The Chicago Cubs Need Less Jim Hendry

The Chicago Cubs general manager, Jim Hendry, has been described by many as a lame duck, but team owner Tom Ricketts may want to get out the hunting rifle now before the situation deteriorates any further.

Hendry took over the Cubs GM position midway through the 2002 season and has never quite assembled the impressive major league team comparable to the impressive farm system he built in the late 1990s. Once touted for assembling a farm system that included future stars like Corey Patterson, Mark Prior, Eric Patterson, Felix Pie, Rich Hill, and (hey, mildly positive ones!) Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano, Hendry is now widely considered a neither great nor terrible GM.

His on-the-field product reflects that dichotomy:

His great times (2008, 2004) have been great; his good times (2003, 2007, 2009) have been okay; and his bad times (2005, 2006, 2010, 2011) have been numerous.

For comparison’s sake, examine the recent history of Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s GM, who is considered above average and under-resourced:

With a fraction of the payroll, Beane keeps his teams more competitive even on the downswings.

Quite recently, Hendry purged the upper levels of the Cubs minor league system — in the process releasing one of my all-time favorite authorial outfielders, Fernando Perez (since signed by the Mets). Hendry has taken his youth movement seriously, only falling short of claiming anyone older than 25 should be fired. Out of a cannon.

In the process of this unusual lame duck house cleaning, Hendry made this curious claim:

Why would we trade anybody who we think is going to help us next year or the years after? I would say if we move anyone it would be somebody we clearly knew wouldn’t be back. We’re not going to move people that we think are going to help us. Why would I trade Sean Marshall? Why would I trade Darwin Barney? Those calls kind of stop quickly. It makes no sense.

I do not want to imply it is a bad idea to trade a 25-year-old infielder who derives almost all his worth from replacement value, but I do find it strange Hendry is charting the stars for this sinking ship. It would appear Hendry believes two quite unlikely true things:

(a) He will be GM of the Chicago Cubs next year.

(b) The Cubs will be competitive next year.

Unlike last year, when the Cubs started the season with an unsustainably bad one-run record, this year’s rendition has suffered from a holistic lack of organizational talent. The Cubs management, ownership, and Kool Aid fans have blamed injuries — but injuries happen every year to every team.

The Cubs have given starts to 10 different pitchers this year, which might seem like a lot until we consider that league-leading teams like the Phillies (7) and Red Sox (9) have also used more than the basic five starters. Moreover, the Cubs have gone through more starters than other teams largely because of ineffectiveness, not injury (such as the sad cases of Doug Davis, James Russell, and Casey Coleman).

But the issue at hand is less about the Cubs failures in 2011, but more about the incomprehensible analysis. Yes, you should trade someone who can be valuable in future years if the return exceeds the cost.

Let us conduct a thought experiment:

    I offer my friend, say Fernando, a book of poetry. He offers me, in return, a $300 baseball bat from Modell’s. I may like my $15 poetry book, but a $300 baseball bat is worth much more. And even if it does not fit my present situation (it does, though, if you’re reading this ‘Nando), then I could still flip the bat for $300 cash — or, if I get all Andrew Friedman on this situation, an Aventador LP 700-4 Lamborghini with a Bose sound system and an ability to play second and right.

The point here is: Yes, the likes of Geovany Soto, Darwin Barney, Sean Marshall, Marlon Byrd, or Jeff Baker may help the team in the near future, but they have already helped the present team to a losing record. This is not a championship roster.

If Hendry is allowed to finish the season — as many suspect will happen — he may well put the team in a furthered position of disadvantage by not taking advantage of players such as Barney and Baker at the height of their perceived value. The 2012 Cubs have very little chance at being competitive, but the 2011 Cubs could push them further along with a much overdue fire sale and subsequent rebuild, a la the 2005 Tampay Bay Rays.

Jim Hendry’s regime has been notorious for its anti-statistical bent. At present, they have one man running advanced statistical analysis for the organization, Ari Kaplan. Many have speculated Kaplan may be member of Ricketts’ new regime, but that new wave cannot come soon enough. With the Cubs’ advanced resources and lackluster division, a progressive, intelligent, and capable front office could quickly make the Cubs into long-term, consistent contenders.

But presently, the Cubs franchise is in a state of disarray. It is time, right now, for the Cubs to move on without Jim Hendry.

