Cubs GM Hendry is in it for the long haul

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Cubs GM Hendry is in it for the long haul

Thursday, March 10, 2011
Posted 8:47 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. In one week the Cubs received nearly 3,000 responses to a want ad for their next public-address announcer at Wrigley Field. So just think how many would love Jim Hendrys job, or think they could do it better.

Cubs honor Santo in Arizona

The Cubs general manager did not play professional baseball or graduate from an Ivy League university. Yet he is sitting behind his desk at HoHoKam Park on Thursday, the names of all the organizations players lining one office wall.

This marks Hendrys 17th season with the company, which in corporate America is stunning for any employee in any field. That doesnt even take into account ownership instability, an industry that burns through executives, or a team that is on Year 103 since its last World Series title.

I get labeled as this old-school guy all the time, and part of that I take a lot of pride in, Hendry said. (But) I dont think Im unbending. (I) want to come to work every day and get better. I didnt get to be the GM of the Cubs because of some good-old-boy network. I did a lot of jobs on the way up and probably beat a few odds.

Only eight general managers in the majors have held onto their job longer than Hendry, who took over in July 2002. Only two are in the National League San Franciscos Brian Sabean and Colorados Dan ODowd.

Hendry knows he bought some time by immediately winning the division in 2003, and admits that if Lou Piniellas teams hadnt done the same in 2007 and 2008, hed probably be gone by now.

After a fifth-place finish last season, Hendry is overseeing the next rebuilding project. At the age of 55, he has already survived several boom-and-bust periods.

The dominos

The free-agent spending spree ordered by the Tribune Co. when the team was up for sale wasnt going to last forever. The Cubs had committed around 145 million for last years Opening Day roster. Sources say they will begin this season around 133 million, though the overall budget for baseball operations has remained the same.

You work under the parameters of the payroll you have, Hendry said. Higher or lower, it will never be an excuse not to win.

The Cubs discussed three obvious needs at the organizational meetings last fall in Arizona, but even these names exceeded their wildest dreams.

How (Hendry) did it? I have no clue, especially with what he had to work with, outfielder Marlon Byrd said. Thats why hes one of the best GMs. Im excited. Matt Garza, Kerry Wood, Carlos Pena you couldnt ask for anything more.

All the dominos fell just right. Pena, a left-handed, Gold Glove first baseman, accepted a signing bonus and deferred money on a one-year deal worth 10 million that will be paid out over 13 months.

Wood, a power arm for the bullpen, felt the pull of home at Ron Santos funeral and signed for 1.5 million, an amount that initially looked like a misprint.

Economic circumstances made Tampa Bay willing to take a package of prospects for the 27-year-old Garza, a frontline starter and the 2008 ALCS MVP.

Chairman Tom Ricketts has said that Hendry did a great job this offseason, and indicated that hes grown in confidence with his general manager. The chairman expects the club to be an annual contender.

We expect the best out of our baseball department every season, Ricketts said last month, before the teams first full-squad workout. I wouldnt read any more into it than that.

The blueprint

Hendry credits Tribune Co. leadership for once taking a chance on an old Creighton University coach. Andy MacPhail, the teams former president and chief executive officer, helped give Hendry a three-dimensional education.

Hendry rose as a player-development director, scouting director and assistant general manager, where he first got exposure to working on contracts and arbitration cases. He tries to stay grounded in those roots, and doesnt like the perception of being a checkbook general manager.

Ricketts can be vague in some of his public statements, but he has a very clear idea of what he wants from baseball operations: A strong farm system to keep producing talent.

I owe the Ricketts family, Hendry said. We need to put a good product on the field pretty much every year. Were headed that way, (but) Im really glad that Tom is outspoken about player development and scouting.

Because from the first time I met him I told him the real blueprint to win down the road isnt what we did in 07 and 08. Its to keep getting good players. Dont ever cut that part of the budget down.

That doesnt mean you put Triple-A Iowa at Wrigley Field and charge big-league prices. Its identifying the prospects that are untouchable, the ones that can be traded in certain deals and the ones that are disposable. Sometimes you flip assets for a player like Garza, the way the Cubs acquired Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.

