Chicago Cubs

Mooney: Hendry has Ricketts in his corner

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Mooney: Hendry has Ricketts in his corner

Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011
12:42 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

In an industry increasingly run by Ivy League graduates, Jim Hendry is old-school, a general manager whod rather work the phones than crunch numbers on a spreadsheet.

Ideally Hendry would make deals in a world without blogs or Twitter or websites dedicated to firing people. But in an age where everyones suddenly an expert, Hendrys boss is taking the long view.

How does Hendry still have a job? Thats what one fan asked Tom Ricketts on Saturday at the Hilton Chicago, and the answer may have been the most revealing moment this weekend at the Cubs Convention.

In the roughly 15 months the Ricketts family has controlled the team, theyve attended the organizational meetings, visited all the minor-league affiliates and spoke with scouts and coaches to get a better idea of how this business runs.

Whatever you think of Hendry, know that he has the full support of ownership.

It would be incredibly unfair to walk into the organization and judge people without enough information and make big changes when we dont really know what the story is, Ricketts said. Over the past year Ive grown in confidence with Jim. He has a good team of people that hes put together. I think thats the real judge of how well he does.

Ricketts will be grading Hendry on how many players the farm system consistently produces, and how well he spends the major-league payroll. This is a culture where board member Todd Ricketts will casually mention Jose Serra, the scout who signed Starlin Castro out of the Dominican Republic for 50,000.

Ricketts believes in a future built around Castro, Andrew Cashner and Tyler Colvin. He credits two Hendry allies scouting director Tim Wilken and vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita for those finds and money in the budget has been shifted to their departments.

Ricketts sees that Hendry has surrounded himself with what he would call high-end guys, like Greg Maddux. Family obligations have so far prevented Maddux from taking on a full-time role in the front office, but he has already become a trusted advisor to Hendry.

Whatever you think of ownership, they do not give in easily to popular sentiment. Ricketts again backed Hendry on the manager question.

Ryne Sandberg is a highly valued, treasured member of the Cubs family and the fact is that hes always welcome here and always will be, Ricketts said. He is one of us. When Jim decided and we supported (putting) Mike Quade in as manager I think it was Rynes decision that he would have a better chance of becoming a major-league manager if he went to work in a different organization. He certainly wasnt asked to leave or nudged in any way. It was a decision he made on his own.

That Hendry is heading into his 17th season in the Cubs organization is a testament to his networking and political skills.

Ricketts wants more quantitative voices in the front office, and has made hires to that end. He also expects baseball operations to become smarter in how it drafts contracts.

At the winter meetings, Hendry negotiated against Scott Boras and convinced Carlos Pena to sign a one-year, 10 million contract that will be paid out in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Hendry gets along well with baseballs most powerful agent, and those types of connections paid off in reaching an agreement with Kerry Wood. Theyve known each other since Wood was a teenager.

(Theres a) trust factor, Hendry said. He knows that hes always got it straight from the front office here.

Hendry declined to comment when a fan mentioned Albert Pujols as a possibility for 2012 once Penas pillow contract expires. But on the same day the Cardinals made it known that Pujols wont discuss an extension once spring training starts, Ricketts sounded like he knew who he wanted to be calling agents, scouts and players.

Its still a relationship business, Hendry said. At the end of the day, when its time to make deals, a lot of it is relationships and how you build them and who trusts you and who you can trust.

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

Can Cubs count on Kyle Schwarber to be the hero again?

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USA TODAY

Can Cubs count on Kyle Schwarber to be the hero again?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Cubs had so much confidence in Kyle Schwarber last year that they made him their World Series designated hitter – less than seven months after major surgery on his left knee and with only two Arizona Fall League games as the warm-up – and expected him to deliver against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and a dynamic Cleveland Indians bullpen.

Now? Manager Joe Maddon isn’t quite ready to make that leap of faith with Schwarber, even as the October legend closes in on 30 home runs this season and puts up a .900-plus OPS since his reboot at Triple-A Iowa this summer.

