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Friday, December 18, 2009

Jim Hendry Discovers Existence of Contract Worse Than Milton Bradley's, Trades For It

A few months ago I read an article about a UFC fighter who was renowned for getting pummeled by some of the best fighters in the history of the sport before they were rich and famous. He had been fighting for an insanely long time (and pretty much any amount of time in the UFC is insane), but had compiled, at best, a .500 record. He said (obviously, I'm paraphrasing here), "If you can't beat me, you haven't got a future in this sport."

And that, my friends, is exactly how major league general managers should view Jim Hendry. Today, another young, ambitious GM on the rise, Jack Zduriencik of the Seattle Mariners, cut his teeth in the industry by fleecing Hendry and left Cubs fans like myself wondering yet again whether gross incompetence can really be considered a "curse." Over at MLB Notebook, Zach Sanders is calling it reason enough to label Zduriencik "the best GM in baseball." I'm as big a Zduriencik fan as anybody, but he'll need to accomplish a little more before I'll consider him the equal of Epstein, Williams, Beane, and Jocketty. In this case, he's just one in a long line of crafty execs who have stolen Hendry's lunch money and wedgied him in the process. Let's recount:

Shortly after taking over the Cubs prior to the 2003 season, Hendry traded Dontrelle Willis and Julian Tavarez to Larry Beinfest's Marlins for Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca. Willis would go on to win the 2003 Rookie of the Year and pitch 3 2/3 scoreless innings in the World Series. He averaged fourteen wins a season for Florida over the next five years. Matt Clement won fourteen games once. He and Alfonseca combined to go 40-42 for the Cubs over the next three seasons. In the cruelest of ironies, the Marlins ousted in the Cubs in dramatic fashion in the NLCS, on their way to their second championship in seven years. The Cubs have won two championships in the last 102 years.

The following season Hendry made a big splash in July when he landed Nomar Garciaparra for next to nothing from a fresh-faced GM named Theo Epstein. Garciaparra, hobbled by a lingering back injury which would dog him for the rest of his career, played in only 105 games over the next two seasons, but he collected almost $17 Million from the Cubs, not including the World Series share his ex-teammates voted him when the Red Sox won it all that season.

After two consecutive years of helping other franchises win championships, Jim Hendry took a couple years off, dedicating himself instead to the free agent market, where he picked up players like Jacque Jones, Jeremy Burnitz, Todd Walker, and Neifi Perez. Remember them?

Obviously, I'm being hard on Hendry. It's easy to say he's an idiot for trading away guys like Willis, Ricky Nolasco, Mark DeRosa, and, most recently, Jake Fox, but one also has to recognize acquisitions like Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Rich Harden, and Kenny Lofton, all of whom came over in trades and made immediate (in some cases lasting) impacts, and for whom Hendry gave up very little.

However, this offseason his actions have an unmistakable hint of desperation. He is a man who, having succeeded in keeping a highly demanding job for a fairly long duration, knows his tenure is coming to an end. He had, no doubt, convinced himself he would be the one to finally bring a championship to Wrigleyville, which would give him the "do no wrong" reputation with the fan base currently enjoyed by Theo in Boston and Kenny on the South Side. But, unless the Cubs have a miracle season, I see very little chance Hendry makes it to the end of his current contract (which expires after the 2012 season).

On cannot deny that he has overseen one of the more successful decades in the franchise's troubled history. In seven years at the helm, he led the Cubs to five winning seasons and three playoff appearances. Not since the early 1970s had the Cubs won with such frequency. And the last time the Cubs made three playoff appearances in a decade, FDR was the president.

However, twice now Hendry has built expensive teams which came close, teased fans with their potential, but could not give the North Side what they've been craving for the last century. Dusty Baker was supposed to be the savior and he looked like it during 2003, but he was run out of town after dreadful performances in '05 and '06. Then Lou Pinella was supposed to be the savior and he looked like it when he took the Cubs to the playoffs two years in a row in '07 and '08, but a heavily favored '09 club fell flat and now looks frighteningly familiar: old, overpaid, and without an identity.

Pressured by the Chicago media and perhaps by Pinella, Hendry was made to feel this winter like he had to trade Milton Bradley, who was, undeniably, a failure in his first season as a Cub. However, while Bradley was a disappointment because he didn't equal the rate of production he had displayed for the Rangers, Athletics, and Dodgers, Carlos Silva, who is signed for as much money and as many years as Bradley, is a failure of a whole different kind. Silva isn't only not worthy of the mega-contract he's signed to, he is no longer worthy of a major-league roster spot, something the Mariners realized when they axed him from their starting rotation after only six appearances in 2009. Yes, they later sent him to the disabled list with a "right shoulder impingement," but he never had any surgery, because the real reason the Mariners no longer wanted him on the active roster was his ungainly 8.48 ERA.

And lest you believe Jim Hendry's suggestion that perhaps Silva has rediscovered himself in the Caribbean League this winter, I will point out to you that just last week Carlos made his one and only start for Caribes de Anzoategui. He pitched less than three innings, yet managed to allow six hits, three homers, and four earned runs. All told, he has now pitched nine full innings in Venezuela, allowing eight earned runs. His opponents, who are primarily prospects and fringe major leaguers, are hitting a cool .410 against him.

The fact is, there was never a whole lot in Silva's arsenal to rediscover. How he managed to convince Bill Bavasi to give him a four-year/$48 Million contract will remain one of the great baseball mysteries of the 21st century. In the two years directly preceding Silva's signing, he went 24-29 for Minnesota, with a 5.01 ERA. He was marketed as an innings-eater, having pitched 180+ in four consecutive seasons, but even if he were to regain his best form, Silva has no business moving in front of Sean Marshall or Tom Gorzelanny on the Cubs depth chart. Let them eat the innings, because they might develop into something worthwhile.

Milton Bradley, at his best, has proven he can be one of the very best hitters in all of baseball. This is a player who made an All-Star team and led the AL in OBP and OPS as recently as 2008. THE ONLY THING CARLOS SILVA HAS EVER LED HIS LEAGUE IN IS HOME RUNS ALLOWED. Perhaps Milton Bradley, reunited with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, could've regained some semblance of his 2008 production. But I guarantee you, regardless, his production, even at his absolute worst, would've well surpassed what the Cubs will get from Silva, who I doubt...rather, I hope never makes a single pitch for Chicago.

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