wilkins played for 7 or 8 years, but none were stars, and none had more than a handful of good years.
Over in the SB thread, Goat Reader NEXTyearNOW says "that isn't fair, the rays have had the first pick in the draft for 10 years." It's true, but there have been plenty of teams - the Braves in particular - who've done better than the Cubs since 1995 and also fared better in terms of their talent pool. What's more, there have been 5 seasons since '95 in which the Cubs lost 90 games or more. Theoretically, that makes for plenty of chances to get it right, at least once. Here's how it looks:
1995 - RHP Kerry Wood - 4th overall pick - I can't argue with this pick as Wood was a good Cub and could've been a great one if his arm had stayed intact.
1996 - RHP Todd Noel - 17th overall pick - He never got above A+ ball, and he flamed out in 2000.
1997 - RHP Jon Garland - 10th overall pick - It's too bad Ed Lynch dealt him, because Garland has been a pretty decent player throughout his career.
1998 - OF Corey Patterson 3rd overall pick - Corey was Jim's first hitter ever chosen in the 1st round of a draft, and he demonstrated a lot of traits we'd see from so many other Hendry prospects - athletic without a hint of discipline.
Taken after C-Patt: OF J.D. Drew, OF Austin Kearns, SS Felip Lopez, 1B Carlos Pena, RHP Brad Lidge, LHP CC Sabathia
1999 - RHP Ben Christensen - 26th overall pick - Another pitcher, another bust. Put it in perspective - Hendry's batting 50-50 in pitchers chosen as of 1999.
2000 - SS Luis Montanez - 3rd overall pick - Just remember, this guy was chosen in part because they knew he'd sign for cheap. Montanez is now an Oriole who finally saw his first taste of major league action this past year, where he batted .295 in 112 at bats. In his last year with the Cubs, he was in Iowa and he batted .224 in 245 at bats with an OPS of .652.
Taken after Montanez: OF Rocco Baldelli, 2B Chase Utley, RHP Adam Wainwright
2001 - RHP Mark Prior - 2nd overall pick - Man, it's hard to criticize Hendry for this pick. Back when the draft was upcoming, there was a lot of debate as to whether or not the Cubs should've gone with Teixeira, but obviously they went with the Wuss instead.
Taken after Prior: RHP Gavin Floyd, 1B Casey Kotchman, RF Gabe Gross, 2B Mike Fontenot, SS Bobby Crosby, SP Jeremy Bonderman, SP Noah Lowry, 1B Mark Teixeira
2002 - RHP Bobbie Brownlie - 21st overall pick - When last seen in the Cubs organization, Brownlie went 0-3 with a 10.81 ERA in Iowa. Since then, he's bounced around between the Indy leagues, Cleveland, and the Nationals minor league teams.
Taken after Brownlie: SP Jeremy Guthrie, RF Jeff Francoer, SP Matt Cain
2003 - OF Ryan Harvey - 6th overall pick - Hmm. Jim Hendry had been involved in the Cubs drafts and farm system since 1995 by this point, and yet, Ryan Harvey is only the 3rd hitter taken under his watch. Harvey - who has never drawn more than 25 walks in a season - is 23, had his first taste of AA ball last year, and is a career .247 hitter in the minor leagues. Like Dolly Parton before him, Harvey looks rather ... busty.
Taken after Harvey: OF Nick Markakis, LHP Paul Mahom, LHP John Danks, 3B Ian Stewart, CF Lastings Milledge, 2B Aaron Hill, CF Brian Anderson, RF David Murphy, SP Chad Billingsley, LF Carlos Quentin
2004 - No First Round Pick
2005 - LHP Mark Pawelek - 20th overall pick - 4 years into his tenure within the Cubs organization, Pawelek is 6-12 with an ERA of 3.86 and he's yet to get above Low A ball. It's too soon to call him a bust, but he's not exactly atop many prospect lists anymore.
Taken after Pawelek: CF Jacob Ellsbury
And at that point I'll stop, because it's a little too early to call 2006 pick Tyler Colvin a bust, especially since he was in the Top 10 of our latest Cubs prospect list.
Anyway, as they say hindsight is 20/20, but I can't get over Hendry's inability to develop a hitter. Geovany Soto was the exception, and he wasn't drafted - he was found.
Maybe throughout the next week or two, we'll also look into the other draft rounds, depending on how easy it is to find that information. We can compare Cubs 2nd round choices with those of other teams, and onward into boredom or something more interesting springs up.
I had the chance today to look through the first round draft record of the Cubs since Hendry came aboard in 1995. I've expressed my opinion on Hendry's horrible record for a while now, and I am composing an article that looks deeper at the players the Cubs picked and those they overlooked.
