With the Chicago Cubs miles from first place and with a handful of tradable pieces in July, we all expected to see an unloading process at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Clean house. Trade ’em all. Now is the time. It was obvious.
And then nothing happened. The Cubs dumped Kosuke Fukudome a few days before the deadline, but soon thereafter, it became clear that the Cubs planned to make no other moves.
At the time, it made very little sense to anybody. Everywhere you read, Hendry and the Cubs were (rightly) getting grief for refusing to make their more valuable trade pieces available, particularly third baseman Aramis Ramirez. And then, a couple days before the trade deadline, a thought popped into my head: maybe the lack of movement or interest in movement was by design. At the time, I said:
Imagine for a moment that everyone in the Cubs’ organization knows and accepts that Jim Hendry’s tenure with the Cubs will end after the season. Likewise, imagine that his replacement necessarily hasn’t been chosen yet, and Tom Ricketts wants that person (or persons, if the structure changes) to build the team his way.
This “lame duck theory” took root, and spread a bit in the Cubs’ Internet community. But, when the trade deadline indeed came and went with no activity, most were too angry about the lack of movement to remember that there was a possible explanation. I, too, was frustrated, but I emphasized that explanation immediately after the trade deadline:
I’m sticking to my Lame Duck Theory, which is picking up steam around the Internet: it is understood that Jim Hendry will not be returning as the GM next year, and he has therefore been instructed not to deal anyone whom the next GM might want to keep for 2012. Thus, the Cubs kept virtually everyone.
One possibility, which I’ve pushed rather heavily over the last few days, is that everyone in the Cubs’ organization understands that Jim Hendry is a lame duck. He’s not coming back next year. And, for that reason, Tom Ricketts (and/or whatever secret brain trust he uses) has decided that it would not be prudent to allow Jim Hendry to trade away players whom the next GM might want to keep. Because the next GM and/or President is probably currently employed, the Cubs can’t make a front office move until after the season. So, we’re stuck with a move-less deadline. Such is the problem with a lame duck.
Well, it turns out, Hendry had been told he would be fired nine days before the trade deadline. And, you guessed it: his lame duck status caused the lack of activity at the deadline.
“At that time [I was told I would not be retained on July 22], we decided it was best for me to stay on,” Hendry said Friday. “We had [the Trade Deadline] coming up, we had a lot of Draft choices that needed to be signed. We both felt that possibly me staying through that gave us the best chance to sign the players.”
“It would have been easy to trade a few guys to look like we were clearing the deck, or ‘Jim’s cleaning house,'” Hendry said, explaining the lack of trade deadline activity. “A few guys may want to be here, and the next general manager and Tom may want them to be here. It’s a real important winter, and moving forward, the next person ought to be making those decisions on some of these guys and that’s why I didn’t trade them.” (emphasis mine)
I don’t intend this post to be one big pat on the back (though, I mean, dude, I was so money), but I thought it important to note Hendry’s confirmation about the reason for the lack of activity at the trade deadline. It colors the events, and certainly places Hendry in a much more sympathetic light. Not only was the lack of activity not his fault, but it was actually symptom of him being a stand up guy.
I also don’t intend this post to be a retroactive deification of Hendry or of the organizational decision to hold onto tradable pieces. Hendry made plenty of mistakes long before the trade deadline, and Ricketts should have figured out a way to ensure that no decent dump deals were left on the table. But I think it’s important that we remember going forward, and as the Hendry era is discussed down the road, the disastrous 2011 trade deadline cannot rightly be laid at his feet.