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.

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 

The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (sore left wrist), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (cut left hand) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

The Cubs didn’t rebook Schwarber to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

All these circumstances made a vintage Jake Arrieta performance during Thursday night’s 11-1 win at Marlins Park so important. Whether or not the Cubs make a blockbuster trade for a pitcher, there are still five-plus weeks left until buyers and sellers will feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”

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On a night where he felt “low energy,” rocked a new buzz cut and covered his right thumb with Dermabond to treat a cut/blister issue that can be traced back to spring training, Arrieta needed only 82 pitches to get through seven innings, completely shutting down a strong Miami lineup except for a Marcell Ozuna home run.

Arrieta’s inconsistencies (7-5, 4.36 ERA) have mirrored a 37-35 team, but he didn’t hesitate when asked where he is at now in a season that has so far not lived up to his Cy Young/All-Star expectations.  

“I’m close,” Arrieta said. “I’m really close.”

The Cubs are still the defending champs. Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. Blocking out a messy personal situation, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell almost hit for the cycle (no triple) the day after getting questions about his divorce and a Major League Baseball investigation. This year’s Schwarber – rookie Ian Happ – also went 4-for-5 and gave the team another jolt.  

“It’s tough to see Schwarber go down,” Arrieta said. “We know that he’s going to be one of our mainstays in the lineup eventually. He’s hit a rough patch and it happens to the best of us. 

“I’ve been there. I talked to him yesterday a little bit about just keeping his head down and going to work and getting his at-bats and trying to find that comfort level. He’ll be back soon. He’s a tremendous hitter who’s going through some struggles and he’s going to right the ship. There’s no doubt about that. He’s too good of a hitter.

“A night like tonight where we pitch well and we score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. We’re very capable of doing that.”

Especially if Arrieta gets hot again and shows how he can lift an entire team. 

“To get Jake pitching that kind of quality game again is going to be a big boon to us,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

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The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”