Cubs GM Hendry needs a piece of the action

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Cubs GM Hendry needs a piece of the action

Thursday, March 31, 2011Posted 11:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

There used to be a saying around the baseball offices at Creighton University: Jim Hendry could sell ice to the Eskimos and make them think they were getting a good deal.

Elvis Dominguez hesitated to use the word salesman, because in his mind, it implies that Hendry was pushing something that you didnt really want or need.

What Dominguez meant was that Hendry saw how good you could be and would tell you how to get there.

Dominguez was born in Cuba and moved to Miami at the age of eight. He played at Columbus High, the Catholic school where Hendry taught English and made a name for himself as the youngest baseball coach in the state of Florida.

Dominguez became the first in his family to go to college when he followed Hendry to Creighton. He stayed in Omaha, Neb., as Hendrys graduate assistant to begin his climb. Hes now the head baseball coach at Bradley University.

Its The American Dream, a great immigrant story. Dominguez looks back on his experience and speaks for everyone who bought in at Creighton: We walked out never saying, What if.

Its easy to picture Hendry dominating living rooms and reeling in recruits. His personality was perfect for the job shaking hands with parents, schmoozing boosters and telling the best stories at cocktail parties.

But it wasnt enough. By 1991, Hendry had led Creighton to the College World Series. His ambitions drove him back home again, to work for a start-up company based in Florida.

From the ground up

The Cubs will run out across Wrigley Field on Friday with an Opening Day payroll that USA Today calculated to be 125 million, the sixth-highest in the game.

Cubs accounting will probably have it closer to 133 million, which roughly represents a 10 percent drop from the year before.

A quick way to annoy the Cubs general manager is to suggest that hes just found religion about budgets, or suddenly realized the importance of homegrown players. Hendry hates the perception of being a checkbook executive.

Hendrys roots are with the Marlins, in scouting and player development, building something from scratch.

Im not so sure I could have ever done it better entering pro ball (and) going with those guys on an expansion team, Hendry said. We didnt play for two years. It was such an education from the ground up. (They gave me) such a variety of jobs. (It) was tough love. They were hard on me.

I was Joe College, Hotshot Coach and I got reminded of that a few times. (This) wasnt college baseball anymore.

There, Hendry worked alongside Dave Dombrowski, the architect of the 1997 World Series champions and future Tigers general manager. Hendry got the job in part through Gary Hughes, one of the top 10 scouts of the 20th century as judged by Baseball America.

You can still see Hughes in Mesa, Ariz., riding around the teams facilities in a golf cart. Hughes is a Cubs special assistant and that is probably Hendrys greatest strength the people he surrounds himself with.

Staying power

A Google search for Fire Jim Hendry yields 174,000 results. There is obvious impatience with Hendry, whos entering his 17th season in an organization that hasnt won a World Series since 1908.

Pat Gillick the executive who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer described his work this way: The job of the general manager is not to select the correct players. It's to select the correct people to select the players.

This is Year 2 under the Ricketts ownership group. Theyve mostly stayed out of baseball operations, while explicitly saying what they want a strong farm system, the sustainable model to create an annual contender.

The Ricketts family routinely praises scouting director Tim Wilken and vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita as the best in the business. The money is flowing toward their spheres of influence. Those investments in the amateur draft and Latin America are supposed to yield the next generation of Tyler Colvins, Andrew Cashners and Starlin Castros.

Wilken grew up with Hendry in Dunedin, Fla. Hendry recruited Fleita to Creighton and even honored the commitment after the pitcher went to Dr. James Andrews for surgery and had to convert into a position player.

Hendry is signed through the 2012 season, along with his key lieutenants in the front office, including assistant general manager Randy Bush. The group is fiercely loyal to their leader.

I have a good relationship with Tom Ricketts, Hendry said. I dont want to stay unless he thinks Im the right guy for the job down the road.

I got a great group of people under me. Thats (most) important to me what they would think of me, not (necessarily) other factions of the game. Its the same thing with the clubhouse I dont ever try to be everybodys best friend. All I ever want in that clubhouse is their respect.

The next window

Hendrys not a laptop geek, and he strolls through the clubhouse more than most in his position. Only eight general managers in the majors have held onto their job longer than Hendry, who took over in July 2002 and has watched his teams make the playoffs only three times since then.

Hendry is 55 but feels much younger than that. He has built the relationships with Greg Maddux and Kerry Wood that helped bring them back into the organization.

Especially in this business, sometimes you can find that theres a lot of dishonesty floating around out there, said outfielder Reed Johnson, who made the team after signing a minor-league deal in January. Its hard to trust people. (Hendrys) not going to tell you what you want to hear. Hes going to tell you how it is.

No one in Chicago expects the Cubs to do too much this season. The most optimistic predictions seem to have them around 84 victories, if everything breaks right.

A massive amount of money will fall off their financial books after 2011, which means Hendry could be framing their next window of opportunity.

Hendrys Cubs didnt spend a single moment above .500 last season. The fans have to pay for some of the most expensive tickets in the game. Talking up the system will get real old if all these young players regress this season.

Hendry knows all this. But you dont get to his luxury suite by playing it safe and wondering What if.