Update: Let’s put this one to bed: The Cubs are not bad in 2011 because of injuries to their starters. They are bad because of a whole myriad of things (starting with fielding, hitting, base running, and then pitching) — and one of those happens to be organizational depth. Filling in Andrew Cashner’s spot with a cavalcade of past-primers has been a perfect example of this:

However, the Cubs top-four starters this year have been their top-four starters — which is common for most teams.

We hoped you liked reading The Chicago Cubs Need Less Jim Hendry by Bradley Woodrum!

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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.

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GrouchoM
Guest
GrouchoM

So the disabled list stays of all five Opening Day starters is just a figment of my imagination? No, no, please continue on with your hatchet job and don’t let little things like facts get in the way.

Jeffrey Gross
Guest
Jeffrey Gross

Look, injury has been part of the reason that the cubs have given all these starts to undeserving people, but why go out and pay for “crafty vets” to stink when you can let some stinky minor lg pitchers sink or swim to the same effect? James Russell is not a MLB pitcher, IMO. I’d have rather just thrown Jay Jackson, for all his struggles, into the mix and say “go for it, tiger”

Dann M
Guest

Point of order: James Russell is by no means an MLB *starting* pitcher. In his proper role as a LOOGY, he is a perfectly useful member of a bullpen. Split hairs all we want about the marginal value of the 4th/5th arm out of the pen, but he has been highly effective this year out of the pen. If we pull up his splits, we have a .546 OPS-against, 3.50 K/BB, 0.87 WHIP, and 2 HR and 6 BB in over 30 innings. He doesn’t strike a lot of guys out, but his 1.35 ERA/3.11 FIP/3.98 xFIP out of the pen isn’t awful. He’s a flyball heavy pitcher, granted, but it’s hard to say a guy with a 12.5% LD rate out of the pen (13.6% on the year overall) is not MLB-level. And his FB rate is consistent with last year, so all those LDs from 2010 are groundballs in 2011.

I know, I’m pretty much done with Jim Hendry, too, but including a second-year lefty reliever as one of the issues with the team? Just hurting your argument.

Ryan
Member
Ryan

Yes. This should have been a puff piece defending a man who thought Dempster and Zambrano would mean a competitive team. In almost every capacity the Cubs starters have been ineffective.

hunterfan
Guest
hunterfan

Mrs Hendry? Is that you?

Peter O.
Guest
Peter O.

Gimme a break guy. Garza missed a couple of starts, but did anyone really missing the starts of Zambrano/Wells/Dempster? The product on the field is downright ghastly, and who’s responsible for that?

prospectslol
Guest
prospectslol

I’d definitely rather have Rodrigo Lopez, Doug Davis, James Russell or Casey Coleman starting than Zambrano, Wells, Dempster, or Cashner… oh wait no I wouldn’t.

Peter O.
Guest
Peter O.

You missed the point. Even when those guys are healthy, they’re mediocre pitchers.

prospectslol
Guest
prospectslol

Mediocre is all they would need to be around a .500 team currently and in contention for the NLC.

I am not sure what this stat is now a couple games after the AS break, but heading into it, the Cubs were above .500 when Zambrano, Dempster, & Garza started a game. Anyone else, the Cubs were 20 games under.

Daniel
Member
Daniel

Ryan Dempster? Seriously? The guy’s been top 15/20 in the majors since he became a starter. Look it up.

The guy’s not funny, but he can definitely pitch. Converting him is one of the very best things the Cubs did in the last few years. He has one bad April, and suddenly he’s mediocre? Pur-leeese.

And Big-Z and Wells are league average guys, Z maybe a little better (never a FIP- over 100 if I recall; wait, just let me check… Yes, I do recall! Actually this year he’s at 102. But historically, you see, historically). Wells is not very good this year. But I’d back him to get ahead of mediocrity (however slightly) again next year. Call them mediocre this year (on this Cubs team, mediocrity stands out), sure, but don’t say with such disdain, Fangraphs coommunity!

And Ryan Dempster has a 3.35 xFIP this year. Ryan Dempster rules the Wrigley mound and my heart.

Peter O.
Guest
Peter O.

Alright mediocre might be underselling Demp, but not by that much. Big Z is mediocre. Sorry, but for $18M a year, I like my pitchers to be jis’ a tad better than league average.

