Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Jim Hendry

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Pitching conundrums

It's getting closer to the point where Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood should start receiving outlandish and ridiculous contract offers from teams desperate for a starter and closer. Meanwhile, Jim Hendry's focus remains on Jake Peavy, which Paul Sullivan reports could affect whether or not the two fan favorites return to Chicago next season.

Considering how up-in-the-air the bullpen is, and especially considering how much Kerry Wood means to the team and their fans, I think that Hendry re-signing Wood is a no-brainer.  However, Dempster obviously becomes a low-priority so long as Peavy may accept a trade to Chicago.

Now, something that Sully reflects on in his piece is this: The question Dempster must ask himself is: Why should I take a hometown discount when the team is apparently willing to spend more money on Peavy?

Obviously I can't get into the mind of Clownsevelt, but I can tell you how I would feel were I in his position.  Dempster appears to like Chicago, and he is apparently willing to take a discount to remain a Cub.  While he hasn't expressed a willingness to take a paycut to improve the talent of the team - ala Sutcliffe in '87, who was willing to take a six figure cut in pay if it meant signing Andre Dawson - I can't believe that Dempster would oppose the acquisition of an uber-talented starting pitcher like Peavy, as it improves the team's chances of winning next season, with one exception.

If Peavy comes, it is likely that Dempster goes.  That's the issue at hand.  But what if Hendry was able to sign Peavy, and re-sign Dempster?  If he's able to find a taker for Marquis, it's a wash - Peavy's contract pays only $500k more next season than the contract of the Marquis de Suck.

It's also likely that Hendry should have the money to pay Kerry Wood what he's worth.  In fact, Hendry certainly has the money for Dempster, too.  I don't think the dollar figures are the issues, I think the years desired are what is holding things up.  Dempster certainly wants minimally a 4-year deal - that's a year too many, and Wood probably wants minimally a 3-year-deal, which Hendry might be reluctant to offer.

I realize that the money train isn't unlimited, the Cubs have a budget, and we all want to see them upgrade the offense, but comparably there's no reason they can't do both.  It's just a matter of Hendry needing to go bargain hunting for an outfielder if he pulls off a Supra Upgrade of his rotation.  Regardless, it remains a cunundrum, but it is one with a potentially very happy outcome.  Let's just hope that Hendry doesn't try to grab too much and come away with nothing at all.

Critiquing Being the GM

Several years ago, a blogger and Red Sox fan named Evan Brunell - also an owner of MVN - penned a massive, 3 part article for GROTA on why Theo Epstein is the best general manager in baseball.  (You can read Part One here.)

A few days ago, he wrote an article on what he'd do if he was the GM of the Cubs.  He then EMailed us to get the word out, asking if we'd mention the article on GROTA.  Now, typically we are reluctant to do that because links are valuable and most of the time, the requests to link are ludicrous.  But that wasn't the case with Evan, and in my constant quest for blogging material, I decided to take it a step further and actually critique his piece.  You can read his article in its entirety here: Being the GM: 2009 Chicago Cubs.  So, without further delay ...

1. Chicago Cubs resign closer Kerry Wood.
Evan writes, "The team should be motivated to bring Wood back as he excelled out of the closer's role and there's no reason to try to fix what ain't broken."

It's hard for me to contest this point.  Wood is the modern day Cub, and good closers are hard to come by.  While there has been some debate and speculation of Wood leaving the team at last, you have to figure that Hendry would make more than a token offer to retain Wood, and it also seems sensible that if the Cubs come anywhere near the other offers, Wood would choose to stay in Chicago.  In this case, I agree with Evan.

2. Chicago Cubs sign SP Sidney Ponson.
Evan writes, "In this series, Ryan Dempster signed with the Colorado Rockies, so the Cubs will need to move to bring in competition... Ponson's character certainly comes into question, but there's no overlooking his success in Texas last year. His later failures with the Yankees should serve to make Ponson cheap enough that the club can bring him in to compete for a starting spot."

And here's where we go off the rails.  I think Evan is looking at this from the wrong perspective - these aren't the Can't Afford 'Em Cubs.  Chicago is a major market, the Cubs are an incredibly wealthy and valuable team, and there's just no way they'd replace a 17 game winner with a guy half a decade removed from his last good season who had a handful of good starts for Texas.  I've also got to disagree about Dempster going to Colorado - my gut tells me that if they lose A.J. Burnett, the Blue Jays will focus in on Dempster.  And the Cubs won't stick a white flag in next year's season by signing a turd like Ponson.

