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The Hendry Chronicles

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I have been down on Jim Hendry since basically the end of the 97-win 2008 season. But, I know that I don't know everything that goes on inside the Cubs, and it was easy to blame him for a handful of things he seemed to do or didn't do.

So at a few days distance from the Hendry dismissal, I have tried to develop a balanced opinion of the full Hendry era. Here we go:

Great job, Jim:
Dusty Baker hiring (Aggressive, though quick team re-build was required in 2003.)
Aramis Ramirez trade (Best move by Hendry as GM?)
Eric Karros/Mark Grudzielanek trade (Great timing, great role players.)
Nomar Garciaparra trade (Right competitive move at the right time.)
Ryan Dempster signing (Long-term project paid off.)
Juan Pierre signing (Nice effort at re-design.)
Ted Lilly signing (The famous EKG signing.)
Mark DeRosa signing (Great judgment recognizing his great utility.)

Pretty good job, Jim:
Derrek Lee signing (Solid, strong character, great 2006, but ultimately lacked energy.)
Lou Piniella hiring (A bet on a big name, history worked during regular season.)
Kerry Wood re-signing for 2011 (Feel-good move, but he still has value.)
Marlon Byrd signing (Great character, decent hitter/fielder, good money move.)
Greg Maddux signing (Most effective during final tour, and got his 300th win as a Cub.)
Rich Harden trade (Like Nomar, nice competitive move. )

Not so good job, Jim:
Kerry Wood departure after 2008 (Wood incorrectly became his emblem for lovable loser identity.)
Mark DeRosa trade after 2008 (Like trading four players, left Cubs with lack of depth.)
Juan Pierre departure (Quality lead-off man replaced briefly by Soriano.)
Kosuke Fukudome signing (Decent idea, but poor judgment on overall talent, price.)
Matt Garza trade (Good, but not worth the prospects Cubs lost when they should have been re-building.)
Carlos Pena signing (Overall pleasant addition was completely unnecessary.)

Really bad job, Jim:
Alfonso Soriano signing (Poor understanding of his remaining talent, value, shortcomings.)
Milton Bradley signing (Right stats, but character issues were already well known.)
Carlos Zambrano handling (Was given too many chances, kept until trade value became almost zero.)
Joe Girardi non-hiring as manager (Piniella an easy choice, but Girardi so obviously the right choice.)
Ted Lilly trade (Shipped most reliable starter, strong character guy, didn't get enough back.)
Not trading Carlos Pena, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano (All these deals were doable at some point, and recognizing when is a GM's job. He was hamstrung by his own contracts, though recent hub-bub suggests he was coaxed into them by others. Also, blame Ricketts for making him a lme duck right before this year's trade deadline.)


If you haven't slammed the Cubs yet today, you are way behind. Carlos Zambrano did so yesterday, with comments that were 90% correct and refreshing to hear, and 10%--but a hard to overlook 10%--selfish and mean.

Today, Bob Brenly, in mostly agreeing with Zambrano's comments, called the Cubs a "dead-ass team." Again, it's an accurate call, though if it were Steve Stone talking, he would have been fired 30 seconds after he said that. It will be interesting to see what happens to Brenly. Maybe he can go over Jim Hendry's head to Tom Ricketts and convince the owner that Brenly himself would be a better manager than Mike Quade.

Zambrano, who continues to pitch almost better than he ever has, called out his team after another missed opportunity yesterday vs. the Cardinals. He was right to do it, but I suspect he was motivated more by his own annoyance at losing a W for his personal record than anything else. I have no way of knowing for sure, of course--I'm just making an assumption based on past poor behavior, and don't tell me there is a lack of that.

He also criticized the pitch choice of Carlos Marmol, who blew the save yesterday when Ryant Theriot (et tu, The-Riot?) doubled in the tying run. Zambrano morphed into Sparky Anderson, and said Marmol should have thrown a fastball instead of a slider because everyone apparently knows Theriot isn't a fastball hitter (though he seemed to do nicely with one earlier in the game on an opposite-field single).

