I decided to give myself a few weeks off as you've probably noticed for a couple reasons. 1 - The Cubs have stunk something awful or at least mediocre since then unless they've been playing the team they just beat or the one that rhymes with $h!tsburgh Highhats. 2 - In my time off, I've come to sort my emotions from what makes sense and have taken the last week to prep for a post that points the finger at the big guy -- Jim Hendry.
Today, in my little remote corner of the blogosphere, Jim Hendry is on trial. The Cubs' General Manager since mid-2002, the defendant has exuded plenty of evidence of his skills. Together, we're going to look back on his five best and worst moves, consider that in a progressive context (emphasis on his recent activity) and determine a verdict. We know Ricketts will retain Hendry for 2010, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree. I will play the role of attorney, judge, jury and we'll see about executioner.
Sorry, I'm not going to be this literal, but I do want to call myself the Honorable Judge Chaitman.
My opening argument against Hendry, without consideration of the evidence at this point, is to say that he's guilty on account of jacking up the Cubs payroll the last few years that with the intention of winning a World Series, didn't accurately project the viability of this team beyond a few years and that in the last year, his moves broke team chemistry and set the Cubs up for disappointment if not failure. In his defense, Hendry has been aggressive and done everything he can to give the Cubs pieces they've needed to stay competitive and win. In this case, the players have simply let him down by drastically and unpredictably underperforming.
Now it's time for the evidence against aka the five worst moves of Hendry's time as a General Manager. Let's start with the fifth worst:
Exhibit A: Signing of LaTroy Hawkins on Dec. 3, 2003
Hendry had to address some bullpen issues after the Cubs' traumatic loss in the NLCS. Antonio Alfonseca was proving worthless and the Cubs had two 37-year-olds in Mark Guthrie and Mike Remlinger. He went out and got 31-year-old Hawkins to be a set-up man, but Joe Borowski's injury forced Hawkins into the closer role. His ERA was fine, but Hawkins blew 9 saves and many down the stretch when the Cubs were hoping for a Wild Card birth. The next season he continued to stink in April/May and the Cubs traded him away to San Francisco for David Aardsma. Hendry signed Hawkins to a two year contract that paid him over $7 million, and squeezed him into a pressure role he hadn't been in in a few years in a city in the wake of one of its most devastating playoff loss. A lot of that has to go to Dusty Baker, but no injuries forced Hawkins to close in 2005 when he imploded. This is the first piece of evidence as its emblematic of the many poor veteran relievers Hendry has brought in over the years.
2003-2004 was Hendry's first off-season as GM and Hawkins was his first bad move. Hawkins had played seven full major league seasons and was 31 coming off his best year looking for big money. That sound similar to any other player Hendry has signed in the last few years that currently stink? And he didn't learn his lesson signing another reliever in Bob Howry to a three-year deal.
Exhibit B: Trading for Nomar Garciaparra on July 31, 2004
The Cubs clearly needed a boost in 2004 and they turned to the hottest name on the market, multiple-MVP winner Nomar Garciaparra of the Boston Red Sox. In a complex deal, the Cubs dealt three players to the Montreal Expos including 2003 scapegoat Alex Gonzalez and got Matt Murton and Nomar from the Red Sox.
Garciaparra contributed with a strong batting average in the final two months of the season, but other problems plagued the Cubs that season and he was no savior-type player. His power numbers vanished. Once a perennial 20 HR/100 RBI guy, he hit 13 HR and 50 RBI in 105 games in a Cub uniform from Aug. '04 through Sept. '05. A huge DL stint made him a non-factor though most of his time as a Cub and so Hendry let him go prior to the 2006 season. As for Matt Murton, the redhead never panned out for the Cubs, though he did help them in obtaining Rich Harden last season.
Generally, when a team such as the Boston Red Sox lets go of the face of its franchise when he turns 30 and misses the first half of the season he gets traded in with an injury, you're probably not getting the player you think you're getting. The Cubs had relief issues to address and an injury-marred pitching staff despite the need for an everyday shortstop. Hendry though he was punching a ticket to a Wild Card in 2004 when he just bought himself a hole at short that wouldn't be filled until 2007. Being aggressive and getting the flashy name when the warning signs are there became a trademark of Hendry's regime as early as this deal.
Exhibit C: Giving the richest deal in Cubs’ history to Alfonso Soriano on November 20, 2006.
Give it a couple years and this will be the number one worst deal Jim Hendry made, but only because Soriano has contributed to the Cubs’ success the last two years. But Soriano’s 8 yr/S136 M contract plus no trade clause could be the worst deal in Cub history in addition to the most expensive. Soriano, over the course of his career, would make more money than the entire payroll this season.
It all started in the 2006 off-season, when Dusty Baker was fired and Hendry got the green light to spend whatever he could to bring a World Series to Chicago in the next few years. Hendry basically took a look at the biggest name on that list, Alfonso Soriano, and emptied the checkbook.
In a big contract year with the Washington Nationals in 2006, Soriano was this proverbial multi-tool player who hit the most home runs in his career (46) and tied his career base-stealing high (41). Hendry saw those numbers, knew Soriano could play the outfield from a year in Washington and gave the 30-year-old an unprecedented 8-year contract thinking he would happily retire a Cub after leading them to a World Series.