If you know your own system inside and out, Hendry said, you got it knocked.

The future

Roughly 100 employees report to Hendry and he has surrounded himself with what he likes to call high-end guys.

The Ricketts family views scouting director Tim Wilken Hendrys childhood friend from Florida as one of the best in the business.

A Cubs board member described vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita who once played for Hendry at Creighton as a kind of father figure to all their prospects in the Dominican Republic.

All this has created a sense of loyalty. Hendry is signed through the 2012 season, as is Wilken, Fleita and assistant general manager Randy Bush.

The other day Hendry sat in the front row next to the Cubs dugout at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. He wore a baseball cap and sunglasses and held a clipboard. Surrounded by front-office lieutenants, he charted pluses and minuses, situational hitting, throwing to the right base, the details that he thinks win or lose baseball games.

Hendry looked like just another scout, even though his job responsibilities have multiplied toward the media, the budgets and the office politics. Near the end of the game, he stood up for a couple of fans with a camera. He tries not to get caught up in the pressure, or what his next job might be, or when this one will end.

Youre the greatest when youre winning, Hendry said, and you also read some days when you should be shipped out of town. I got a pretty good perspective on both ends of it. I dont shy away from the public. I never turn anybody down that wants a picture or a handshake. I think its just something youre supposed to do. If youre not careful, someday youll wish they asked.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Theo Epstein's front office is heading into Year 6 with the Cubs and they're finally talking about a pitcher as one of the organization's most exciting prospects.

That's how senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod framed his Dylan Cease report to fans at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago last weekend.

It was a tongue-in-cheek summation from McLeod after he spent the previous few minutes fawning over Cease, the Cubs' sixth round pick in 2014.

Of course, McLeod and the Cubs can poke fun at the lack of impact pitching the farm system has developed when the homegrown position players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber just helped lead the franchise to its first World Series championship in over a century.

Cease, however, has been one of the more intriguing Cubs prospects for years — a right-handed pitcher capable of touching 101 mph on the radar gun.

"This guy is throwing lightning bolts out of his arm," McLeod said. "It's really exciting. But we also understaned he's only in Low-A this year, so he's far away."

The Cubs expect Cease to pitch for Class-A South Bend in 2017 after spending last season pitching for short-season Eugene and the 2015 campaign working in the rookie league in Arizona.

Cease — who just turned 21 in late December — put up some impressive numbers at both stops in the Cubs system, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.165 WHIP to go along with a whopping 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He also only surrendered one homer and walked more batters (41) than reached via a basehit (39).

Control is obviously an issue for Cease, but the upside is evident.

"He's so far away," McLeod said. "He's gonna go into 2017 as a starter. As with a lot of young guys, it's gonna come down to command and depend on that third pitch and the ability to land them for strikes.

"It's a special arm. He can pitch 95-100 mph with a big power curveball. He's unlike anyone else we have in our system since we've been here in terms of pure stuff."

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One fan compared Cease to Carl Edwards Jr. in terms of their lanky build and high velocity, setting McLeod up for a layup joke.

"Well, Dylan is much stronger physically than CJ is...as is everybody in this room," McLeod said as the ballroom filled with laugher. "Don't tell [CJ] I said that. 

"They have different body types, obviously. Carl is long and lanky and Dylan has probably put on 20 pounds since we drafted him, so he's more like 6-foot-2, 190."

By comparison, Edwards — who goes by "The String Bean Slinger" for his slight build — is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Edwards was drafted in the 48th round in 2011 and spent his whole minor-league career as a starting pitcher until the Cubs converted him to a reliever in 2015.

Cease may eventually go down the same path, but the Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to make it as a starter first.

Cease was one of the top pitchers available in the 2014 draft, but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow while at Milton High School in Georgia.

That scared off a lot of teams — as did the potential signability issues with college offers looming — but the Cubs took a chance and have now watched Cease soar to a top prospect in the system (No. 4 by Baseball America; No. 7 by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) despite the cautious approach and lack of innings in professional ball.

