Late yesterday, writers were buzzing with quotes from Chicago Cubs GM Jim Hendry, emerging from a couple days’ worth of organizational meetings, about the team’s immediate future. The Cubs aren’t conducting a fire sale, the stories said. The Cubs won’t be trading core players, the stories said. Hendry still has hope, the stories said.
I think those stories missed the story.
Let’s take a closer look at precisely what Hendry said:
“I read some things that people assume. They use the word ‘fire sale.’ That’s not going to happen. We’re not interested in trading people at all that will be valuable to us moving forward. People like to float names of your better players, which makes no sense to trade. If we make moves, it will be designed to make us better for the future, and we still want see how we play the next month or so. Everybody thinks you have to be a buyer or a seller or it’s fire sale time. Well, we’ve got a lot of young people out there pitching and playing or some people who will be very productive for us a year from now that when you get ready to put together a team in the off-season, you certainly don’t want to start out without them anyhow …. We’re certainly going to hold on to the people, no matter what, we feel will be major contributors down the road.”
Addressing the obvious first: Hendry all but conceded that he’s going to try and trade guys who are free agents at the end of the year. So, guys like Carlos Pena, Kosuke Fukudome, Reed Johnson, John Grabow – perhaps even Aramis Ramirez and Kerry Wood – are clearly available.
But what about the more intriguing players? The players for whom other teams might really be willing to pony up? The Ryan Dempsters, the Geovany Sotos, the Sean Marshalls, the Carlos Marmols or the Matt Garzas? I think they’re available, as they should be for the right offer.
The Cubs’ brass met this week to discuss a plan of attack for the trade season. They brought in most of their scouts organization-wide, which – despite what Hendry has said about “business as usual” – is an atypical move. And the sense bleeding out of those meetings, so says a scout with another organization, is that no player is completely untouchable except Starlin Castro.
Nothing in Hendry’s statement tells me that sense is mistaken.
But, Hendry said they aren’t having a fire sale! He said they want to keep young, productive players! But he said they want to hold onto guys who will be major contributors down the road!
First of all, Hendry has become a master at using many words, but saying nothing at all. “Fire sale” is an ambiguous term, and Hendry knows it. To him, not having a “fire sale” means the Cubs aren’t trading every single valuable player on the team. Ok. Huge news there. Also ambiguous? Holding onto future “major contributors” (if a guy gets traded, well, he wasn’t expected to be a “major contributor”).
Second, Hendry admits that the Cubs will make moves “designed to make [the Cubs] better in the future.” Of course the Cubs aren’t going to trade all of guys like Dempster/Soto/Marshall/Marmol/Garza. Hell, they might not trade any of them. But if the Cubs trade a handful of players, and get back in return players who “make [the Cubs] better in the future,” then Hendry has lived up to his statement. Newsflash: that’s virtually every sell trade in the history of sell trades.
Further, everyone seems to ignore the gamesmanship aspect of the statements. If Hendry doesn’t express a desire to keep guys who are under contract for 2012 (and beyond), then he loses leverage in trade negotiations involving those players. Good management makes statements like this *all the time* in public while simultaneously conducting negotiations in private. Hendry is sending a message: he’s not saying guys like Dempster or Soto or Marshall or Marmol or even Garza are totally unavailable; he’s saying that, if you want one of these guys, you better be prepared to wow me. And you better make sure the deal is something I can show helps the Cubs in 2012.
That was the only meaningful qualifier in anything Hendry said.
To be clear, I think it’s most likely that the Cubs trade a few free-agents-to-be, and call it a trade season. But, if it plays out that way, it won’t be because the more valuable players were totally unavailable (though you might be sold that bill of goods after the fact). It will be because the offers weren’t sufficiently defensible.