3. Chicago Cubs sign reliever Horacio Ramirez.
Evan writes, "Ramirez makes a lot of sense. He's left-handed, plus he has a history of starting and can step into the rotation if the team needs him to."

Despite having a cool first name*, and in spite of his comparative youth (he'll be 29 next season), Ramirez has never posted a Sub-4.00 ERA in a full season in the majors.  He might have some upside, but I think the kind of team that will pursue him will be somebody like the Royals or Pirates - not a first place team like the Cubs.  The Cubs have a number of pitchers who can spot start, and there is actually an abundance of talented lefty relievers available this off season who the Cubs will target over somebody like Ramirez.

(*His first name is cool, but not if it actually belongs to your child.  Even if I wanted to, my fiancee would probably kill me first before giving in and naming our future son "Horacio.")

4. Chicaco Cubs resign C Henry Blanco, 1B Daryle Ward.
Evan writes, "they should come back at lower prices because the two players are great complementary players for the Cubs. Blanco is a great backup while Ward is one of the better pinch-hitters in the game."

I'm with Evan on Blanco, but with Micah Hoffpauir serving as a younger, cheaper, more effective - and less big-butted - version of Ward, it seems unlikely that Daryle will be back in Chicago.

5. Chicago Cubs sign second baseman Ray Durham.
Evan says, "(One option) is signing Durham to be their starting second baseman. Mark DeRosa can shift to right-field and Pie can return to Triple-A. Durham proved that despite his injury troubles, he can still rake. The club should have plenty of depth in DeRosa and Mike Fontenot to weather any injuries from Durham."

Evan is right that the Cubs may seek to improve their middle infield, and if they do they very well might put DeRosa in right field on a more regular basis.  However, what the Cubs were lacking last season cannot be solved by an aging player like Ray Durham.  Yes, they need a leadoff guy - which Durham doesn't have the speed for - but they also need some more reliable offensive production over what they got last year, and they'd essentially be replacing Fukudome's bat with Durham's, while replacing the bat of Jim Edmonds with Fukudome's.  That's not enough of an upgrade, even if Durham has a good 2009. Also, I'm pretty sure Pie is out of options and cannot return to Iowa.

So, Evan is suggesting that the Cubs do the following:

1. Replace Dempster with Ponson. 
2. Return Wood, Ward, and Blanco.
3. Upgrade in the bullpen with Ramirez.
4. Effectively replace the offensive contributions of Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds (.290 AVG, 23 HR, 101 RBI, .374 OBP, .858 OPS from all players in CF last year) with Ray Durham (.289 AVG, 6 HR, 45 RBI, .380 OBP, .812 OPS, will be 37 next year)

I think that if the Cubs made those moves, they would struggle to win 85 games next year.  There are no upgrades to speak of, and they would likely fare worse as a team both on the mound and offensively.

At this point, these are just some of the numerous articles we've written about what the Cubs can do in 2009:

Rob's Big 25 for 2009
You Be the GM!
by me
My Own 2 Cents - also by me
The 2009 Free Agent Preview Pt 1
The 2009 Free Agent Preview Pt 2
The 2009 Trades to be Mades Pt 1
The 2009 Trades to be Mades Pt 2
9 Reasons the Cubs Will Shine in 2009

And that doesn't even count the numerous hot stove articles written by Colin.  Yet, ironically, I will be writing another "Moves to be Made" article probably on Monday.

The point I want to leave Evan with is this: when you wrote your article, I think you should have seen the Cubs the way you might see the Red Sox in terms of their shared desire to scratch and claw their way to improvements every single year, and also in terms of their constantly growing payrolls.  In terms of mega teams who throw good money after bad, the Cubs are fairly new to the party - but they are there nonetheless, and there's no way they - or we the fans - would be satisfied with the moves you've suggested.  They won't grab a Soriano, or toss money at a Fukudome, but they are going to upgrade drastically in at least one position, and for one simple reason - they were good last year, but they weren't good enough.  Jim Hendry does not have idle hands.