I don't know about that. Maybe there's case for Zambrano's line of thinking. However, Marmol's best pitch is the slider, and he still had a ball to give away on a 2-2 count, which suggests one of his patented tailing-away sliders would be a good choice. Also, callng out your closer on a single pitch he threw is just bad form--would Zambrano like to hear the same from Marmol every time he walks a guy?

Marmol has blown two saves in a row, and I think's he's going through his typically mid-season swoon more than anything else. His real problem was letting a guy on base in the first place, a game he plays often, but usually wins.

What's forgotten amid all the criticism is that the Cubs almost took 2 of 3 from the division leaders. They got swept instead, which is not to be easily forgiven. If you are going to criticize anything, it should be the lackluster offensive effort. Hitters gave up both days and were swinging early and often.

I agree with Brenly that some players seem indifferent. In Zambrano's case, it might sounds like he cares too much, but to some extent, his comments--and his reaction following his recent bat-breaking incident--show that his main issue is his apparent disrespect for Quade.

If Quade has lost control of the team, now 11 games under .500, that is a problem, and Ricketts or Hendry should deal with it in some way. I would still be mosty against firing him unless Brenly or Bobby V. or the ghost of Leo Durocher has some kind of sure-fure instant fix in mind.

But, again the evidence is mounting for the Cubs to back up the truck early this year. Unload Zamrbrano while you can--he is playing great, and seems more likely than ever to agree to be traded. Send Aramis Ramirez packing, and maybe Alfonso Soriano, too, when he comes off the DL. I could see at least one top-tier majors-ready prospect coming in for each of them. If Hendry doesn't want to do that, then Ricketts should unload Hendry, too, and find a GM who is ready to begin rebuilding now rather than at the end of this year.

Recent success has taught Cubs fans to expect to win. It won't be happening much this year, so let's just see if more of these kids can play, and in the meantime get started on building a team, a management structure and an attitude that will bring us a competitive team next year.


Ohman, Johnson and the ex-Cub factor

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Will the ex-Cub factor--which dictates that the performance of ex-Cubs will always be greater than, and never equal to or less then, their performance while with the Cubs--work for Will Ohman?

The lefty reliever who left the Cubs back in 2007 via trade, and was probably better known for whining his way out the door than for anything he did on the field, has been signed by the White Sox. This seemed at first like an odd move by GM Kenny Williams, who currently has at least two lefties--Matt Thornton and Chris Sale--in his bullpen. Ohman also seemed like sort of a character risk, the type of player Cubs GM Jim Hendry would sign again even though he bitched and moaned his way out of Chicago the first time.

But, consider the likely possibility that Thornton will be the first choice to set up Sale as the new closer, and the Sox still need a southpaw specialist they can bring in to face one or two left-handed batters, and save Thornton and Sale for prime time appearances. Also, Ohman sounds more mature than when he left town, and has generally been more effective the last few season than he was with the Cubs, so maybe it will all work out.

Speaking of character, the Cubs have brought back Reed Johnson in a minor league deal. (Does the ex-Cub factor work for ex-Cubs who come back to the Cubs?) The scrappy outfielder was a fan favorite, hustling on the bases and playing the field with no concern for life or limb. But, he was a marginal hitter whose .303 average in 2008 was out of the ordinary, and that was when he was 31. He's now 34.

It's a low-risk deal and if he makes the team out of spring training, he'll get a nice hand when he returns to Wrigley. But, consider him the new Sam Fuld (though I guess you could also call him the old Sam Fuld, for multiple reasons)--that is, a guy who will make a few tumbling, diving, jumping catches, hopefully as a late-game replacement for Alfonso Soriano, and may collect a clutch hit or two, but probably won't have much impact overall.

