Cubs

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.

Cubs go quietly into winter, their reign as defending champs finally over

Cubs go quietly into winter, their reign as defending champs finally over

The armchair psychology went like this: Force the Los Angeles Dodgers onto the plane, let them think about it during the long flight to the West Coast, get in their heads during Friday’s day off and feel all the momentum and pressure shift in this National League Championship Series.

At least that’s what the Cubs told themselves and the media, whether or not they actually believed it, playing the kind of mind games designed for lesser teams. From Theo Epstein and the top of baseball operations down, the Cubs had enough connections to the 2004 Boston Red Sox to hope they could become only the second team to overcome an 0-3 LCS deficit.

That dream officially ended at 10:15 p.m. on Thursday when Willson Contreras lined Kenley Jansen’s 93.3-mph cutter at backup shortstop Charlie Culberson, another symbol of Dodger Way game-planning and the overall depth to withstand the loss of All-Star Corey Seager as he recovered from a back injury. The mosh pit formed in the middle of Wrigley Field, where it got very quiet except for a few sections of Dodger fans cheering and Gary Pressy playing the organ.

The Cubs are no longer the defending World Series champs after an 11-1 loss that had no drama or suspense and felt more like a getaway day. There will be no Game 6 or Game 7 this weekend at Dodger Stadium.

“I only experienced winning,” said Albert Almora Jr., a rookie outfielder on last year’s forever team. “Jon Jay told me: ‘Look at the expressions on their face when they’re celebrating on your field and let that sink in and learn from that and build from that.’”

You believed Almora, a baseball gym rat, when he stood at his locker and said: “It hurts.” But when the clubhouse doors opened to the media roughly 30 minutes after the final out, you didn’t really feel any tension in the room, more like a collective exhale, a time to sit around and drink a few Presidente beers and realize that the Dodgers deserved to go to the World Series for the first time since 1988.

“They just flat-out beat us,” said Kris Bryant, who got the first hit off Clayton Kershaw, a garbage-time homer in the fourth inning when the Cubs were already down 9-0.

Bryant is everything you could ever want in a franchise player – diligent on the field, polished off the field, even more productive in many ways after his MVP campaign, someone who doesn’t even drink during clinch celebrations – but even he admitted he still felt the World Series hangover that bugged the Cubs.

“I was just looking back at last year,” Bryant said. “I didn’t get home until like November 10 last year with all the festivities after winning and stuff. I think that really caught up to some of us this year. So I don’t know, maybe the extra time to recoup, maybe train a little harder. I am getting older, so I got to watch that.”

The reporters chuckled along with Bryant in a room where the sound system played classic rock like Dire Straits and Tom Petty. The Cubs know they should be good again in 2018 – and for years after that – and didn’t exactly sound devastated.

To be honest, Wednesday’s thrilling Game 4 win felt like the Super Bowl for this team, Jake Arrieta getting a standing ovation and tipping his cap before signing his free-agent megadeal somewhere else, Wade Davis having the guts to finish off a 48-pitch, two-inning save and the Cubs feeling the adrenaline rush of staving off elimination for another night.

When Jon Lester saw the media gathering by his locker, he joked: “What? I didn’t do s---. Why the f--- do you want to talk to me?”

“Obviously, nobody likes to lose, but we’ve been in the NLCS for three years in a row,” said Lester, who raised the bar for expectations when he signed a $155 million contract with a last-place team after the 2014 season. “You know how special that is. I know everybody kind of goes back to the first half of the season and they like to nitpick. But we won the division, made the playoffs and made it to the NLCS.

“Sometimes, you’re not always going to be in the World Series. The Dodgers are a really good team. They’re playing really good baseball right now. This series showed it. Sometimes, it is what it is, and you just kind of move on.”

The Cubs had Lester, a three-time World Series champion, lined up for a Game 6 that is no longer necessary. Jose Quintana – who shined against the Washington Nationals in the last round and battled Kershaw to a draw in Game 1 – didn’t give his team a chance this time.

Quintana, a signature trade-deadline move made with multiple playoff runs in mind, allowed runs in the first and second innings and left the bases loaded in the third for Hector Rondon, who watched Kike Hernandez drive the second of his three home runs into the right-center field basket for a grand slam.

The Cubs were desperate enough that John Lackey, five days before his 39th birthday, pitched two innings in what was likely his last game in a big-league uniform. Lackey kept walking out of the clubhouse and declined to speak with reporters: “No, I’m good, man.”

“It’s not easy to be the best,” outfielder Jason Heyward said, “but that’s what you want. You don’t want easy. You don’t want to expect to be going home every year. You want to be in October. You want to have a chance to win the World Series. And you want to be one of the teams that expects to be there.”

