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.

On and off the field, Nico Hoerner proved he should be a big part of 2020 Cubs

On and off the field, Nico Hoerner proved he should be a big part of 2020 Cubs

Even before his surprise mid-September call-up, things were shaping up for Nico Hoerner to be a big part of the 2020 Cubs.

Now it looks like a certainty after the way he played in his 20-game cup of coffee in the final few weeks of 2019.

The organization's top prospect excelled at every level after the Cubs made him a first-round pick (24th overall) in June 2018. A broken wrist cost him two months this summer, but when he returned to Double-A Tennessee, the Cubs had him playing second base and center field in addition to shortstop, his natural position. That only boosted his value, as the Cubs clearly have holes at both center and second that they need to address this winter.

When he was pressed into duty after injuries to Javy Baez and Addison Russell, Hoerner proved the moment was certainly not too big for him. He hit .282 with a .741 OPS and 17 RBI in 20 games while playing solid defense at shortstop and displaying his great contact skills. 

While it's not unheard of for 22-year-olds to come up and immediately make an impact in the big leagues, Hoerner's case was particularly impressive given he played just 89 minor-league games and had not taken an at-bat above the Double-A level.

And Hoerner didn't just turn in solid production on the field — he was actually credited with helping provide a spark to the rest of the club, even though the season ultimately didn't end up the way the Cubs wanted. 

"He's been a little bit of a spark plug for us," Jon Lester said at the beginning of the Cubs' final homestand. "Any time you add energy like that, especially the naiveness of it — just not knowing what to expect and just going and playing baseball. Sometimes we all need to get back to that. Sometimes we all need to get back to just being baseball players and not worry about what else is going on surrounding us."

His former manager, Joe Maddon, called Hoerner a "differencemaker" down the stretch and felt confident he could stick at shortstop long-term.

It was also Hoerner's attitude and temperament that really drew rave reviews. Everybody — from Maddon to Theo Epstein to fellow teammates — were blown away by his sense of calm and confidence even while playing in pressure-packed big-league games. Those are the intangibles the Cubs have loved about Hoerner since they drafted him and don't expect that to change anytime soon.

"This is the type of human being he is," Epstein said. "He processes things really well he has strong character, he's in it for the right reasons, he's got a great family. He's really an invested member of the organization, a teammate and a winner."

This is the way he's always been, as his mom, Keila Diehl, explained to Kelly Crull in an interview on NBC Sports Chicago's broadcast on Sept. 14.

"He's just not full of himself," Diehl said. "He could be, and he's just not. ... He's just like this nice, ordinary guy — no attitude. Always brings a lot of energy and positivity to any team he's on."

That's exactly the guy we saw in Chicago in the final three weeks of the season. 

So as he recovers from his first full season of professional ball, Hoerner is in a position to forge a huge role for himself in Chicago next year. At the moment, it's reasonable to expect that to come at second base, but his ability to play shortstop might very well make Russell expendable this winter, especially with MLB Trade Rumors projecting the latter would be due $5.1 million in arbitration in 2020. 

The Cubs made it a point to get Hoerner some playing time at both second base and center field in the final two games of the 2019 season and he could at the very least offer a depth option in the outfield. 

His versatility, intangibles, and competitive drive present an intriguing package and his offensive skillset can help bring some diversity to the Cubs lineup. Hoerner is not really a power hitter at this point in his career but his hand-eye coordination and contact ability provide a refreshing style to this offense.

Simply put, Hoerner is just a good *baseball* player and profiles as the type of guy that can help any winning team in some capacity. 

The only question now is: Will the Cubs stash him in the minors for the early part of the season or let him continue to develop at Wrigley Field?

“We don’t ever draw it up that a player’s gonna skip Triple-A," Epstein said at his end-of-season presser. "It’s not determined yet where Nico’s gonna start next season, but given his mental makeup, given his skillset, who he is as a person, we felt that was something under the extraordinary circumstances that he could handle. I think it’s important that player development continues at the major-league level. 

"These days, it’s becoming a younger player’s game. If you look around baseball, the best teams have young players dominating. Yes, it’s not linear. There’s gonna be regression at the major-league level. But our players have had some real regression that’s taken them a while to dig out from. That’s something that we have to solve — finding ways to finish development off as best you can in the minor leagues, but understanding too that you need to create an environment at the major-league level with players who are expected to perform night after night are still developing, still working on their weaknesses, still making adjustments to the league." 

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Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

The Giants' search for a successor to now-retired manager Bruce Bochy has led them to the North Side.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic, the Giants are interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for their own managerial opening. San Francisco's interest is intriguing, as Venable went to high school just outside San Francisco in nearby San Rafael. His father — Max Venable — played for the Giants from 1979-83. 

Venable also interviewed for the Cubs' manager job earlier this month, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that his interest is in the "organization in general." He is one of several internal candidates for the Cubs' job, along with bench coach Mark Loretta and front office assistant David Ross.

The Cubs also interviewed Joe Girardi and are set to meet with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

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