 


Ohman, Johnson and the ex-Cub factor

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Will the ex-Cub factor--which dictates that the performance of ex-Cubs will always be greater than, and never equal to or less then, their performance while with the Cubs--work for Will Ohman?

The lefty reliever who left the Cubs back in 2007 via trade, and was probably better known for whining his way out the door than for anything he did on the field, has been signed by the White Sox. This seemed at first like an odd move by GM Kenny Williams, who currently has at least two lefties--Matt Thornton and Chris Sale--in his bullpen. Ohman also seemed like sort of a character risk, the type of player Cubs GM Jim Hendry would sign again even though he bitched and moaned his way out of Chicago the first time.

But, consider the likely possibility that Thornton will be the first choice to set up Sale as the new closer, and the Sox still need a southpaw specialist they can bring in to face one or two left-handed batters, and save Thornton and Sale for prime time appearances. Also, Ohman sounds more mature than when he left town, and has generally been more effective the last few season than he was with the Cubs, so maybe it will all work out.

Speaking of character, the Cubs have brought back Reed Johnson in a minor league deal. (Does the ex-Cub factor work for ex-Cubs who come back to the Cubs?) The scrappy outfielder was a fan favorite, hustling on the bases and playing the field with no concern for life or limb. But, he was a marginal hitter whose .303 average in 2008 was by far a career peak, and that was when he was 31. He's now 34.

It's a low-risk deal and if he makes the team out of spring training, he'll get a nice hand when he returns to Wrigley. But, consider him the new Sam Fuld (though I guess you could also call him the old Sam Fuld, for multiple reasons)--that is, a guy who will make a few tumbling, diving, jumping catches, hopefully as a late-game replacement for Alfonso Soriano, and may collect a clutch hit or two, but probably won't have much impact overall.

 


Mike Fontenot is getting a ring

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Think about that for a minute--little Mike Fontenot, who could never really hang on as a starter with the Cubs, is a member of the Word Series Champion San Francisco Giants. Good for Mighty Mite. Former White Sox Aaron Rowand and Juan Uribe are now two-time world champs. Couldn't happen to a better couple of guys.

Meanwhile, in the land of current Cubs and Sox, there is some news this week, though not nearly as awesome:

--Omar Vizquel was signed for another year by the Sox. He had a much more productive season than the Sox were expecting, and at times was the most consistent offensive and defensive player on the team. Still, he's 43, and the Sox can't possibly expect the same next season, can they?

--Joey Cora reportedly will not get the Brewers manager job. I don't whether I feel sorry for him more because he a bridesmaid once again, or more because he may have to spend another year with Ozzie (just kidding, Ozzie).

--Jim Hendry says Ryne Sandberg has declined to return as manager of the Iowa Cubs, possibility the least surprising news of the off-season so far. It would probably be good for Sandberg to get more experience in the minors, but by all appearances, he was jilted by Hendry after being told four years ago that he need to get some experience in the minors. Ryno is saving face, and allegedly will pursue other jobs with other teams, but I wish for his sake and for the Cubs' sake that he would stay in the organization for a bit more seasoning.

--Todd Ricketts is going to clean toilets on TV. Insert joke here about Alfonso Soriano's crappy contract.


Quade keeps his job, drops the 'interim'

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In a development surprising only for its timing--because basically any timing would have been surprising--interim Cubs manager Mike Quade is formally being announced as the new manager today, with a two-year contract.

It's probably the right move and the right length of contract for a guy who guided the young Cubs of the latter part of the 2010 season to a 24-13 record. He probably will be working with pretty much the same group next season, and there was no reason to hire a World Series winner like Joe Girardi if the Cubs aren't planning to add much next year.

It seemed like maybe the Cubs were going to wait for Girardi, which would have very publicly made Quade or Ryne Sandberg second choice if Girardi had turned down the job. Of course, the most obvious choice prior to Quade's late-season tryout was Sandberg, and if Quade hadn't done well it would still be Sandberg.