That’s what the Cubs will be next year, when the last day of the season won’t have the same big-picture perspective. It will be either a stinging loss or spraying champagne.

“Seems like a hundred years ago, right?” Lester said about his decision to sign with the Cubs. “It’s one of those Catch-22s. You look at it as it’s a disappointing season for the simple fact that we didn’t make it to the World Series. But you got to look at the positives, too, in that moment whenever you get on a plane to go home.

“We gave ourselves a chance. It just didn’t happen this year. We got beat by a better team. We beat them last year (in the NLCS), and they beat us this year, so you got to tip your hat sometimes, and you move on. We’ll be ready to go in spring training.”

Sluggish offense plus Dodger pitching equaled disaster for Cubs in NLCS

Sluggish offense plus Dodger pitching equaled disaster for Cubs in NLCS

Your National League Championship Series final: Cubs 8, Enrique Hernandez 7.

When the Cubs look back at why they struggled in the NLCS and what they’ll need moving forward, many questions are likely to involve fixing an offense that was dormant for almost all of the postseason.

Thursday night’s 11-1 loss in Game 5 of the NLCS to the Los Angeles Dodgers put an exclamation point on a lopsided series, one in which the Cubs were outscored 28-8. Hernandez nearly matched the Cubs’ entire output in the clincher with three home runs and seven RBIs. While the pitching shares much of the blame, a Cubs offense that produced a .168/.240/.289 slash line and scored 25 runs this postseason is perhaps an even bigger culprit.

“(The Dodgers) pitched very, very well from start to finish,” said utility man Ben Zobrist. “It was tough to overcome that. We are going to get our homers. But as a whole, I felt like they kept us off-balance and they kept us from having good quality at-bats consistently. When we did get something going it wasn’t much. It was one run here or there or a couple runs here or there. But they pitched a great series, kept us from really exploding like they can as an offense.”

The Cubs’ bats have been ice cold for the entire postseason. Aside from a nine-run showing in their Oct. 12 NLDS-clincher over the Washington Nationals, the Cubs never appeared to be as formidable a bunch as they were in 2016.

Their scores by game entering Thursday’s loss were: 3, 3, 2, 0, 9, 2, 1, 1 and 3.

By the time the Dodgers plated two early runs off Jose Quintana, the Cubs looked to be in for an uphill battle against three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. That condition was upgraded to next-to-impossible by the time Hernandez blasted a grand slam off Hector Rodon in the third inning to put the Dodgers up 7-0.

As it were, the Cubs finished with four hits and didn’t score until Kris Bryant homered to make it 9-1 in the fourth inning. It was Bryant’s first round-tripper of the postseason.

The struggles of Bryant and teammate Anthony Rizzo were well-documented. The pair produced a combined .169/.210/.206 slash line with two home runs, nine RBIs, three walks and 28 strikeouts in 81 plate appearances. Bryant thought it had to do with a team that was worn down running into outstanding pitching.

“It’s a little of both,” Bryant said. “It took a lot out of us that first series, some really good pitching with the Nationals. Obviously with the Dodgers, too. I think they had a group of players that really turned it on at the right time and were clicking whereas we didn’t. That was the difference. But a ton of credit to them, they just flat out beat us.”

Bryant and Rizzo weren’t alone in their struggles.

The leadoff position alone went from a force of life in 2016 with Dexter Fowler to virtually no production this postseason. Jon Jay, Albert Almora and Zobrist went a combined 4-for-36 with three hit by pitches from the leadoff spot.

Catcher Willson Contreras (.748) was the only Cubs regular to finish with an OPS above .700. Javier Baez produced a .451 OPS, Zobrist registered a .416 and Jason Heyward finished at .403.

By comparison, the Dodgers have six players with at least 20 plate appearances this postseason with an .800 or better OPS. That doesn’t of course count Hernandez, who made only his fourth start of the postseason and went nuts. He homered off Jose Quintana in the second inning to give Los Angeles a 2-0 lead. His grand slam in the third after Quintana exited put the game out of reach. And Hernandez’s ninth-inning blast off Mike Montgomery to center was icing on the Dodgers’ cake.

Figuring out how to remedy their offensive issues figures to be one of the Cubs’ top priorities this offseason. One way the team could help jumpstart Bryant and Rizzo is by acquiring a better leadoff hitter, something they lost when Fowler departed via free agency last winter. The team saw its production from the leadoff spot drop from an .815 OPS in 2016 to .745 in 2017.

“We did enough to beat Washington and that’s all you need in the postseason,” Rizzo said. “We didn’t do enough to beat the Dodgers. They pitched better than we hit. End of story.

“They’re good. There’s no excuses. You’ve got to play better. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. It’s baseball. You hit the ball at the guy or you don’t.”