Jim Hendry Strikes Again

Dan MalatoCorrespondent IJuly 9, 2008

We've been here before.

If the Cubs are within a sniff of the playoffs, you can bet a can of Old Style that GM Jim Hendry will try to make a splash in the trade market.  This is the time of year that Hendry earns his pay.

First, he brought in Aramis Ramirez and Kenny Lofton in July of 2003. He followed that up with Doug Glanville and Randell Simon in August. Then it was Nomar Garciaparra at the deadline in 2004.

Now it's Rich Harden. And there are still 22 days left in July.  

The Hendry years have been different than most of the pathetic history of the Chicago National League Ballclub.

The recipe has been part shrewd dealing, part loose wallet from the Tribune Co., but the end result has been satisfying for a fanbase that felt like enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay for much of the 20th century.

The trades Hendry has executed over the past several years have established him as one of the best dealmakers in all of baseball. That, however, is only a portion of the reason why he ranks among the top general managers in the game.

The attitude and vision he has brought to the Cubs has turned this sorry franchise into a consistent contender throughout the decade.

I remember when the Cubs brought in Dusty Baker in 2003. It seemed like the first time in the Cubs' history that they actually had a plan to win some ballgames.

They weren't just going to throw a few mediocre players around their superstar Sammy Sosa and hope fans came to the ballpark. They were going to try to build a winner.

Jim Hendry deserves much of the credit. He came to Chicago with a purpose. He waited around during the offseason before 2003 and got his man, Baker, to skipper his club. That attitude has continued throughout his tenure on the North Side.

It showed prior to the 2004 season. After that dreadful playoff collapse, Hendry could have easily checked with the team that got within five outs of the World Series. He rose instead, trading the bumbling Hee-Seop Choi for star first-baseman Derrek Lee.

Lee has become the centerpiece of the Cubs' offense and the glue that holds the infield defense together. Choi is out of baseball in the U.S.  It showed again following a disappointing 2006 campaign. That was the offseason that the foundation was laid for this season's first-place squad.

Demonstrating that he had a plan, Hendry got to work quickly. He signed Lou Piniella in October to manage the team.

But he was far from finished. Knowing the Cubs needed to keep third base solid, Hendry spent the extra money to lock up Ramirez, who was being aggressively courted by a number of other clubs. Ramirez has certainly proved worth the price.

But the job didn't end there.

Hendry went out and spent more money than any team ever had in a single offseason. He acquired Alfonso Soriano, one of the winter's hottest free agents and who was coming off a 40-40 season. He inked Ted Lilly to a four-year deal while lying in a hospital bed. He also signed Mark DeRosa for mere peanuts.

Just this past winter, Hendry reeled in rightfielder Kosuke Fukudome from Japan.  A patient hitter with few weaknesses on the field, Fukudome quickly became a fan favorite at Wrigley.

All of these guys are playing key roles on a Cubs team that sports the best record in the National League.

That brings us back to Tuesday.

What separates the Cubs' management of today from that of the past is a commitment from Hendry and the rest of the front office to do everything in their power to make the team better.

It would have been easy for the Cubs to sit back and hope that the players they had could hold off CC Sabathia and the Brewers and Tony La Russa and the Cardinals. And they probably would have. They had the best pitching, the best lineup, and an excellent manager.

But things are different now.

Jim Hendry saw an opportunity to improve this ballclub and he seized it. He traded Sean Gallagher and three players who would have made no impact on a 2008 pennant race for an ace pitcher and a serviceable spot-starter.

It was an immediate upgrade of the starting rotation without sacrificing any of the Cubs' numerous strengths.  So rest easy, Cubs fans. With Hendry at the wheel, your Cubbies are in position to handle whatever storm comes their way.