I'm wondering if the timing has something to do with Sandberg turning down a behind-closed-doors offer to be one of Quade's coaches. The Cubs may now have to watch Sandberg take a manager job elsewhere, and if Quade stumbles early, fans surely will be calling for his head--and GM Jim Hendry's--and demanding explanations for why Sandberg wasn't hired as manager. Had Quade never been given the chance by Hendry, most fans probably would be behind Sandberg as top choice, but Quade's success leaves them conflicted, and, as always, hopeful.


Watching the play-offs

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Well, even though the Cubs and White Sox didn't come close this year, we still have a postseason worth watching, and some former Chicago players are making contributions.

It was nice to see Jose Contreras, key member of the 2005 World Champion White Sox, come out for the Phillies last night and hold down the fort to get the win. And it was just plain sad to see star-crossed Dusty Baker watching his own team become suddenly error-prone and give up a 4-0 lead with just a handful of outs left. It wasn't quite deja vu, but close enough.

In San Francisco, look who's overcome his penchant for late-inning implosions--the Farns. Kyle Farnsworth, now with Atlanta, got the win last night by pitching 1.2 not-perfect-but-good-enough innings. I was certain after the Giants blew the lead that the reliable Farns would provide them with a storybook comeback in the 11th inning, but he did the job for the Braves, who really had few options but to leave him in the game. Derrek Lee was 2-for-5 with two key runs scored.

And, of course, both Sox fans and Cubs fans are watching the Twins-Yankees series with interest. So far, Sox fans are getting exactly what they had hoped, with the Twins down to their last chance and unable to spook the Yankees the way the do the Sox. With every Yankees victory, however, Cubs fans may be forced to wait a little longer to find out who will be the next manager. Joe Girardi's postseason poise is something to make Cubs fans salivate, but I think the further the Yankess go, the less likely he'll figure in GM Jim Hendry's decision.

Finally, who isn't rooting for Kerry Wood? He has pitched a scoreless 1.2 innings this week as the Yankees set-up man. From heroic rookie pitcher to injured mess and 2003 NLCS Game 7 loser to even more injured mess to effective, but unwanted Cubs closer to Cleveland and finally to the Yankees, who seem to have figured him out. Here's hoping that one last Cubbie occurrence isn't lying in wait for the former Cub.

Former Sox Nick Swisher also plays for the Yankess, but let's not even go there...

 

 


Management consulting

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This is what I would say if the Cubs and White Sox were to ask me who should fill their respective manager and general manager jobs after this season:

Cubs manager: Mike Quade -- This is assuming they can't get Joe Girardi, Tony LaRussa, Leo Durocher or Frank Chance. I like Quade's style, and the young team that is winning for the most part under him is the same team for the most part that he would have to work with next year. Don't expect the Cubs to go chasing veteran contracts. Ryne Sandberg has done a lot in the minors in just a few years, but Quade did much more over many more years, and we know he's in tune with the players who are currently on the big-league roster.

Cubs GM: J.P. Ricciardi or Josh Byrnes -- The Cubs really should cut ties with Jim Hendry, but for some reason have given him the chance to hire a new manager even though Hendry himself hasn't been fully endorsed to return. Ricciardi made Toronto a contending team a few years ago, and is a protege of Oakland's Billy Beane, which means the Rickettses would like his budget-minding abilities. His tenure was marred by failing to trade Roy Halladay and giving a big deal to B.J. Ryan, but for the most part he did a solid job, and he would bring some youth and a different attitude to the job.

The same could be said for Byrnes, who was GM in Arizona until this summer. He did a nice job of making the D-backs contenders before they slid badly the last two seasons. Some people think he was fleeced more than once by Sox GM Kenny Williams, but they fail to notice one of those deals brought the talented Chris Young to Arizona. He also was the assistant GM in Boston when the Red Sox finally ended the Bambino Curse, an experience that prepares him well for the Cubs.

