'Tis the season to talk of lame ducks. Presidents. Nah, baseball general managers, particularly Cubs GM Jim Hendry.
Sometime Sunday, Hendry will head to Mesa, Ariz., for the Cubs' annual organization meetings. The biggest worry Hendry might have is whether he'll be going as a lame-duck GM. The answer is probably not. It appears the Cubs and Hendry are close to finalizing a multiyear deal that could keep Trader Jim around for another three years. Hendry may have been feeling a little uneasy because of the seemingly endless process of the Tribune Co. unloading the Cubs. What happens if Hendry were to pick up his one-year option by Dec. 30, only to have the Cubs sold next spring and the new owners saying, "Thank you very much and good-bye?"
If all the i's get dotted and the t's crossed, Hendry shouldn't have to worry about that, and the new owners will be getting a GM who has built three division winners in six years. Of course there have been some bumps along the way. But under Hendry, the Cubs have beefed up their front office, including their amateur scouting under the capable leadership of Tim Wilken. The Cubs have gone to the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time in a century, a nine-game losing streak in the playoffs notwithstanding.
On balance, Hendry has an above-average record. Here is some of the good:
--Trading catcher Todd Hundley to the Dodgers for Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros after the 2002 season. That one still may be the trade of the 21st Century.
--Turning Bobby Hill, Matt Bruback (remember him? I didn't think so) and Jose Hernandez into Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton via a trade with the Pirates.
--Turning Hee Seop Choi into Derrek Lee in a trade with the Marlins.
--Trading essentially four minor-leaguers to the A's for their No. 1 pitcher, Rich Harden.
--Signing pitcher Ted Lilly to a free-agent contract.
--Signing free-agent catcher Henry Blanco. When Geovany Soto wins Rookie of the Year, the first person he ought to thank is Blanco, a valuable mentor.
--Being the prime mover of a four-team trade that brought Nomar Garciaparra to the Cubs in 2004. For sheer creativity and energy, Hendry gets high marks for this one. Unfortunately, manager Dusty Baker let things deteriorate down the stretch in '04, and Nomar's '05 season ended almost before it started because of a groin injury.
--Picking up center fielders Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds this year when their former teams no longer wanted them. Both played significant parts in the Cubs winning the NL Central for a second straight year.
--Signing "utility man" Mark DeRosa to a three-year contract before the 2007 season. DeRosa may be the best bargain in the game among veteran players.
Here are some of the not-so-hot Hendry moves:
--Signing infielder Neifi Perez to a two-year contract extension. Ol' Neifi will go down as one of the worst offensive players in baseball history. Dusty often claimed that "Neifi saved us." From what, I'm still not sure.
--Signing Glendon Rusch to a two-year contract extension. Good-guy Glendon helped out for a while but didn't deserve that kind of extension. He had a major health scare with a blood clot, but fortunately, he survived and was able to make a comeback this year.
--Looking for bullpen ligthning but never catching it with the likes of Mike Remlinger, LaTroy Hawkins, Bob Howry and Scott Eyre. Eyre, by the way, will be going to the World Series with the Phillies.
--Trying to find a Sammy Sosa replacement in right field with the likes of Jeromy Burnitz and Jacque Jones. Maybe we'll be saying the same thing about Kosuke Fukudome (and maybe not) before too long.
--Giving three years and $21 million to pitcher Jason Marquis.
The jury is still out on Fukudome and left fielder Alfonso Soriano, who got eight years and $136 million before the '07 season. The only way Soriano comes close to being worth it is if he carries the Cubs to a World Series title. And even if that happens, that's too much dough for a player who appears to be an annual injury waiting to happen.
Hendry also was slow to embrace the importance of sabermetrics and advanced statistical analysis. The vast improvements in on-base percentage, walks and runs scored this year may be a sign that the light has gone on. Cubs fans should hope it's one of those long-lasting bulbs.
When it comes to delegating authority, Hendry allows assistant GM Randy Bush significant input. Scouting gurus Gary Hughes and Paul Weaver added independent voices in recent years, and scout Ken Kravec is considered one of the best in the game.
Overall, I give Hendry a B for results and an A for effort and energy. Cubs fans are past the point of antsy for the team to close the deal in October. When and if the expected extension comes down for Hendry, it'll be must-win time.