Hendry speaks

Now that Hendry’s extension is out of the way, he’s started to talk about the direction the Cubs are headed in this offseason. The interesting thing is that the storyline is shaping up to be Dempster stays, and Wood goes.

From Bruce Miles:

"I had a lot of talks with Ryan - not dollars and cents talks - during the season," Hendry said. "Ryan knows we want him to stay here. He's never expressed a desire that he wanted to leave. We have not had formal conversations yet. But I expect to speak with Ryan's agent and Ryan himself, possibly, in the next week or so."

And Carrie Muskat:

"Ryan knows we want him to stay here, and he's never expressed a desire that he wants to leave," Hendry said Monday. "Certainly, the year he had and type of clubhouse presence he is and total team guy, we certainly have every intention of trying to keep Ryan."

Now, here’s what he says about Wood:

"We're going to get our plan together, and we'll try to move forward with what we think is best for the organization," Hendry said. "Kerry has done a terrific job in the closing role. But at the same time, there's a lot of conversations that have to happen with his representatives and him as to what his desires are and what type of contract he's looking for."

The tenor there seems different. Keep in mind that Wood is probably the consolation prize for whoever wins loses the K-Rod Derby – it’s a thin crop at closer this offseason, especially if Hoffman gets retained by the Padres and the Brewers exercise their option on Salomon Torres. There’s nothing the hot stove loves to do more than shower stupid money on relief pitching. Especially for guys who are “proven closers.”

Also, Kremlinologists among you can have fun parsing this statement about Felix Pie:

"We feel Felix is going to be a good player," Hendry said. "You're talking about a 23-year-old kid. He'll be an out-of-options player. Without any kind of injury or significant change, he'll have a very good chance to make the ballclub out of Spring Training."

Of course, I’m glad that Hendry isn’t simply looking at this as a way to fix the team’s October “problem”:

"I don't know how you differentiate between you build a team for April to September and then you try to build something different for October," Hendry said. "We had as good a team as there was in the National League. We had the best record. We just played bad baseball for three days. We stunk last year against the Diamondbacks. We're all going to put our heads together and see if there are other ways we think we can improve the club. All you do is try to get in every year and keep working on trying to get better once you get in there to accomplish that goal. There's a whole history in professional sports of clubs that kept getting close and kept getting close and finally they knocked that door in. That's what we're going to continue to try to do."

Your milage may vary.

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.

Jim Hendry extended for four years

Per the Tribune. Hendry had an option to return for 2009, but could have left the team in December if he wanted to try and find greener pastures elsewhere.

Now that Hendry's impending free agency is off the table, he has to tend to his own impending free agents. The first decision is probably to figure out whether or not to exercise Henry Blanco's $3 million option for next season. The Cubs have to decide whether or not they pick up the option after the end of the World Series. (Blanco has a $300,000 buyout, and the Cubs could still try to resign him after buying out his option.)

Prospects on the move?

At some point in the near future, we're going to run our promised Prospects on the Move series, but I actually think it's possibly too big for a single posting.  It might actually require . . . research.

In other news, it looks like my post about the Rays not being a sure thing was timely, despite the fact that it didn't go live until, what, the 7th inning last night?

Colin reported yesterday that the Cubs and Jim Hendry are negotiating an extension.  Part of the concern appears to center around Hendry not wanting to be a "lame duck" GM for the next owner who comes along, thus, he doesn't necessarily want to exercise his one year extension.

My concern is that they are over-thinking it a bit.  Hendry probably thought that he'd have one year, by contract, to prove himself as a competent GM to the next owner who comes along.  Then, because of the pending delay, it now appears as though Jim might have less than one year - in fact, for all we know, the next owner won't be here until after the '09 season, when Hendry's contract would be set to expire.  Over-thinking in its finest.

I think basically the Cubs need to do one of two things.

1) Offer Hendry a one year deal plus an option, just like the last one.  That would keep him around through 2010, again giving him the chance to prove himself to the new owner.

2) Say "screw it" and give him a 3-4 year deal.  If the new owner is unhappy with this, he can fire Hendry and Jim walks away with the last 2 years of his contract in his pocket.

