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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.

The on-field ripple effects of Addison Russell's potential return

The on-field ripple effects of Addison Russell's potential return

The Cubs have just started clicking as a team this season, but an off-field distraction looms next week. 

After starting 1-6, this team has turned it around and woke up Thursday morning a season-high 2 games above .500.

A central figure in that turnaround is Javy Baez, who has not only duplicated his production after an MVP runner-up campaign, but actually seems to have taken another step forward and is firmly entrenched as a superstar. 

So how could the Cubs turn around and disrupt Baez or the clubhouse with Addison Russell's suspension coming to an end next Wednesday?

There are many non-baseball implications with the Russell situation, including his development as a father of three children and a human being away from the diamond as he nears the end of his 40-game suspension for domestic abuse. 

But there are also on-field ripple effects of Russell's return, including the shortstop controversy brewing. 

Prior to his suspension, Russell was always atop the team's shortstop depth chart. There was some doubt along the way, but ultimately, it was Russell ahead of Baez with Baez moving around the infield as a utility guy.

But things are different now.

Baez has been phenomenal in every aspect of the game in the season's first month and has regularly displayed his exceptional arm strength and athletic ability while playing shortstop. This week alone, he made close to a dozen plays on the Dodgers from the outfield grass.

Last weekend, Joe Maddon called Russell one of the best defensive shortstops in the game and that's true — he is a gifted defender. But Russell doesn't possess the same arm strength as Baez (especially while dealing with right shoulder issues the last couple seasons) and Baez has not done anything to warrant moving him off the most important defensive position on the field.

"It's such a difficult decision and then to come to the conclusion, that definitely has to be considered," Maddon said Thursday morning. "Based on what [Baez has] done and his status among the group, but at the end of the day, you still have to make the decision that is best for the group and for the team. A couple years ago, we had to make a tough one when we took Starlin [Castro] off shortstop and put him at second and put Addy [at shortstop].

"It's not as clear-cut and easy as it may seem from a distance when you do talk to human beings and there is emotion involved and you have to consider that. But at the end of the day, you still have to make the decision you think is best for everybody involved. So this one has layers to it. It requires a lot of back and forth among all of us."

The Cubs have been talking about all the different scenarios, but haven't yet made a decision on how Russell would fold into the roster if he does earn a call-up next week. It's also unknown who will go down to the minors to make room for Russell, though Mark Zagunis could be the call as it stands right now.

Theo Epstein admitted Thursday morning the Cubs could still choose to option Russell to the minor leagues after the seven-game assignment is up next Wednesday, but right now, the whole organization is trying to take things one day at a time. 

Russell played shortstop in his Triple-A Iowa debut Wednesday night, but the Cubs confirmed he will also see some time at second base over the next week.

If Russell returns to the roster — which isn't promised, Epstein said — there's no guarantee he'll immediately be thrown in as a regular starter. Over the last two years, Russell made 29 errors and posted only a .245 average and .687 OPS in 240 games.

Inserting him at shortstop and moving Baez back to a utility role is a risk. The second base tandem of Daniel Descalso and Ben Zobrist (and some David Bote) has performed well and who knows if breaking up the stability will disrupt Baez in any way.

"I think everyone recognizes how important [Baez] is as a central member of this team," Epstein said. "The energy that he provides, the things he can do on the field and the spirit with which he does them — how important that is to all of us, so he's one of our very most important players. I think there's a lot to be said for creating consistency for your most important players — creating reliability, putting them in situations where they know they're relied upon and can impact the game, reduce variables for them, that type of thing.

"But there are a lot of other considerations, too. That's not lost on anybody. Addison's gonna play some shortstop on his rehab. He's also going to play some second base. He's also not back yet. I think it's a question for another day, but Javy is obviously right at the very center along with some other crucial players in everything good that we do. Risking interrupting that if you don't have to would be a questionable move. That said, it's not the only factor."

Baez has not done anything to lose his status as the everyday shortstop, but from strictly a baseball sense, it would be advantageous to add another elite glove to the infield. Baez has never had any issue with moving around defensively in the past and regardless of Russell's status upon his return, nothing will keep the Cubs from putting Baez in the starting lineup every single day when healthy.

