Mooney: Hendry has Ricketts in his corner

364608.jpg

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.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."