Jim Hendry

Jim Hendry recounts the time the Cubs nearly signed Jim Thome in free agency

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AP

Jim Hendry recounts the time the Cubs nearly signed Jim Thome in free agency

Could you imagine Jim Thome wearing a Cubs uniform?

What about Raul Ibanez? Pudge Rodriguez?

Former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry stopped by the CubsTalk Podcast recently with David Kaplan and Luke Stuckmeyer and the current New York Yankees executive dropped a couple of big names when asked who he wished he could've signed.

The most notable player was Jim Thome, a Hall of Famer revered by White Sox fans for his time on the South Side.

Thome was a free agent in the winter before the 2003 season and according to Hendry, the Cubs would've signed him if not for Hee Seop Choi.

"Oh yeah," Hendry said. "Well Jim and I were old friends — for how well you could be. I mean, he grew up in Illinois and I had gotten to know him over the years. Love Jim Thome. And Jim Thome, I'm convinced today, if we didn't have [Choi], would've been a Cub. ... I remember having a couple chats with Jim over the years and I know part of him would've really wanted to."

Hindsight is 20-20 so it's funny to look back and think Choi — a failed prospect who was out of the majors before his 27th birthday — was the reason the Cubs couldn't get one of the greatest sluggers of the decade. But at the time, Choi was looked at as a potential star — a 23-year-old ranked by Baseball America as the No. 22 prospect in the game.

And like Hendry said, neither Choi nor Thome could play anywhere else.

Thome ultimately signed with the Philadelphia Phillies and would've made a major difference on the 2003 Cubs (he led the NL with 47 homers and drove in 131 runs with a .958 OPS), but it all worked out pretty OK for the Cubs. The next offseason, Hendry traded Choi to the Marlins for Derrek Lee and the big first baseman wound up having a fantastic career with the Cubs.

"Obviously Derrek played great for us and if it weren't for Albert Pujols, Derrek would've been MVP once or twice," Hendry said. "But yeah, who wouldn't have wanted Jimmy? If it was an American League team, I would feel comfortable saying that could've happened."

Thome played for the Phillies for three years before being traded to the White Sox, where he became an instant fan favorite. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this year.

Among the other moves that he wished he could've pulled off, Hendry — who served as the Cubs GM from July 2002 until August 2011 (shortly before Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over) — threw out a 2008 trade for Raul Ibanez that fell through.

The veteran outfielder/DH was already 36 in 2008, but hit .293 with an .837 OPS, 23 homers and 110 RBI in 162 games for the Mariners. Part of the issue, Hendry said, was the crowded outfield the Cubs already had at the time — including Alfonso Soriano, Jim Edmonds and Kosuke Fukudome.

The Cubs led the league in runs scored that year en route to 97 wins but they failed to win a single postseason game, scoring only 6 runs against the Dodgers in a three-game NLDS sweep. L.A. needed only 7 pitchers in that series - all of whom were right-handed - while the Cubs' top 6 hitters were all right-handed as well, illustrating the major problem in Hendry's eyes.

Hendry also confirmed the Cubs were never close to signing Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez prior to the 2003 season, but did say the Hall of Fame catcher came to Wrigley Field for lunch and a meeting (though the two sides never even exchanged numbers).

Rodriguez ultimately signed with the Florida Marlins...who came within five outs of being eliminated by the Cubs in the NLCS only to rally back to win the series and then claim a championship over the Yankees.

But you knew that already...

Cubs Talk Podcast: Former Cubs GM Jim Hendry 'we had Baez ahead of Lindor in the draft'

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Former Cubs GM Jim Hendry 'we had Baez ahead of Lindor in the draft'

David Kaplan and Luke Stuckmeyer are joined by former Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry.  In part 1, Hendry looks back at some of the players he drafted during his time with the Cubs and getting a deal done with Theo Epstein at the trade deadline in 2004.

00:45 - What he does now for the Yankees

02:30 - How involved is a GM with drafting a player

04:30 - Looking back at the drafting of Javier Baez

05:45 - What made Javier Baez so appealing as a draft pick

09:00 - Josh Donaldson moving to 3rd base after the Cubs drafted him

11:45 - On having to trade prospects at the trade deadline to put the team over the edge for a postseason spot

13:10 - Looking back at the 2004 3-way deadline trade that brought Nomar Garciapara to the Cubs

14:35 - On Willson Contreras' growth in the Cubs organization

16:40 - On going over budget to sign Starlin Castro

17:20 - Carlos Zambrano's growth within the Cubs organization

19:10 - How good could Gleyber Torres be?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Cubs pushing Dillon Maples as part of first wave for September call-ups

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Cubs pushing Dillon Maples as part of first wave for September call-ups

The next stop for Dillon Maples – a fading prospect so far off the grid that it wouldn’t have been surprising if the Cubs released him in spring training – will be Wrigley Field.

Now the Cubs are pushing Maples as part of the first wave of September call-ups that will arrive in time for Friday’s game against the Atlanta Braves, a stunning rise for a pitcher who began this season at advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach with a 5.33 career ERA and only 182.1 innings on his professional resume.      

The Cubs are also preparing to add catcher Victor Caratini and infielder Mike Freeman – insurance policies with Willson Contreras (strained right hamstring) and Addison Russell (strained right foot) sidelined – and activate reliever Justin Grimm (right index finger infection) from the disabled list.       

The Cubs will also reinforce their pitching staff again after Triple-A Iowa’s season ends on Labor Day.

The X-factor is Maples, whose worst pitch might be a 100-mph fastball. The right-hander finally stayed healthy and figured some things out during his age-25 season. Pitching backwards with an off-the-charts slider, he piled up 100 strikeouts (and 37 walks) in 63.1 innings at three different minor-league affiliates combined.

The Cubs bet on Maples in the 14th round of the 2011 draft, the last one overseen by former general manager Jim Hendry and the final class before a new labor deal imposed severe spending restrictions. Chairman Tom Ricketts authorized a spending spree on amateur talent that included first-round pick Javier Baez and the $2.5 million bonus that convinced Maples to decline his football scholarship to the University of North Carolina.