“The thing you’ve got to be willing right now with Schwarbs is understanding that he’s going to do that,” Maddon said Wednesday, pointing toward the right-center field seats where Schwarber launched Chris Archer’s 96-mph fastball the night before at Tropicana Field. “And then he might strike out with a runner on third base. You have to accept both sides.

“You’re playing for that (home run) based on his ability against that pitcher, also knowing that you’re going to see the punch-out in there, too. It’s just part of who he is right now.”

That would appear to be a part-time player, as Maddon went with Jon Jay’s contact skills in the designated-hitter spot against Tampa Bay Rays lefty Blake Snell and continues to think about what will give the Cubs the best chance to win the final stages of the National League Central race.

Looking back on his time with Rays, Maddon explained some of the creative tension within a small-market operation constantly looking for ways to find an edge. Maddon called it buckets of information, how certain data points and sample sizes should be used in free agency and trades, while others informed the daily lineup/bullpen decisions and why you had to look inside the numbers.

How do you assess Schwarber in 2017? During the time of the year when he narrows his focus and becomes extremely calculating, Maddon started talking about Schwarber in terms of player development and the future, which didn’t exactly sound like a vote of confidence.

“Big bucket, everybody’s going to love this guy,” Maddon said. “And then I think the smaller buckets are going to get even more attractive. I do believe the more he plays in the years to come, you’re going to see the strikeouts come back down, a better adjustment when the count gets deeper.

“He’s already trying to choke up. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that from up top – he’s really trying to do different things in counts right now – and I’m starting to see some progress with that, too.

“But, God, the guy missed all of last season, and I still think that we all forget that sometimes. I thought he was a little bit better – when I first met him – at the ball with two strikes. I think that went away for a bit. Now I think he’s really trying to nurture that coming back.

“So I would say next year you’re going to see the same kind of power, but probably more contact when it’s needed. That’s the bucket he’s going to fall into.”

Coming off that dramatic World Series comeback, Schwarber fell into an offensive spiral that got him demoted to the minors three months ago. He’s still managed to blast 28 homers while striking out 31 percent of the time, struggling against left-handed pitching (.663 OPS) and batting .208 overall.

Schwarber also has the type of hard-charging personality that feeds off those doubts, loves the big-game pressure and creates energy for the rest of the team. There will be another chapter to his 2017.

“It is what it is,” Schwarber said. “That first whole part of the season was a wash for me. I was able to go down and just kind of get my head recollected and get some parts of my swing down.

“I can’t worry about the number up on the scoreboard. It’s just stupid to do that. So that’s all I’m worried about every time I go up to the plate – I want to put in a good team at-bat.”

Cubs lose Pierce Johnson on waivers

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Cubs lose Pierce Johnson on waivers

The Cubs have parted ways with the first pitcher drafted by Theo Epstein's front office.

The Cubs designated Pierce Johnson for assignment last week when they purchased the contract of Jen-Ho Tseng to make his first MLB start against the New York Mets.

Now Johnson is with a new organization.

The San Francisco Giants claimed Johnson off waivers Wednesday. He was initially selected in the supplemental first round in 2012 with the 43rd pick, 37 spots behind Albert Almora Jr.

Johnson is now 26 and just made his first — and only — big-league appearance May 19 this spring.

In Triple-A Iowa, Johnson had a 4.31 ERA in 43 games, including one start. He struck out 74 batters in 54.1 innings, but also walked 27 batters and had a 1.454 WHIP. 

Johnson spent six years in the Cubs minor-league system, going 29-21 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.305 WHIP and 9.3 K/9, working slightly more than half the time as a starter (74 starts, 56 relief appearances).

With the Cubs taking Johnson off their 40-man roster in mid-September as opposed to promoting him with expanded big-league rosters, it clearly shows he was not a part of their long-term pitching plans.