But before I do, I thought I'd just ask you all - how do you think Hendry has done? Remember, he was director of the farm system before he became GM, so one way or another he's had his hands on the development of every Cub player since 1995, either through choosing the draft pick, or contributing strong advice to that choice, or hiring the guys who'd train them while also devising the organizational strategy toward development.
So, how has he done? I'll preface the topic by saying that I think he's done absolutely, inexcusably horrible.
Before I get into this post, I want to preference myself* by saying that I get heat over this topic all the time, which has never stopped me from maintaining the same opinion. Regardless, I'm not trying to be a dick or closed-minded about it.
(*inside joke. I know it's "preface.")
The only loyalty which exists in baseball lives within the fans. We are loyal to our teams, often to a fault. Once we've chosen the organization, we follow them be they triumphant or terrible. We have favorite players, we imagine a comradery between those players that probably doesn't exist, we buy their jerseys, wear their hats, chant their names, and live and die with their wins and losses. We also make the terrible assumption that the guys within the organization share the same feelings of loyalty that we have.
The truth of the matter is twofold: 1) the athletes play for money, not out of loyalty and 2) the executives manage the team like it's a business, also not out of loyalty. However I'll digress for a second to acknowledge that rare player and executive who is as loyal to the fans and city as the fans and city are to them. We had one of those guys on the Cubs - he just signed a 2 year deal with Cleveland because the executive made a business decision.
As a fan, I feel a lot of loyalty to the guys who've been on the team for a while. My current favorites are probably Derrek Lee and Carlos Zambrano. I appreciate them as Cubs. But as a rational human being, if Derrek's production dropped off the face of the earth, or if Carlos saw his arm explode and returned in 14 months with diminished talent, I'd drop them from the team as quickly as possible.
Baseball is about winning, but not because of the bragging rights that winning permits. Baseball is about winning because teams that win the most make a hell of a lot of money. It's probably no coincidence that the winningest team in baseball history makes the most money. In those terms, the Cubs are very much so in the black right now - they've been a "winning" team for two straight years, although they've failed to reverse the so-called curse.
But the thing is, baseball is very much so a What Have You Done For Me Lately sport. Examples:
- Hank Aaron. Dude's hit 755 homeruns. He's won championship rings. He's currently not signed with a baseball team. Nobody is springing to sign him. I only mention this ridiculous example because when we start to talk about baseball, we eventually roll out the cliches. "He knows how to win," we'll say, ignoring how that saying really says nothing. "He's a certified cleanup hitter. He's got 600+ career homeruns and the Cubs should sign him," we'll claim, ignoring that he's 40 years old, hit 20 homeruns last year, and is on a steep decline.
- Sparky Anderson. One of the winningest managers in baseball history, with numerous championships to his name. Teams aren't exactly blowing up his phone to get him to manage their team, though. Maybe it's because he's old, or because his final years in Detroit were mediocre at best. ...actually, is Sparky even still alive?
So, right now, based on the What Have You Done For Me Lately approach, I can't be too angry with Jim Hendry. After all, the Cubs went out and won back-to-back NL Central titles. For the past two off seasons, there wasn't a free agent Hendry didn't acquire if he set his sights on the guy. He made smart pickups this past year of Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds. He made a huge trade for Rich Harden that was one of the best Cub pick-ups in recent memory.
In other words, as of mid October 2008, Jim Hendry had done a lot for me.
Since then, he failed to re-sign Kerry Wood, an immensely talented closer. He either didn't have the players or the stones to trade for Jake Peavy. He hasn't upgraded at a single offensive position this off season.
Compound that with this - since he took over for the farm system, he has been instrumental in the most backwards, idiotic development strategy of hitters that I have ever seen. As of the 2008 season, only one homegrown hitter drafted or developed under the Hendry regime has been an All Star, and he's been at it for something like a decade. I challenge you to find me one other team that has developed only one All Star offensive player in 10 years - and if you look at the Cubs organization as a whole, probably the last home-grown All Star talent was Mark Grace/Raffy Palmeiro from the Dallas Green era!
Seriously, that is screwed up. When I think of that, I feel ANGER. To me, that is an epic failure without excuse.
Therefore, at the moment, I am supportive of Jim Hendry overall. I just worry that he's lost his mojo again. I worry further that he won't get the Cubs a good outfielder, which they need, and that he won't find a way to upgrade the middle infield, which they could benefit from. And if the Cubs enter March with some Jabrone in RF, Jason Marquis still in the rotation, and no other major upgrades to speak of, then the answer to the What Have You Done For Me Lately question would be ... not a whole heck of a lot.
Thankfully, there's still time. Until then, I'll hold my tongue, it's only fair.