With the trade season quickly descending upon us and the corresponding Chicago Cubs rumors we love to (obsessively) follow, it seems a perfectly fair time to discuss the man pulling the strings behind those potential moves; the man responsible for this iteration of the Cubs, and the eight and a half that preceded it: Jim Hendry.
I’ve made no secret of my frustration with a number of Hendry’s decisions in his time as General Manager of the Cubs. I have no doubt that he’s a good guy who means well and tries hard. But I do have doubt that he’s the right guy to be leading this organization into the second half of 2011, and beyond.
So, in the interest of sparking discussion (and showing my hacky-gimmick chops), I’ve drafted the Complete Dictionary of Reasons to Fire Jim Hendry. Below, you’ll find 26 of the most compelling reasons to let Jim Hendry go as the GM of the Cubs, one for each letter from A to Z. I hope that it’s as painful to read as it was to write.
I should note that this is not to say that Hendry absolutely should be fired mind you (although I’m coming around to the idea, particularly after putting together this list). The list simply identifies the primary reasons to fire Jim Hendry should you already be disposed to such an outcome. I’m sure someone could create a list of reasons to retain Hendry, though I suspect that the list would be neither as long nor as compelling as the one below.
The Dictionary of Reasons to Fire Jim Hendry
A – The Advantage. The Chicago Cubs under Jim Hendry underachieved almost every year, despite holding a profound payroll advantage over not only their Central Division foes, but most of the National League. Failing to win it all is excusable. Failing to meet expectations more seasons than not, however, is not. This reason comes first not only because it is the letter “A,” but also because it is reason enough – even without the remaining 25 – to give Hendry his walking papers.
B – Bradley, Milton Bradley. No team was willing to offer Milton Bradley more than two years, and Hendry gave Bradley three (paying handsomely and eschewing better options – Adam Dunn, Raul Ibanez, and Bobby Abreu, to name a few – in the process). One predictably volatile season later, the Cubs were desperate to dump Bradley.
C – Chad Fox. Poor Chad Fox. Not only did a comeback led by Hendry not work out for Fox (twice), but the Cubs destroyed his arm (twice). Tongue is in cheek on this one, by the way.
D – Dusty Baker. I didn’t like the hiring then, and it doesn’t look any better in hindsight. Jim Hendry paid top dollar for the privilege of watching the team win in spite of Baker (when they won at all, that is).
E – Every Season Has Its Excuse. The bullpen was too young. The lineup was too right-handed. The players weren’t athletic enough. The team lacked chemistry in the clubhouse. After every failed season, Jim Hendry had an explanation for why the team he’d assembled failed to achieve. And then, after “fixing” that problem the following year, there was only another explanation for failure. Do it two or three times, and it’s an explanation. Five, six, seven times is an excuse.
F – No Fear. A frequently-suggested reason for keeping Jim Hendry is the fear that, if Hendry is given the boot, Scouting Director Tim Wilken and Minor League Director Oneri Fleita will follow him out the door. These fears, I now believe, are absurd. For one thing, Wilken’s draft picks haven’t been sparkling, despite his reputation, and Fleita has run the minor league system for a decade with relatively little success in development to show for it. For another thing, if the next GM wants them to stay, there is no reason to assume without evidence that they’d just follow Hendry out the door because of loyalty. These jobs are hard to come by, and unless someone is banging on Hendry’s door to hire him as a GM, it’s not like Wilken and Fleita would have anywhere to follow Hendry anyway.
G – The Garza Trade. Before you jump down my throat, let me be clear about a couple things: I’m very happy the Cubs have Matt Garza. I even think the trade itself was fair. The criticism of Hendry here comes on the fact that he made the move at all. Acquiring a front-two starting pitcher by trading away half of the team’s top ten prospects is the move of a team on the cusp of competing (at least in the next year or two). The Cubs, at present, are not that team.
H – Hating on Trade Candidates. Why in the world would you bad mouth so vociferously guys like Milton Bradley and Sammy Sosa before trying to trade them? Sure, the market wasn’t going to be particularly bright for either one, but telling the world that the guys are bums whom you’ve absolutely got to dump isn’t going to drive up the market.
I – Intentional Walks. Jim Hendry let Ryne Sandberg walk away from the organization without so much as a phone call. There are ways to defend the way the Sandberg mess went down – indeed, I’ve offered some of them – but, should things continue to go South, it was Jim Hendry’s decision to let Sandberg leave. By the same token, and far more frustratingly, Hendry let Joe Girardi walk away from any kind of meaningful interview before hiring (and paying through the nose for) Lou Piniella five years ago. Girardi, for all his lack of experience, went on to manage some team in New York.
J – Juan Pierre. After the 2005 season, Jim Hendry became singularly convinced that the Cubs simply had to have a traditional leadoff hitter. Three promising pitching prospects later (one of whom is Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco), Hendry had his man: the profoundly overrated Juan Pierre. Of course, Hendry had Pierre for just one season, as Pierre was a free agent after 2006 – a season that saw the Cubs finish in last place, 30 games under .500. Also, come on, look at the guy. Anyone who thought that particular mustache was a good idea is not worth pinning your your hopes to.
K – Koyie Hill. Hill’s making almost $1 million when he should probably be making $8.75 an hour in a wood shop somewhere. And that should have happened two years ago.
L – Lame Duck. Assuming the Cubs continue to fall out of contention, trades are coming that are designed to build for the future. Do you want a lame duck making those trades? Or do you want the guy who’s going to be the GM next year making the deals that will set the team up for next year?