"We have to thank Kyle Schwarber, actually, as one of the main reasons we got to sign Dylan Cease," McLeod said. "Because we took Kyle fourth overall, we were able to save money on the selection with him, which gave us the resources to go get Dylan Cease.

"He was a Top 10 pick in the draft — a high school arm that got hurt, fell down to the fifth round and he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, I think it was, and we were able to use the money we saved from Kyle.

"Just another reason to love Kyle Schwarber."

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon's Washington itinerary didn't include an hour-long sit-down with Chuck Todd for NBC's "Meet the Press." There would be no rehashing the manager's Game 7 decisions as he stood outside the West Wing, though the second question during the media stakeout involved "last year's team" and how the 2017 Cubs are prepared to defend a World Series title.

"You're already there, huh?" Maddon said to a CNN reporter, minutes after President Barack Obama's final official White House event ended on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

But last year's team is gone — preserved now in highlight films and the hearts and minds of generations of Cub fans — even if so many familiar faces will be in Mesa when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona on Valentine's Day.

It would be impossible to replicate everything that made the 2016 Cubs so special. Baseball has its own relentless pace and the dynamics are constantly shifting. (Remember when players were passive-aggressively complaining about Maddon's spring-training approach during the final week of a 103-win regular season?) The clubhouse chemistry will inevitably feel different after climbing a Mount Everest of professional sports.

"A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form," Maddon said. "We're motivated by it. We want to do it again, of course. There's no question we're trying to do that.

"I'm really leaning on the phrase or the thought of being uncomfortable. I want us to be uncomfortable. I think the moment you get into your comfort zone after having such a significant moment in your life like that, the threat is that you're going to stop growing.

"So I really want us to be uncomfortable. I really want to continue (to see) a pattern of growth and really try to get at them very quickly again."

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Can Jason Heyward recover from one of the worst offensive seasons in the majors last year? Is Willson Contreras ready to be a frontline catcher? Will Javier Baez have to adjust back to being a role player after becoming a playoff superstar? Does Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot and Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare represent an upgrade over Dexter Fowler?

If healthy, Wade Davis should be a trusted, lower-maintenance closer than Aroldis Chapman, with an advanced approach to pitching and more clubhouse presence. As a staff, the Cubs will have to bounce back from pitching into early November (or not, in the case of the relievers Maddon didn't trust during the playoffs).

As it stands, Jon Lester (33) and John Lackey (38) have already combined to throw almost 5,000 innings in The Show (including the postseason). Jake Arrieta will have to deal with the pressure of playing for his megadeal in his final season before becoming a free agent.

The drop-off after Mike Montgomery — and it's still mostly projected potential with the No. 5 starter — appears to be very steep in an organization that doesn't have any high-end pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.

After painting the bull's-eye on the chest and turning "Embrace The Target" and "Try Not To Suck" into viral T-shirts, a guy who hates meetings is still working on his themes for this campaign.

"I'm really rotating around the thought of authenticity," Maddon said. "I talked about it a lot last year, the fact that I think authenticity has a chance to repeat itself without even trying. It's part of who you are. It's not fabricated. It's real.

"I've talked about our guys a lot the last couple years. I think one of our strongest qualities is the authentic component of our players. So I'm really focusing on that word right now. Again, that's a great word to bring an entire message from (when) you get in front of the group that first day in spring training.

"I kind of just think like authenticity happens. And let's work it from there."

The costumes should be in midseason form with Maddon planning a house party around Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival before driving his RV from Florida to Arizona.

Maddon will turn 63 on Feb. 8 and have to keep evolving, just like his players, who might outgrow some of those gimmicks. But the Cubs are still a reflection of their future Hall of Fame manager.

Amid all the uncertainty in Washington, Maddon wouldn't touch a question about what advice he would give Donald Trump before Friday's inauguration.

"I'm not even going to go anywhere close to that," Maddon said. "I will say this: I have a lot of respect of the office.

"At the end of the day, just have a lot of respect for the office, regardless of your political persuasion. My point would be to encourage people to really respect the office and let's see what we get done here over the next four years."