Inside the clubhouse, Russell's teammates have shown him nothing but support.

Epstein was asked if Russell will have to win back the trust of the clubhouse again when he returns, but the Cubs president said that's not his place to answer. 

"That part of it is between Addy and his teammates," Epstein said. "I will say that everyone noticed that he was working hard on his individual relationships with his teammates this spring and he was a lot more open and engaged than he'd been in the past as part of his attempt to grow — not only most importantly as a person and as a father and a good member of society, but I think also as a teammate.

"He recognized there was room and need for growth there and then put a concerted effort in. I think there were moments where he took responsibility as well with his teammates. I think he recognizes the importance of it and has a desire to make things right with his teammates as well and gain their trust."

Cubs not promising anything to Addison Russell as his suspension comes to an end

Cubs not promising anything to Addison Russell as his suspension comes to an end

By the time the Cubs walk into Wrigley Field next, Addison Russell's name could be in the starting lineup.

The embattled shortstop began his minor-league assignment Wednesday night and is eligible to return from his 40-game domestic violence suspension next Friday, May 3 as the Cubs open up their next homestand by hosting the St. Louis Cardinals.

There's no guarantee Russell will be on the Cubs' roster by that point, but he has checked all the boxes laid out for him so far on his conditional second chance with the team.

"We're taking this day-to-day, which is appropriate," Theo Epstein said before the final game of the Cubs' current homestand Thursday. "This is one situation where it is not appropriate to get ahead of the story. Addison has a lot of work to do going forward. There's no finish line here.

"He's been compliant, he's put a lot of work in away from the field to try to grow as a person and improve his relationships and to this point, he has started to get results, which is really important for him and - more importantly - for the people in his life. That work continues. It's a day-to-day process of him putting that work in and him living up to the standards that we've set up.

"Now that he's begun his minor-league assignment, there are baseball considerations that start to creep in, but it's not as important as the work that he's doing off the field. He's in what amounts to a spring training of sorts where he's getting ready to return to play."

Epstein reiterated that "nothing is promised" to Russell and the Cubs will determine what is best for the entire organization when his seven-day stint in the minor leagues is completed next Wednesday.

Epstein said he has spent a lot of time talking to Russell and those in his life and the Cubs president of baseball operations believes there have been positive results in the young player's life away from baseball. He also reiterated to Russell that just because he's moving from the team's complex in Arizona to Triple-A Iowa does not mean a comeback is complete. There's still work to be done.

"His progress is that he's put in significant and necessary work to grow as a person and to improve his relationships to become a better father, a better partner, a better citizen, a better member of the organization," Epstein said. "But the majority of the work lies ahead. There is no finish line. He needs to continue to work.

"Thus far, he's taken things earnestly. He has put in a significant amount of work because he needed to and we'll continue to hold him to that. From the work that I've put in, I think the people around him in his life have noticed a positive change, which is important. He shouldn't win any awards for that; he doesn't deserve any plaudits.

"But I think that's important. With the decision that we made, we're looking for positive outcomes and having better relationships and more stability and something that's really positive."

A lot can happen over the course of the next week, but there will be implications far beyond Russell himself.

How will the fans react when he is announced for the first time at Wrigley Field? Who gets sent down to the minor leagues to create room for Russell on the 25-man roster? Does Javy Baez automatically move off shortstop to accommodate Russell?

We don't know the answers to any of that yet. All that's certain right now is the Cubs have a two-city, five-game road trip coming up with stops in Arizona and Seattle. And when they return to Chicago, Russell will be eligible.

He was initially able to come off the restricted list for the Cubs' May 1 game in Seattle, but the snowout at Wrigley Field on April 14 pushed the suspension back one more game plus next Thursday's off-day.

So now, instead of playing his first MLB game since Sept. 19 on the road, he'll have to immediately face the music in Chicago.

But that's if the Cubs call him up right away. Epstein acknowledged the team can decide to option Russell to the minor leagues after his seven-day assignment is completed.

"I told him the other day - seven days does not necessarily get somebody ready for a season," Epstein said. "If we don't feel like he's ready to come up here and contribute and help us win, then we're gonna do the right thing for the organization. Period.

"But that's getting ahead of the story. This is not to the point where he has successfully completed his minor-league assignment yet."

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