Sox manager: Ozzie Guillen -- Despite all the controversy and rancor, and some insinuations that Ozzie may leave, I think he will still be managing the Sox next year. Basically, the current team is built to his specifications, and it's on him to make them winners. The Sox didn't bring home the division title this year, but they did contend well, and we know Ozzie knows how to get them there. I think he deserves one last chance to do that, but I do think he needs to clear his head, step away from the microphone and just focus on directing a winning team.

Sox GM: Dan Evans -- Why not? The Chicago-born former assistant Sox GM and former L.A. Dodgers GM hasn't been part of a front office since 2004, but helped build some pretty good Sox teams, including the 2000 division winners. Also, though L.A. seemed to oust him pretty quickly, he is the guy that drafted a lot of their current young studs, like Chad Billingsley, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin and Jonathan Broxton. The team Ned Colletti GM'ed to the 2008 and 2009 play-offs was very much built by Evans. I am on board with those who say Kenny Williams has ransacked the farm system and drafted poorly (though Chris Sale and Gordon Beckham are nice arguments against the latter). Evans could be the right guy to re-grow that system.


Prolonging the pain

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The Cubs had a rare offensive outburst today, beating the Arizona Diamondbacks 9-4. How rare? Well, nine runs is more than they scored in their previous five games combined.

Have they turned a corner of some kind? Only the next corner on a path leading them to a losing season. The team's strength--starting pitching--has become, if not bad, at least inconsistent. Add that to a list of already bad compenents: Bad fielding, bad hitting, bad baserunning and bad attitudes (at least where Carlos Zambrano is concerned--the rest of the team seems to have no attitude).

I've said before that it's time for Lou Piniella to go, and I still think it's the only way to salvage this season on a positive note. Yes, the players are the ones playing and Lou can't play for them, but at least part of his job is to motivate them, and he can't seem to get that job done anymore. If you fall in with the crowd that thinks GM Jim Hendry deserves more blame than Piniella or his players for the sad state of the Cubs, that may be hard to argue--which only demonstrates further how messed up this team is.

I wouldn't be saddened if the Cubs sent both Piniella and Hendry packing before the end of this month, though presumably Hendry will be busy shopping a few of his players--Kosuke Fukudome, Xavier Nady and Mike Fontenot, I'm betting--to real contenders. If a new GM were to be brought in this moment, with some weeks to go before the trade deadline, he would be hard-pressed to make the sort of deals that could boost the Cubs division hopes.

My guess is still that the Cubs will be stuck with Piniella and Hendry until the end of the season. Who's next? Ryne Sandberg as manager and Greg Maddux as GM. (I am not saying it's a good idea, but the writing is on the wall.)

Want another crazy idea? How about Bob Brenly as manager and Steve Stone as GM? Tony LaRussa as GM and manager? Is Leo Durocher still available?

Meanwhile, Dusty Baker is managing a first place team. Reality bites.

Maddux is back

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The Cubs hired Greg Maddux as an assistant to GM Jim Hendry. He will supposedly help evaluate talent, among other things, so let's hope Mad Dog can help Hendry avoid trading away guys like Ricky Nolasco.

Maddux is probably looking to get management experience to work his way into his own GM job, though, as the Tribune reports, he has expressed more interest in coaching than GMing.

Maddux is one of the all-time greats, though he never seemed to show the demeanor and affability of a coach. As a player, he seemed more like a loner than a mentor. All this is from the outsider's perspective, of course, and if he helps Hendry find someone with half the talent he had, this move will quickly pay off.

The Cubs had the bad timing to announce the Maddux hiring on the same day that Mark McGwire admitted using steroids during the great 1998 homerun chase and at other times during his career. That means McGwire's 70 HRs for that year should get an asterisk, and Sammy Sosa should be given the homerun crown and the distinction of being the first to pass Roger Maris unenhanced by steroids--unless of course Sammy has something he wants to tell us.

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