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.

After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as a late-game force

After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as a late-game force

MESA, Ariz. – Inside Wrigley Field’s state-of-the-art clubhouse, the Cubs posted a blown-up image of the 2015 Sports Illustrated cover where Pedro Strop is high-stepping next to Kris Bryant down the third-base line, the mosh pit awaiting at home plate.

Between his tilted-hat look, chest-pounding celebrations and overall joy for the game, Strop sets an example for the younger guys in the bullpen and the Latin players in the clubhouse. Strop has been so valuable that Jake Arrieta could have never thrown a pitch in a Cubs uniform and Theo Epstein’s front office still would have considered the Scott Feldman trade with the Baltimore Orioles an absolute success.  

Yet when the long rebuild reached its apex – and manager Joe Maddon searched for World Series answers – Strop had already been marginalized in the bullpen. A freak injury – Strop heard a pop and tore the meniscus in his left knee while trying to slide and field a groundball in August – bumped him from his role as the seventh- or eighth-inning stopper.  

“It was a little difficult,” Strop said. “After I came back from my surgery, it was a different situation. But it’s something that you got to get used to and understand the situation, understand how deep our bullpen is and just go and fight whenever they ask you to.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.”  

During Sunday’s media session, Maddon dismissed any issues with Strop (2.85 ERA) or Hector Rondon, the former 30-save closer who strained his right triceps last summer and didn’t quite get his timing down for the playoffs. Down 3-1 in the World Series, Maddon summoned Aroldis Chapman to throw 97 pitches combined in Games 5, 6 and 7 against the Cleveland Indians.

“Listen, it’s not a lack of trust,” Maddon said. “(Strop) just got hurt. And when you get hurt like that at that time of the year, it’s hard to play catch-up. When guys get injured in-season and you get to the moment where you’re trying to win a championship, you got to put like personal feelings aside on both sides of it, whether you’re managing it or playing.

“I have nothing but trust. My God, the threat is when you have him, you want to use him too much, always. And the same thing with Ronnie. I talked to Ronnie about that – I don’t want to put him in a position. I think Rondon got hurt last year because part of it was my greediness on using him too much in the early part of the season.

“You really have to battle against that when you get guys that good. You want to use them all the time. (I have) a tremendous amount of trust in both of those guys. It’s just a matter of utilizing them properly and keeping them healthy.”

[MORE: What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez]

Since the middle of the 2013 season, Strop has notched 84 holds for the Cubs, putting up a 2.68 ERA and a 0.984 WHIP to go with 254 strikeouts in 211-plus innings. At a time when a $10 billion industry is reassessing the value of high-leverage relievers, Strop will make $5.5 million this year before hitting the open market.

“You never know,” Strop said. “I would love to repeat the championship season and win another one here before I hit free agency. Hopefully, they want to bring me back. I really like the city of Chicago. I love the fans and I love my team and the coaches.

“After this season, it’s going to become business, so hopefully we can put something together.”  

What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez

What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez

MESA, Ariz. – In an alternate universe, Javier Baez might have become the goat after committing two errors in a World Series Game 7. But the young Cubs played without a sense of panic and wanted to write their own history.

Baez shrugged it off in Cleveland and homered off Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber that night. Baez will be remembered as a breakout star from those playoffs, a game-changing defensive force with his mixture of lateral range, rocket-arm strength and instincts for tagging.

But there have also been times where manager Joe Maddon would like Baez to be a little more boring. The next stage of Javy Being Javy would be showing more of the consistency that made Addison Russell an All-Star shortstop at the age of 22. It may also partially explain why Maddon for now still sees Ben Zobrist as his primary second baseman, even after Baez started all 17 postseason games at that position.  

“You definitely continually speak about (how) you want guys to make the routine play routinely,” Maddon said Sunday at the Sloan Park complex. “I’ve often talked about lack of chrome. Gary DiSarcina (with the Angels) was the guy that really embedded that thought in my head, because he was so chrome-less and he was so good at the routine play. I used to always yell that at my infielders in instructional league: ‘No chrome!’

“Having said all that, Javy comes from a different background, and he has a flair about his game, so I don’t necessarily want to subtract that. But just have him understand the routine stuff has to be made routinely well.

“He’s very capable of that. I think as his game continues to develop and mature, you’ll see him make less mistakes, whether it’s that or sometimes even on the bases. He’ll make a spectacular play on the bases and then again do something that you don’t like. But I think that’s just part of his nature and his game.” 

Zobrist delivered a World Series MVP performance after signing a four-year, $56 million contract last winter with the idea that focusing on one position – instead of moving around as a super-utility guy – would help him age better.

“Last year, I played 147 games,” said Zobrist, who will turn 36 in May. “I don’t know what that number’s going to look like. You got to stay healthy. There were probably only a few games that I missed because there was physically something that was keeping me from playing.

“We’ll play it by ear. Some of those will have to do with if I’m a little tired and the matchup is right, maybe they’ll choose to give me an off day on certain days. But I know that there’s other times last year where – whether you’re tired or not – you got to be in there because that’s the matchup that works best for the club. So just make adjustments as the weeks and series go on.”

[MORE: After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as late-game force]

Maddon is already thinking of ways to rest Zobrist – who played into early November after helping the 2015 Royals win the World Series – on a team with so many versatile athletes. The Cubs could also try to go back to last year’s model, putting Baez wherever their scouting-and-data projections predicted the ball would be hit most that night.

“We have to balance a lot of different things out,” Maddon said. “(Javy’s) going to play some second, of course, and so will Zo. Zo’s going to be out there primarily, and then we’ll work Javy in there. But Zo can also do what he’s done in the past and play some outfield.

“What happens – and I hate to say it like (this) – but baseball has a very cruel way of determining things. I don’t want it to be any injuries. I’d rather have to figure all of this stuff out on a daily basis. Javy was so significant to the conclusion of last season. He’s going to be very significant again this year and years to come.

“It’s all in theory right now. Of course, he’s going to play. Of course, he’s going to play a lot. How it’s going to balance out? We’re not 100 percent sure yet. But he’s pretty darned good.”