Either way, it appears as though Hendry is not hurting for job opportunities.  Seattle has inquired about him, and I doubt they will be the last.  It's pretty funny.  Two years ago, I couldn't wait for him to be gone.

Hendry down on farm - looking for final pieces

Described as an annual "farm tour", Cubs GM Jim Hendry attended the I-Cubs win last night over New Orleans.  If I were a talented player, perhaps a player who has already seen major league action this year, and currently holds a major league batting average over .370, I would be heartened to know that the Big Boss is here to see me rake.

Daryle Ward has a .100 batting average as a pinch hitter.  He cannot run nor play the field.  If he manages to get on base, we almost always have to employ yet another bench player to run for him.  Last night he got a sac fly to drive in a run, and it seemed like a major victory for him.  Like the scene in "Little Big League", when Billy Hayward's favorite player broke a 0-for-21 slump with a seeing-eye squibber to right...it's time to put the Fat Kangaroo out of his misery.

Jimmy, bring home more than just some funnel cakes and beef jerky from your trip.  Bring us some Micah Hofpauir, and some bullpen help while you're at it.  I'm stickin' the fork in Bob Howry.  He's done.

Cubs Luxury Box doesn't make crappy game any better

I've been to a 'lot' of Cubs games in my life, and I've sat in most every section in the park at one point or another, but I've never had the chance to take in a game from a Wrigley Field Luxury box until today. (Update: I've done a full review of the Cubs Luxury Box amenities at The Cubdom.)

First, for those plebes out there who have never 'done Wrigley' in style, the luxury boxes are a fun experience. When we got there, there was a warmer full of Hot Dogs and popcorn chicken. There was a small fridge stocked with Beer (the usual park selections of Old Style/Light and Budweiser/Bud Light), several bowls of nuts, a vegetable platter, a poor selection of warm sodas (Pepsi & diet Pepsi), and two TVs. One TV was a big-screen flat panel plasma, and the other was probably 17 inches. Interestingly enough, the TV was carrying the WGN-TV signal, but the WGN-AM radio sound.

The luxury boxes apparently come in two sizes, singles and 'double plays'. We were in a single. The suite itself was maybe 12 foot deep by 10 feet wide. There was a bar with three stools inside, but no other seating. Outside, we had twelve padded chairs that were fairly comfortable.

Now for the good part. We were directly behind the catcher. We could see everything, the seats were awesome, and with a little practice I could actually begin to judge whether a flyball is going to be a homerun or not.

Today was also a perfect weather day for baseball. Unfortunately, our box wasn't about to get any sunshine being located directly below the upper deck. On the otherhand it was incredibly pleasant to just sit there and take in the game.

Like my other luxury box experience (White Sox), I found it very difficult to get 'into' the game. There are so many distractions in the luxury box that it is easy to miss half an inning without blinking.

For example, in the fourth inning, I missed a Bucs' home run because I was busy choosing between Snickers Pie, Carrot Cake, or an Ice Cream Sundae from the dessert cart. (I went with the ice cream Sundae because I wanted the plastic Cubs helmet in which it was served.)

Of course there are advantages to being in the luxury boxes too. For instance, our box was *right* next to Jim Hendry's box that he uses as an office. It's not everyday that you can give the Cubs' GM a death glare whenever one of his players makes a fundamental error (as they did on several occasions today.) Honestly, I'm not joking. I was sitting ten feet from Jim Hendry at todays game.

Anyhow, despite the nice perks of a luxury box, it still doesn't feel like you're really attending a baseball game. Of course, if I had the choice again, I'd sit in the luxury box in a snap... I'd just never pay for it.

On the field, well Carlos Zambrano didn't pitch well, and the Cubs decided not to actually show up today. There were several mental errors and a few physical errors. For example, and I don't want to pick on Ronny Cedeno, but these come to mind: In his first game at second, he couldn't turn a double play early in the game. He lost the ball in his glove. This failure to turn two cost the Cubs a run. Later, he didn't stay on the base, instead he went out to shallow center to cut off a weak throw from Juan Pierre. The runner who had singled, played heads up ball and took second.

Of course, there's no point in pointing fingers. As (I think) Kurt said earlier this week, if you're trying to win a game 0-0, you're not going to be successful very often. Indeed, the Cubs allowed the Pirates several runs, but any ONE of those would have been sufficient.

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