The Hendry conundrum
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.