M – Middle Reliever Fever. Jim Hendry loves him some veteran middle relievers. And, for that reason, he had no problem paying big money for guys like Scott Eyre, Bob Howry, Mark Guthrie, Mike Remlinger, and LaTroy Hawkins (sorry, he was not a closer). By the end of those deals, there was not a single one that looked like a good signing.
N – No Trade Clauses. The “Jim Hendry Special,” in certain circles, the no-trade clause, when combined with a long, escalating contract, can really cripple a team. Sometimes, a no-trade clause is needed to seal the deal. I get that. But when you’re already giving a player an above-market contract? A good GM knows that preserving the ability to dump a guy is as valuable to the team as the right to veto a trade is to a player. Fight for it. You cannot tell me that Jeff Samardzija absolutely would not have taken his $10 million contract without a no-trade clause.
O – “Obviously.” Jim Hendry applies the word obviously as generously as he applies Nutella to everything he eats. But things must not be as obvious as he regularly suspects them to be, otherwise the Cubs would have been a whole lot better under his watch. Obviously.
P – The Playoff Problem. Since the 2003 NLCS disaster, the Chicago Cubs have not won a playoff series. Indeed, they haven’t won a single playoff GAME. Do results not matter anymore?
Q – Mike Quade. This may prove premature, and I’m certainly not advocating firing Mike Quade. But, for whatever reason, Jim Hendry decided to tie his future to a guy with no big league managerial experience other than a meaningless month and a half in charge of a team with nothing to play for. The choice made some sense when it was made, but if you had a cocked eyebrow, no one would have blamed you. Now they really wouldn’t blame you. And Jim Hendry bears the responsibility for the decision.
R – Bad Returns. In general, Jim Hendry as a trader was never a terrible guy. The deals in which he acquired Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez (and Kenny Lofton), Rich Harden, and Nomar Garciaparra were all solid. But when it comes to the other side of the trading equation – the dumping side – Hendry never did quite as well. It’s early, but the returns on the Tom Gorzelanny, Ted Lilly, and Derrek Lee dumpers is looking less than good. Greg Maddux for Cesar Izturis didn’t turn out too well, either.
S – Salary Deferments. Backloaded contracts are not unique to Jim Hendry’s tenure or to the Chicago Cubs, and, done properly, they can really help a club out. But, under Hendry, the Cubs made backloading an art form. The rapidly escalating contracts given to guys like Milton Bradley, Jason Marquis, and Marlon Byrd, for example, helped jack up the team’s payroll far beyond those player’s useful years. The Cubs will be paying Carlos Pena $5 million next year, presumably, to play somewhere else.
T – Too Many Years. When signing free agents, Hendry seems to have a penchant for tacking on just one or two more years than you’d like to see. Three years for Milton Bradley and Jason Marquis? Four years for Kosuke Fukudome? Eight years for Alfonso Soriano? (I know it has been reported that the Soriano deal was increased to eight years from seven without Hendry’s involvement, but hey, would seven years really have been much better?)
U – The Unseen Hand. At times, Jim Hendry does not seem to have a great sense of the going rate for his own players, to say nothing of their desirability. That’s why he has been guilty of repeatedly overpaying to re-sign guys who shouldn’t have been re-signed in the first place (e.g., John Grabow, Glendon Rusch, “Sweaty” Joe Borowski, Neifi Perez, etc.).
V – Veteran, Replacement-Level Players. Hendry has always had a special place in his heart for replacement-level veterans, whom he could sign to over-market deals. You know the type: Jose Macias, Paul Bako, and (oh dear God no, the horror) Aaron Miles. The deals were always excused as, “hey, it’s just a couple million bucks,” or, “it’s just the 25th man,” or “it’s just the back-up catcher.” These deals matter, and Hendry has some stinkers in spades.
W – It Gets Wuertz. Hendry dumped Michael Wuertz for no reason and no return before the 2009 season. Wuertz went on to post a 2.63 ERA and a 0.953 WHIP that year for the A’s. The two “prospects” the Cubs received in return were out of the organization/out of baseball within six months.
X – The James Russell X-periment. You just know that when you get to the “X” in these things, the writer is going to use some bs word that doesn’t actually start with an “X.” Sorry. Guilty. To the point, when the Cubs announced that James Russell would be tried out as a starter in Spring Training in 2011, it was universally met with surprise and derision. And then, when Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner went down with injuries the first week of the season, Russell was actually moved into the rotation. Four (FOUR!) miserable Russell starts later, the Cubs finally managed to insert an actual starter into the rotation. I recognize it’s tough to replace two starting pitchers in one week, but to not have another option available and selected by the time Russell had started four (FOUR!) times is inexcusable.
Y – Yoot? What is a Yoot? The organization, while paying lip service to the necessity of youth over the past decade, has never really committed to getting younger. Sure, there’s a prospect here and there, but the core of the team always seems to be on the north side of the most productive years (26 to 28).
Z – Big (Money) Z. It’s tough to end on this one – damn you, alphabet gods – because I like Big Z. But a savvier GM probably would have recognized that, despite Zambrano’s relative youth, his best days were behind him when Hendry handed Zambrano a five-year, $91.5 million contract extension in late 2007. There was a time when the Cubs could have received a king’s ransom in return for Zambrano. Instead, Jim Hendry handed the king’s ransom to Zambrano.