From the get-go, Soriano hasn’t been what the Cubs paid for. He hasn’t stolen 20 bases and he hasn’t played a full season in a Cub uniform. He averaged 150 or so games a year in the six years before coming to Chicago and since has averaged about thirty games less. At the moment, he’s just undergone knee surgery.
That’s apart from his streaky hitting and absence from Cub playoff games. One reason the Yankees didn’t care to keep Soriano back in the early 2000s was because he had a lousy playoff history with a .233 BA. As a Cub, Soriano is 3-for-28 in the playoffs. Fielding-wise, his assists have gone down and his errors up in his three seasons as a Cub. This year, he finished with a .241 batting average and put up career-worst numbers in nearly every offensive statistic. Only three years into his contract, Soriano might never again be the player he was with the Cubs ever again, let alone the player they thought they were getting in 2006. Hendry’s mistake was monumental. No proof existed that Soriano would ever push the Cubs to a World Series or carry the team on his back for more than a week at a time.
Exhibit D: Trading Mark DeRosa for minor leaguers on December 31, 2008
The DeRosa trade was not so much a bad thing statistically. Nearly all of DeRosa’s numbers are down this year due to injuries, but Mark brought things to the team and the clubhouse that were invaluable though not always seen on the field. Hendry’s trading him away to clear cap space knowing that they wouldn’t resign him after the 2009 season anyway was the biggest step toward derailing the Cubs in 2009.
DeRosa was a team leader, a clubhouse presence and a face for the organization to the media. He loved playing in Chicago and he had proven in 2008 that he deserved to play out the final year of his contract with the Cubs. Removing him was a catalyst for the Cubs’ team problems this season.
More importantly, however, was his versatility. He might have been right-handed, but he could at least five different positions, one of them being third base. Aramis Ramirez had an injury history and DeRosa was his only back-up. Sure enough, Ramirez goes down and misses nearly three months with a separated shoulder. The Cubs bench was flooded with minor leaguers trying to plug in all the holes. DeRosa would’ve played third base the entire time; Fontenot and Miles or Blanco would have been a platoon at second. Instead, the Cubs had to have a weak bottom third of the lineup instead of 8 and 9 hitter for the early portion of the season.
Cubs fans had every right to be livid about the DeRosa trade, regardless of the man they signed to replace his production in the line-up. Perhaps, however, the bigger problem was that the Cubs couldn’t legitimately trade any other starter on the team to shed payroll because Hendry had locked them all up for too long and with no-trade clauses. The move most likely cost the Cubs at least a Wild Card push this season. And then like out of a nightmare, DeRosa gets traded to the Cardinals. You couldn’t have scripted a better horror.
Exhibit E: Signing Milton Bradley on January 9, 2009
Unquestionably the worst move Hendry made in his days up in the booth at Wrigley, the signing of Milton Bradley combines all these elements into a sweeping argument for what Hendry’s problems are.
After another quick playoff exit, Lou Piniella told Jim Hendry he needed a left-handed bat in the line-up, identifying having too many righties as the biggest problem, especially with last year’s disappointing performance from Kosuke Fukudome. With all that in mind, Hendry had one option: move Fukudome into a center field platoon and find a right fielder who can hit left-handed with some power and the ability to drive in runs. Once again, Hendry looked at the biggest name on the list and found his guy early on: Milton Bradley.
Bradley came off a career-reviving year while playing DH for the Texas Rangers in 2008. He was voted to his first All-Star game and finished 17th in AL MVP voting. He hit .321 with career highs across the board in on-base percentage, home runs and RBI and he even managed to play in over 100 games (126), something he hadn’t been able to do since 2004 due to injuries. All this at the age of, you guessed it, 30 years old.
The deal was three years at $30 million for a player who hadn’t played three full years on a team in his entire career, one who was known for getting hot-headed and missing a lot of time due to injury. Yet Hendry was committed to Bradley, ignoring other left-handed right fielders with a similar price tag such as Raul Ibanez (currently hitting .278 with over 30 HR and 86 RBI in fewer games with Philadelphia).
To make matters worse, the signing required the clearing of salary space because Hendry had saddled the team with a tremendous payroll this season. Mark DeRosa was traded and a horrible Aaron Miles signed to a two-year deal in his place; Let Henry Blanco go with only one season’s proof from Geovany Soto; Kerry Wood was unsigned and a horrific Kevin Gregg took his place; and Jason Marquis traded to Colorado where he’s close to career numbers this season for nothing but a relief pitcher the Cubs cut after a week (Luis Vizcaino).
The results? Bradley is hitting .237 from the left side with 39 total RBI, ninth of all Cubs. He has made some mental mistakes (losing balls in the sun, throwing away a baseball with only two outs) and he has caused headache in the clubhouse and with his statements to the media. He has little to no friends on the team. He’s the Anti-DeRosa.
Could Hendry have predicted all of this? No, but he could’ve seen some of those obvious signs. Once again, Jim threw money at a 30-year-old player, this one with an injury and attitude history and no proof that he could play at 2008 caliber for more than one season with the same team.
Closing Argument: Jim Hendry, since the 2006 off-season, has improperly handled the high payroll given to him, signing aging players coming off great contract years to overpriced contracts and ignoring the obvious warning signs. He has been aggressive, but ignorant; shown the desire to put together a winning team, but lacked complete foresight to give the Cubs an easy back-up plan should his players be injured or underperform.
Check back later this week for the arguments in Hendry’s defense and the verdict.