You need to quit sugar coating this team. It’s crap filled crap wrapped in crap and deep fried in crap. They’re lone allstar was a 21 year old SS. Love the kid, but think about that. They’re not a Pujols away from contention.

GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat
Guest
GlennBraggsSwingAndMissBrokenBat

A bad roster is why the Cubs suck. If you want to blame it on injuries, you’re as delusional as Hendry.

Luckily for Cubs fans, no one cares if they win.

Dick McCheesedoodle
Guest
Dick McCheesedoodle

You’re saying that just to get a rise out of people like me, right?

You are factually correct that all 5 opening day starters have spent time on the DL, but don’t you agree that is proven irrelevant by the graph up above? The pool of starts of all Cub games have been overwhelmingly made by 4 of the 5 opening day starters.

If the Cubs had a ‘normal’ amount of injuries, how good do you think they’d be exactly? The Cubs are 21 games under .500 and the 2nd worst team in baseball. What would their current record be if they had an amount of injuries more in line with what you expected? Is that record good enough for you to think the Cubs are in a good position going forward with their current leadership?

My echo and bunnymen (Dodgers Fan)
Guest
My echo and bunnymen (Dodgers Fan)

To be a smart ass, I didn’t know they played the Opening Day game five times.

Jack Weiland
Guest
Jack Weiland

I think my problem with this graph (and the points being made above) is it assumes just because a guy is taking the ball he’s his 100% normal self. Wells in particular hasn’t been nearly the same guy he was last year or the year before.

THAT SAID, yes it was pretty clear before the season that this team sucked. They had the slimmest chance of competing if everything broke exactly right, and it clearly did not. Changes clearly need to be made. Barney doesn’t have a lot of long-term value, but I’m not sold that they NEED to trade Marshall. He’s been excellent, he came up as a starter … what they ought to do is stretch him out and put him back in the rotation. Could be Dempster II.

Jack Weiland
Guest
Jack Weiland

Also when you’re talking about trading players for prospects the return is only potentially better in the long run. There are no guarantees there. If you’re talking about a player like Barney who is going to be pretty easily replaced for his entire career … yes, do it. If you’re talking about dealing Marshall for a prospect? No, I don’t think the long term return necessarily exceeds the cost.

Keith
Guest
Keith

Are you trying to defend this team? It’s a hot-headed sack of money (Zambrano), an overpaid-for #2/3 (Garza, who cost half of the farm’s top-end), an OK veteran that SHOULD be dealt to a contender to fix the gaping farm holes (Dempster), an overrated #5/6 (Wells, who sohuld have been dealth after 2009), and a random assortment of retards (Lopez, Davis, Russell as a starter, Ortiz, Coleman) that starts the games.

Then we get into the offense, where the best player is 21 (Castro, and it’s not exactly a contest), a backup MI starting at 2B (Barney), another veteran that should be a farm restocking chip (Ramirez, but Hendry gave him a NTC), a guy I vouched for as a FA signing (Pena, but not for $10 million), a top-5 worst contract in baseball for the past 5 years and next 3 (Soriano), yet ANOTHER veteran that should be gone (Byrd), and a RF that is a 4th OF on a good team and making #2 OF money (Fukudome).

So then we reach the late inning, where we get visits from the worst reliever in baseball (Grabow), a lost closer who seems more luck than good (Marmol), a really nice lefty that could fetch a lot in a weak lefty market (Marshall), a failed SP prospect that was a nice closer, then a bad closer, now a nice setup guy (Wood, but i’m OK with keeping him), and a random mess (Russell is an ok lefty–more reason to move Marshall, Mateo, Berg, Samardzija, and the rest of the morons that have failed in the ‘pen).

Oh, and I forgot Soto, the 2008 RotY that has almsot as many shoulder problems as Mark Prior (he’s my favorite player, so I can make that joke).

Castro, Marshall, and Marmol are the only players I would comfortably call above-average for their roles (Garza is in the ace role while not an ace, and Dempster’s the #2 while really being a #3). We’re holding on to bums like Baker and DeWitt as well, and prospects aren’t even getting a chance to progress in the majors.

Nothing about this team is run correctly. If you think that this team is anywhere near league-average now or next season (unless a MAJOR overhaul is undertaken), you’re just a baseball-watching football fan.