You look at someone who didnt play pro ball or go to an Ivy League school. Whatever happens good or bad you ask the general manager of the Chicago Cubs if hell ever have a better job than this.

I never worried about it, Hendry said. I never looked at the next job in my life. Ive only worked in four places in my life and Ive loved them all.

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

Report: Aroldis Chapman returns to Yankees on five-year deal

Report: Aroldis Chapman returns to Yankees on five-year deal

After helping bring a World Series title back to the North Side, Aroldis Chapman is headed back to New York.

The former Cubs closer signed a five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees, according to FOX's Ken Rosenthal.

He was acquired by the Cubs in July in exchange for pitcher Adam Warren and prospects Rashad Crawford, Billy McKinney and Gleyber Torres.

Chapman notched 36 saves and owned a 1.01 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and recorded 90 strikeouts across 26 2/3 innings with the Cubs during the regular season.

He appeared in 13 postseason contests, where he registered a 3.45 ERA,1.09 WHIP and 21 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings. 

Why Cubs felt like they had to trade Jorge Soler now

Why Cubs felt like they had to trade Jorge Soler now

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Before making the blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade with the New York Yankees, the Cubs checked in with the Kansas City Royals about Wade Davis and found the asking price to be Kyle Schwarber. 

The psychology and the supply-and-demand dynamics are different in July. Schwarber had been damaged goods, still recovering from major knee surgery and months away from his dramatic return in the World Series. Davis also could have impacted two pennants races for his new team instead of one.
 
By the time a $10 billion industry reconvened this week outside Washington, D.C., for the winter meetings, the small-market Royals could compromise with Jorge Soler, betting on his long-term upside and facing the reality that their World Series closer could have been part of a mass exodus of free agents after the 2017 season.

The Cubs also checked into the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center knowing that Soler is a diminishing asset for a loaded team at a time when his best attribute – right-handed power – could be found on the free-agent market in sluggers like Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo.  
     
“I think there’s some great baseball ahead for him,” team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday night after the Cubs finalized the Soler-for-Davis trade. “I think it’s more likely that he reaches his ceiling now than it was 24 hours ago, because he’s got a chance to play every day.” 

Soler became a top priority within the first weeks of the Epstein administration as Cubs officials scouted the Cuban defector in the Dominican Republic before Thanksgiving 2011, picturing him as a building block for future playoff teams at a renovated Wrigley Field. 

Even chairman Tom Ricketts met with Soler’s camp during a trip to the Dominican Republic before the Cubs won the bidding war and the prospect signed a nine-year, $30 million major-league contract in the summer of 2012. 

Years later, manager Joe Maddon would describe Soler as Vladimir Guerrero with plate discipline, the kind of talent who would be drafted No. 1 overall if he had been born in South Florida. 

Soler showed flashes of superstar potential. He absolutely crushed the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2015 playoffs (2.341 OPS) and will get a well-deserved World Series ring. But he didn’t look like a complete player or an athlete the Cubs could count on to stay healthy, profiling more like a designated hitter in the American League.

“When George was playing sporadically, he became a little bit more of an all-or-nothing power threat,” Epstein said, “because it’s hard to get into a good rhythm and you’re not seeing pitches as much. You’re not recognizing spin the same way. 

“When he’s locked in, he can work really good at-bats. And he’s a hitter – not just a power hitter. So I think it’s more likely now that his potential gets unleashed at some point. We’re rooting for him.”

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Maybe Soler – who still hasn’t turned 25 yet – can avoid some of the leg injuries as a part-time DH and put it all together in Kansas City as the Royals try to balance the present, the future and their financial realities. But the Cubs are a win-now team that believes Davis could get them the final out of the 2017 World Series. 

An October legend (Schwarber) and a $184 million Gold Glove defender (Jason Heyward) would keep blocking Soler at the corner spots in Wrigley Field, where a National League MVP (Kris Bryant) and a World Series MVP (Ben Zobrist) can move away from the infield. Javier Baez is another versatile, well-rounded player who would continue to marginalize Soler. 

“It became tough for us,” Epstein said, “with Schwarber looking like he’s destined to play quite a bit of left field. Not ruling catching out as an option to some extent, but he’s going to play a lot of left field. 

“And with Javy’s emergence – and what that means for Zobrist’s possible role in the outfield as well at times – it just became tougher and tougher to see George getting regular at-bats with us. 

“We felt like he needed to play – and it would have been a tough fit.”

It would have been even tougher to trade a spare outfielder during his fourth season in the big leagues. Stashing Soler – who has 27 career homers in less than 700 big-league at-bats – at Triple-A Iowa wouldn’t have been the answer. 

The Cubs saw this day coming. Schwarber wrecked his knee in early April and Soler injured his hamstring two months later and wound up missing two months.

“He just couldn’t quite stay healthy enough,” Epstein said, “and kind of slumped at the wrong time and started to get hot right before he got hurt.

“That was kind of how we envisioned it: ‘Hey, if there’s an opportunity, this guy can take the job and run with it – and then we have an even more valuable trade chip – or we’ve got an everyday leftfielder/middle-of the-order bat.’ It just didn’t quite come together. 

“But I think this trade – despite that – recouped a lot of his value. It made sense for him, for us and for the Royals.”