Daily Herald
Clock is ticking on Hendry, Cubs after disappointing year
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 10/4/2010 2:52 PM

You're Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, and you have one year to make things right.

True, your contract runs through 2012, but realistically, if things aren't significantly better next year, the clock will have run out.

Your Q-rating is at all time low we'll get to another Q-rating shortly and the team's new ownership is looking for better results soon after a rocky start of its own.

In one way, you're lucky because few baseball GMs get to rebuild three times. The first mess you had to clean up, back in 2002, wasn't of your making, but the 2006 and 2010 breakdowns have your fingerprints all over them.

Feeling any more pressure these days?

"No more than I always put on myself," you told us in Houston Sunday. "Obviously, we had very good clubs for a couple of years. We felt we were a contending team a year ago. We were in first place (for brief times) until Aug. 7 in '09. I don't think any of us left camp thinking we weren't going to be in the race this year.

"It went south rather quickly. It's an expectation that we have that we should be contenders every year. We need to get back on track. We can feel good about ourselves that I think we can (improve) by next season. I think the guys in the clubhouse feel that way. I think our fan base should feel that way, too, with what they've seen coming from the (farm) system. Some of the young guys really took a big step up the last couple of months, and there's more of that coming."

All of that remains to be seen, and that "fan base" is as skeptical as it has ever been of the current Cubs regime.

It might not be "Mission Impossible" in Cubdom, but there are many challenges ahead. Here are a few of them:

Naming the manager: The guy with the highest Q-rating among Cubs players is Mike Quade, who took over as manager upon Lou Piniella's retirement in August.

Quade quickly righted things, earning the respect of rookies and veterans. The players want him back next season, and several spoke firmly on his behalf Sunday.

You can search the baseball world over, but sometimes, the answer is right at home. It appears to be so in this case.

The best move might be to call Quade in this week and tell him the job is his to keep.

Tightening the belt: Owner Tom Ricketts says payroll will be down slightly from this year's roughly $145 million, a figure that doesn't exactly scream, "Money well spent."

On top of that, the Cubs still have the contracts of Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano and Kosuke Fukudome on the books, and Aramis Ramirez repeated Sunday that he'll be back for $14.6 million.

Feeling squeezed, Jim?

"We all know what we had to do before '07," Hendry said of the spending binge that included Soriano's egregious $136 million deal. "We had some contracts that were going to be high, excessive, backloaded, whatever phrase you might want to use, and the day was coming where if they all didn't click, then you were going to have a situation.

"The good news is we have so many guys from our system that won't be making a lot of dollars that have come up and earned their stripes that there will be room for improvement. I feel comfortable that, as always, with Tom Ricketts and his family, that payroll and the money put into player development and scouting will not be a negative for us to win."

Yes, the Cubs certainly have "a situation" with those contracts.

Hendry will have to find the money to acquire a first baseman, preferably one who hits left-handed, and possibly a starting pitcher to steady an uncertain rotation.

Won't get fooled again? The Cubs got caught up in believing the performances of some rookie pitchers were the real deal in September 2009, only to get burned in early in 2010.

Some rookies, such as James Russell and Andrew Cashner, showed steady improvement. Outfielder Tyler Colvin had a nice rookie season, but so did pitcher Randy Wells last year before he suffered the dreaded sophomore slump.

Are rookies Casey Coleman, Marcos Mateo, Thomas Diamond, Darwin Barney, Cashner and others the real deal?

And is the team's winning record in the final month of the season a good indicator of future performance, or is it a potential fooler?

"Anybody who discounts that and says it doesn't matter in September couldn't be more wrong," Hendry said. "Ask the San Diego Padres if September mattered from a Cubs point of view. We played a lot of contending teams, a lot of what I call meaningful games.

"I applaud the way the players carried themselves, too. There wasn't any 'play out the string.' I think our last 25 games before Mike took over, we lost 20 of them. It really looked like it had a chance to be a steamrolling type of ending in a negative way. That's hard to overcome. I don't care whether you're in the race or out of the race. I thought it was very important the guys got themselves up off the mat and performed well."

They're back: Pitcher Carlos Zambrano says he won't allow a trade, and Ramirez says he won't opt out of his contract (as if there was ever any question on this).

Both did well down the stretch. Zambrano went 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA since returning to the rotation after anger-management treatment.

Ramirez, however, helped torpedo the first half by being a nonfactor on offense and playing indifferent defense.

The Cubs absolutely must have both of these players fully engaged and performing for six months next year. They need Ramirez to stay healthy and interested (a manager like Quade will see that he does).

Zambrano needs to behave himself he suffered a near relapse over the weekend when he showed up teammate Bobby Scales for a pair of misplays and prove he is serious when he invokes the name of Greg Maddux to demonstrate he's a "pitcher" now instead of a power thrower.

Cubs' best & worst

The Cubs finished the 2010 with a record of 75-87, good for fifth place in the NL Central. Here's a look at their bests and worsts this season:

Bests

M and M boys: Closer Carlos Marmol and setup man Sean Marshall were one of the best 1-2 bullpen combos in the NL. Can you say hefty raises?

Now C here: Rookies Starlin Castro (.300 average), Tyler Colvin (20 homers) and Andrew Cashner (late-season improvement) grew into important roles. All will be counted on heavily in 2011.

Byrd is the word: Center fielder Marlon Byrd played Gold Glove center field, provided stability in the clubhouse and was dependable at the plate.

Worsts

No offense: First baseman Derrek Lee had a pre-All-Star Game line of .233/.329/.366 with 10 homers, and Aramis Ramirez was at .207/.268/.380 with 10 HRs.

Lack of penmanship: GM Jim Hendry gave then-manager Lou Piniella four inexperienced arms and one ineffective one (John Grabow) for the bullpen to start the season. The bullpen blossomed under manger Mike Quade, but it was too late.

Scary situations: Pitcher Carlos Silva left his Aug. 1 start with an irregular heartbeat. Colvin was speared in the chest by a broken bat on Sept. 19 and suffered a collapsed lung. Both are OK now, but there were tense moments along the way.