Short of P Randy Wells, has anyone on the Chicago baseball landscape had worse luck than Chicago Cubs GM Jim Hendry? As we pass the first third of the 2009 season, it appears that every significant move that Hendry made in the offseason has stunk to high heaven. Some of those major moves include:
Signing OF Milton Bradley — Hendry signed Bradley to his first ever multi-year contract, a 3-year, $30M sweetheart deal, partially to cover last season’s potential mistake of signing OF Kosuke Fukudome. The other part is that Bradley’s a switch hitter, adding yet another left handed hitting bat to what was once a righty dominated regular lineup. All Bradley has done this season is boycott the media, bump an umpire, earning himself a 2 game suspension, appealing said suspension while being in the midst of missing 7 games due to a hamstring injury. Now injured with a calf strain, Bradley is hitting .208 5 HR 14RBI and struggling to stay healthy.
Trading IF/OF Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians for 3 minor league pitchers — evaluating all of Hendry’s moves, this one was the most baffling. DeRosa played at least 6 positions and was an offensive force for the Cubs, keeping a big stick in the lineup while offering rest to regular position players with no drop off in ability. DeRosa, along with former Cubs P Kerry Wood, was the heart and soul of the Cubs 97 win team in 2008. His 10HR and 42RBI would by far lead the 2009 Cubs in both categories. It seems that the right handed hitting DeRosa’s only problem is that he doesn’t hit left handed.
Signing OF Joey Gathright — Gathright was an insurance policy, a way to provide speed and fielding ability at the top of the Cubs lineup. What Gathright amounted to was a poor fit in Chicago. Hendry traded Gathright to the Baltimore Orioles for IF/OF Ryan Freel, whom the Orioles activated from the 15-day DL to complete the trade. Hendry’s luck continues, as three weeks after completing this trade, Freel was back on the DL
Signing IF/OF Aaron Miles — The signing of Miles was a hedge to the DeRosa trade, as Miles is DeRosa lite. Miles plays almost as many positions, but unlike DeRosa, Miles hits with zero power. Miles played sporatically to start the season, but as he began to receive more playing time, he earned himself a seat at the table of the 15-day DL, adding further scrutiny to an already snakebitten Hendry offseason.
Keeping Rule 5 draftee LHP David Patton on the 25-man roster — This move was a particularly tough one and a huge risk, magnified by the roster turmoil the Cubs have seen in the first two months of the season. Patton was outstanding in spring training, making the decision to keep him a very difficult one, considering it would have to be for the entire season, due to the Rule 5 rules. Once the season began, Patton suddenly became hittable and unreliable, which is not a huge suprise from a young player who had never played professional baseball above the Class A minor league level. Keeping Patton tied manager Lou Piniella’s hands in two ways: first, Patton was virtually unusable in any situation outside of blowout victories or losses; second, Patton cost the Cubs a roster spot for a more reliable pitcher, or a position player, which would have been useful when 3B Aramis Ramirez went down with a shoulder injury.
Signing RHP Chad Fox — Hendry took yet another flyer on the oft injured pitcher, and once again, it ends with what appears to be a season and career ending injury. Fox ended last season with a major elbow injury prompting a brief retirement, only to be lured out of retirement for another go at bullpen work. In his second appearance against the Milwaukee Brewers on May 8th, Fox threw a wild pitch and grabbed his arm in obvious pain. He is on the DL again and it appears that this time, his injury may be career-ending.
Other issues that are not directly related to Hendry moves, but have happened under Hendry’s watch as GM this season include:
- The Ramirez injury
- Carlos Zambrano’s injury and subsequent 5-game suspension and $3,000 fine for bumping an umpire while vehemently disputing a call at home plate in a game on May 27th, then 6 days later blows off a team flight to Atlanta without permission.
- LHP Ted Lilly’s fined $1,500 and nearly suspended for being ejected while arguing balls and strikes – in a game where he was not even pitching.
- An injury to RHP Rich Harden, forcing a move to the DL that has been longer than first anticipated
- Building an ineffective bullpen, with struggling LHP Neal Cotts, RHP Aaron Heilman, and set-up man RHP Carlos Marmol’s recent struggles
- Early ineffectiveness from IF Mike Fontenot, C Geovanny Soto, and 1B Derrek Lee
To be fair, not all of Hendry’s moves this season been a total disaster. Some of Hendry’s smaller, under-the-radar moves have been quite strong, mainly:
- Bringing up Randy Wells when Zambrano went on the DL; then keeping Wells in the rotation as he has been the Cubs most dependable and effective starting pitcher of late.
- Promoting rookie IF Bobby Scales, an 11-year minor league player making his major league debut. Scales became the feel good story of the season so far for the Cubs.
- Making an 11th hour decision to keep bubble performer RHP Angel Guzman as the 25th man on the roster after a horrible spring training. All Guzman has done is become the best and most reliable reliever in the Cubs bullpen this season, sporting a 2-0 record (the first two wins of his major league career) with a 2.28 ERA, with 6 holds and a save. Over a span of 12 games since May 8th, Guzman has been perfect, not giving up a single run.
While Jim Hendry’s moves have all backfired so far this season, to his and the Cubs credit, they haven’t panicked. Odds are that players struggling this bad will rebound strongly and if the strong starting pitching continues, the Cubs still can boast the most talent of any team in the NL Central. Only time will tell if this will be enough for a third straight post-season appearance.