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Cubs crossroad: Stay the course or make a change?
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella, and general manager Jim Hendry, right, have enjoyed happier times than today.

 

Associated Press file photo

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Published: 6/21/2010 4:10 PM

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Cubs GM Hendry: The good and the bad

Jim Hendry took over as GM of the Cubs in July 2002. Here are some of his best and worst player transactions:

Best trades

• Todd Hundley to the Dodgers for Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek

• Hee Seop Choi to the Marlins for Derrek Lee

• Jose Hernandez, Matt Bruback and Bobby Hill to the Pirates for Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton

• Milton Bradley to the Mariners for Carlos Silva

Worst trades

• Ricky Nolasco, Renyel Pinto and Sergio Mitre to the Marlins for Juan Pierre

• Michael Wuertz to the Athletics for Richie Robnett and Justin Sellers

Best free-agent signings

Marlon Byrd

Ryan Dempster

Mark DeRosa

Ted Lilly

Worst free-agent signings

Milton Bradley

Kosuke Fukudome

LaTroy Hawkins

Aaron Miles

Mike Remlinger

Alfonso Soriano

Neifi Perez (re-sign)

Cubs scouting report

Cubs vs. Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field

TV: Comcast SportsNet Plus (CLTV) Tuesday; Channel 9 Wednesday; Comcast SportsNet Thursday

Radio: WGN 720-AM

Pitching matchups: The Cubs' Ryan Dempster (5-5) vs. Jason Vargas (5-2) Tuesday at 9:10 p.m.; Randy Wells (3-5) vs. Cliff Lee (5-3) Wednesday at 9:10 p.m.; Carlos Silva (8-2) vs. Felix Hernandez (5-5) Thursday at 2:40 p.m.

At a glance: This will be the not-so-joyful reunion between the Cubs and their former outfielder Milton Bradley, who has a hitting line of .215/.303/.360 with 6 homers and 25 RBI. Silva, for whom Bradley was traded, is an All-Star Game possibility. The Cubs face two lefties in Vargas and Lee, and it will be interesting to see how much Tyler Colvin plays for the Cubs. Colvin is at .310/.365/.619. Ichiro Suzuki is batting .336 for Seattle. The Mariners' closer is onetime Cub David Aardsma, who has 15 saves.

Next: White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, Friday-Sunday

The natives in Cubdom are restless.

Boos rained down on Wrigley Field on this last homestand after sloppy play in the field.

Empty seats, once unimaginable at the Friendly Confines, have become a more common sight.

The way many see it, the Cubs' window of opportunity opened in 2007 and closed after 2008.

Before the 2007 season and while in the midst of an unprecedented spending spree, general manager Jim Hendry told the crowd at the Cubs convention: "We're going to get good, and we're going to stay good."

The Cubs were good in '07 and '08. They regressed to mediocrity last year, and they're fighting just to get back to mediocrity this season.

Hendry is the man in charge of putting together this roster, which sports a record of 31-38 and trails smaller-market St. Louis and Cincinnati in the NL Central.

New owner Tom Ricketts is playing it close to the vest when it comes to his feelings about the job Hendry has done. Hendry has a contract that runs through 2012, and Ricketts signed off on that deal before he formally took over ownership.

Ricketts has owned the team for less than a year, and he is spending this year evaluating the entire organization.

The recent hiring of stats guru Ari Kaplan by Ricketts was interesting. It could have been the owner's way of saying he wants more sophisticated statistical analysis in an organization that was slow to embrace it.

Ricketts is unlikely to make a change at the top of baseball operations, but the case can be made for either decision. Let's examine a few reasons for making and not making changes at the GM position.

First, the reasons for regime change:

It's about time: Hendry has been charge since July 2002, when the Cubs were suffering through a 67-95 season.

Since the beginning of the 2003 season and through today, the Cubs have a cumulative record of 618-583 for a winning percentage of .515.

Included in that span was a 97-win season in 2008 and a 96-loss season in 2006.

Although Hendry has been in his job a long time, he's in the middle of the pack as far as GMs (or equivalent titles) go. Colorado's Dan O'Dowd, Florida's Larry Beinfest and San Francisco's Brian Sabean have been around longer in the NL.

In the American League, the White Sox' Kenny Williams, Cleveland's Mark Shapiro, Detroit's Dave Dombrowski, the Yankees' Brian Cashman and Oakland's Billy Beane have been around longer.

Boston boy wonder Theo Epstein and Milwaukee's Doug Melvin came aboard within weeks or months of Hendry.

All of the above except Beane, Shapiro and Melvin have been to or won a World Series.

With the Cubs having not won a World Series since 1908 or been to one since 1945, it's hardly right to tell their fans to be "patient."

It's about money: Hendry had lots of encouragement from the Tribune Co. to spend money after the disastrous 2006 season, when the Trib saw one last chance at glory before they sold the club.

And Hendry spent, and spent lavishly, with his bosses cheering him on and adding a few bucks to deals here and there.

He shocked the baseball world by giving Alfonso Soriano an eight-year, $136 million contract in November 2006, when Soriano clearly was a one-dimensional player.

Japanese start Kosuke Fukudome got four years and $48 million a year later, and now he's a part-time player the Cubs may be looking to unload.

Pitcher Carlos Zambrano got a $91.5 million contract extension, and he's trying to re-establish himself as a bona fide starter after an early-season exile to the bullpen.

Middling starter Jason Marquis got three years and $21 million.

Hendry gave Milton Bradley three years and $30 million before last season and was lucky to move Bradley and the money to Seattle after a season of negativity and non-productivity from Bradley.

The Cubs also have been nickel-and-dimed by shorter-term contracts or extensions to the likes of Aaron Miles, Neifi Perez, Glendon Rush, Mike Remlinger and LaTroy Hawkins.

No-trade clauses and back-loaded contracts galore also aren't helping the new owner.

All that money and still no World Series.

Now, the reasons to stay the course:

The system: Hendry's most important hire may have come in December 2005, when he named the highly respected Tim Wilken as director of amateur and professional scouting.

Wilken and farm director Oneri Fleita (who has overseen a resurgence in Latin American scouting) have quickly restocked a farm system that was perilously close to becoming bare.

Tyler Colvin, Starlin Castro and Andrew Cashner are current Cubs who have been procured by Wilken and Fleita.

Wilken's recent drafts also have several players knocking at the door, including Brett Jackson, Casey Coleman, Jay Jackson and Darwin Barney, and many others who are not far behind.

If Hendry goes, it's highly likely a new GM would want his own people in place, and Wilken and Fleita are Hendry loyalists.

On top of that, assistant GM Randy Bush is well regarded, and Hendry scored another coup in the off-season when he hired future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux as an assistant. Maddux already has paid dividends with advice to pitchers at all levels.

The Cubs' farm system is considered an up-and-coming one. All bets would be off under a new regime. Things could get better or fall back.

Continuity: Many good sports organizations enjoy the good times and ride out the bad with the same people at the top.

It takes time to build a farm system and a way of doing things up and down an organization.

That said, there's no sense doing the same things over again if those things are the wrong things, and Ricketts will have to determine whether that's been happening for himself.

The Hendry regime has been accused of focusing too much on players' "tools" and not enough on the numbers. Now, however, the Cubs have two full-time stats analysts in baseball ops: Kaplan and Chuck Wasserstrom.

The Cubs also have beefed up both their Latin American and Asian scouting departments, and several players from the Far East now are working their way up the farm system.

Like all businesses, baseball is all about the bottom line in money and in wins and losses.

Tom Ricketts says he's in this for the long haul.

We'll have to see if Jim Hendry will be along to pull his share of the weight for that haul.