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Extravagance and inefficiency
How much bang for buck are Hendry, big-market GMs getting?
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Columnist

Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, right, and Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti have criticized for their big-budget teams.

 

Associated Press

Dodgers GM Ned Coletti

 

Associated Press

New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya has spent heavily to attract talent.

 

Associated Press

Even with two World Series rings, Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein has plenty of critics who say he overpays for players.

 

Associated Press

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Published: 7/24/2009 12:02 AM

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Came across this column the other day while doing my daily research.

See if anything rings familiar before I fill in the name:

"(The general manager) can afford to be wrong. That's the bottom line. In more ways than one.

"Because (the team's) bottom line is considerably more lucrative than that of most other clubs in baseball- (the GM) can afford to overpay for underachieving players. He can afford to make mistakes that most other GMs cannot."

You may have heard this sentiment voiced about Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, but this column was penned by the Providence Journal's Jim Donaldson, who wondered just how good a GM Theo Epstein of the Boston Red Sox really is.

Talk about a tough crowd. Epstein has two things Hendry doesn't have: World Series rings.

But it's an interesting point in this day of big-market and small-market disparities in major-league baseball.

Epstein has made his share of mistakes, and he was man enough to admit his latest: shortstop Julio Lugo, whom the Red Sox just traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.

The writer pointed out a few other "mistakes" in Boston: Matt Clement, Edgar Renteria, J.D. Drew.

Other big-market GMs also can afford to eat their bad moves without the consequences that would await a GM in a small market. The Mets' Omar Minaya (who decimated the small-market Expos when he was in Montreal) has gotten little from a big payroll with the Mets.

Ned Colletti of the Dodgers overspent on Juan Pierre and Jason Schmidt. And the Giants' Brian Sabean gave big dough to Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand.

Which brings us to the Cubs and Hendry.

Back in 2006, when the Cubs were on their way to a disastrous 66-win season, I wrote that if the College of Coaches was the most embarrassing era in team history, the Andy MacPhail era had to be the most disappointing, considering MacPhail's pedigree and the money at his disposal.

What of the Hendry era, which began in mid-2002?

Although Hendry has three division titles to his credit (but only one postseason series win), his tenure is being marked by unprecedented extravagance and inexcusable inefficiency.

In other words, Hendry and his bosses too often have been guilty of spending the money now, worrying about the consequences later, and not getting enough bang for all those bucks.

Hendry has made some good investments. Ted Lilly, Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, the since-traded Mark DeRosa, Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster have produced.

But for the dough Hendry has shelled out, approximately $135 million for this year alone, the Cubs should have a better record than their mediocre 48-45 mark.

Let's break down the bad money into big-ticket, medium-ticket and nickel-and-dime categories while trying to find the underlying rationale for the moves:

Big-ticket bad money: Alfonso Soriano's eight-year, $136 million contract is one of the most egregious of all time. The Cubs overpaid Soriano because they needed credibility after the embarrassment of 2006. However, Soriano isn't the player the Cubs thought they were getting.

He no longer can run. He's a liability on defense. And he went well over a month between homers this year. If he's not hitting for power, he's of little or no value.

It's a contract that will haunt the Cubs for years to come.

Medium-ticket bad money: Milton Bradley's $30 million and Kosuke Fukudome's $48 million aren't providing good returns on investment, and each presents compounding problems.

The Cubs were late to the on-base percentage party, and they thought they could get it started with Fukudome. It worked for a while last year before Fukudome went into the tank. He has been up-and-down this year, but that's not good enough for $48 million.

Fukudome's failures of 2008 forced Hendry to look for another outfielder, that and field manager Lou Piniella's fixation on a "left-hand" bat.

The switch-hitting Bradley has been a failure from the left side, so much so that he has needed remedial hitting lessons from Piniella. And Bradley hardly has been the positive "fiery" clubhouse guy the Cubs hoped they were getting. On some days, he's seems downright miserable.

Nickel-and-dimed: On the same day the Cubs traded DeRosa, they signed infielder Aaron Miles to a two-year, $4.9 million deal after the Cardinals chose not to offer Miles a contract.

Miles has been hurt much of the year, and the Cubs seem in no hurry to bring him back off the disabled list. Nice luxury, eh?

This signing, as much as any other, illustrates the inefficiency of the Cubs' operation, and it's reminiscent of the two-year deal Hendry inexplicably gave to infielder Neifi Perez a few years back.

This year, the Cubs got better production from career minor-leaguer Bobby Scales, who played for the big-league minimum while he was up. And Andres Blanco has been better in the field than Miles, again for a fraction of the cost. The Cubs had hoped Miles would repeat the good season he had last year for Tony La Russa and the Cardinals. It hasn't happened, and Piniella seemed to write off Miles weeks, if not months, ago.

Hendry has been criticized by some for overpaying for middling talent, and to paraphrase the late Sen. Everett Dirksen, a few million here and a few million there, and pretty soon you're talking real money.

A few years back,Mike Remlinger and LaTroy Hawkins were signed to help the bullpen, but each failed on the field and proved to be clubhouse lawyers on top of it.

The bottom line - and it's always about the bottom line - is that the Cubs have shelled out hundreds of millions to procure players, and eaten tens of millions for guys to go away.

All of this and no title. Their salvation this year could be a bad NL Central, but they'll be hard-pressed to get by teams like the Phillies or Dodgers in the playoffs, if they do qualify.

A new owner is coming soon.

What's he to make of all this? And what will he do about it?

bmiles@dailyherald.com

Cubs vs. Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field

TV: Comcast SportsNet today and Saturday; Channel 9 Sunday

Radio: WGN 720-AM

Pitching matchups: The Cubs' Randy Wells (5-4) vs. Aaron Harang (5-10) today at 1:20 p.m.; Ted Lilly (9-7) vs. Johnny Cueto (8-6) Saturday at 12:05 p.m.; Kevin Hart (1-1) vs. Micah Owings (6-10) Sunday at 1:20 p.m.

At a glance: The Cubs are 3-3 against the Reds this year, 1-2 at Wrigley Field. The Reds (44-50) are without rising-star outfielder Jay Bruce, who is on the DL until late August with a broken right wrist. Against Harang, Derrek Lee has 5 homers, and Aramis Ramirez has 3. Alfonso Soriano has 2 homers vs. Cueto. The Cubs (48-45) entered Thursday fifth in team ERA, at 3.80. The Reds were 11th, at 4.35. On offense, the Cubs were 12th in both runs and OBP, while the Reds were 14th in both categories. With Bruce on the DL, the Reds rely on Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto for power. Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster likely will come off the DL next Wednesday or Thursday against Houston. There was a chance he'd pitch Sunday vs. the Reds.

Next: Houston Astros at Wrigley Field, Monday-Thursday