When we last left our hero Jim Hendry, he was holding on for dear life as I was about to enter the bad phase of the trilogy.
With a huge payroll over the past several years, Hendry has spent like a drunken sailor on shore leave.
While the screws have been tightened a bit this year as the sale of the Cubs hangs in limbo, Hendry did not have his best offseason with the money he was allocated. However, this is not the ugly phase yet, so let’s proceed to the bad.
Needing a bullpen pitcher before the 2002 season when Tom Gordon went down, Hendry thought he would bring a circus act to join the clowns that have inhabited the big top at Wrigley over the past century.
Antonio (six fingers) Alfonseca joined the freak show at the house of horrors. Nothing was scarier than watching Alfonseca trudge to the mound to start the ninth inning. Completely out of shape and looking like he was ready to give birth any day, Alfonseca joined a long list of failures at the closer position.
He did come with a companion though, Matt Clement, who pitched well for the team for a couple of years.
The Cubs sent the Marlins psychotic reliever/starter Julian Tavarez along with a young lefty from the farm system named Dontrelle Willis.
Willis was Rookie of the Year in 2003 and a Cy Young candidate the following year. He’s fallen on some hard times lately, but would have looked really good in the Cub rotation for a few years there.
The reason this trade falls into the bad category is because Matt Clement was thrust upon the Cubs because the Marlins didn’t want to pay his salary. They were told if you want Alfonseca, you have to take Clement.
I don’t give credit for getting lucky, and that’s what Hendry did. Hendry wasn’t the official GM at the time, but he made the trade.
After the 2003 season and looking for a little more offense, Hendry traded catcher Damian Miller to the A’s for Michael Barrett, a player he coveted for awhile.
While Barrett was an upgrade at the position offensively, he was a failure at handling the pitching staff. He continued to get worse as the years went by until Hendry got rid of him at Lou Piniella’s request shortly after Carlos Zambrano used him as a punching bag.
Meanwhile the Marlins signed backstop Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez as a free agent before the 2003 season. He ended up killing the Cubs in the NLCS and helping the fish win the World Series in 2003.
Can Hendry get an Executive of the Year award for the Marlins for giving them Willis and not signing Rodriguez? They wouldn’t have been there if not for those two players.
Rodriguez became a free agent again in 2004, but Hendry passed for a second time on bringing in a perennial All-Star catcher who in fact did make the All-Star team that year.
While Rodriguez could throw, call a game, and hit, the Cubs were stuck with a guy who caught punches better than pitches.
The reason for passing on Rodriguez was Hendry had only so much money to spend, so he wanted to spend it on bringing back an icon to Chicago, who unfortunately had his best days in Atlanta.
Whether it was for marketing reasons or trying to help the team win, Greg Maddux again took the mound at Wrigley.
While he did win thirty-eight games over the next three seasons before Hendry traded him to the Dodgers, he wasn’t the same pitcher that left to go to Atlanta.
The Cubs already had Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, and Matt Clement at the time and didn’t really need Maddux.
I said before the season that I would like both of them, but if I could only have one, my pick would be Rodriguez.
Maddux pitches every fifth day while “Pudge” gives the team a chance to win every day. Maybe with him behind the plate, the Cubs make the playoffs in 2004 with the team that Sports Illustrated picked to win the World Series.
The Cubs traded a couple of relief pitchers over the years that could have helped a bereft bullpen.
Juan Cruz was traded for a minor league pitcher named Andy Pratt, whose father was working for the organization. I’m not sure if it was a favor to him, but after a short stay and a beat down by opposing batters, he disappeared and was never to be seen again.
I think he went into the witness protection program and his story is due to be seen on a future episode of In Plain Sight.
Cruz, meanwhile, has been a very effective middle reliever for the past few years with his upper nineties fastball. He sure would look good in the Cubs pen now.
The Cubs also traded Scott Eyre, or as Lou Piniella affectionately referred to him as Stevie Ire. He languished on the bench under him before being traded to the Phillies and helping them win the World Series in 2008.
I won’t mention the minor leaguer the Cubs got back because you’ll never hear of him anyway.
A lefty in the pen is a valuable commodity, and while I wasn’t in love with him, he deserved a chance to prove he could do the job.
This year the Cubs started the year with one lefty in the pen in Neal Cotts, who had a career year with the White Sox in 2005. He’s back in the minors and will also be appearing in a future episode of In Plain Sight, because of Lou doesn’t like you, you disappear.
Too bad the GM isn’t smart enough to at least get something back in return for the players he lets go.
Three years ago when Hendry left the Cubs short on starting pitching in the 2006 season, he signed a couple of pitchers after the season to fill the void and one of them was Jason Marquis.
While Marquis really didn’t pitch that poorly if you consider him a fifth starter, Hendry way overpaid him giving him a $21 million dollar contract for three years.
Then when he only had one year left on his contract and could have been a valuable commodity, Hendry traded him for Luis Vizcaino.
Vizcaino was only given three innings to pitch with the bullpen poor Cubs before he was let go. He hasn’t pitched great, but he hasn’t been that bad either with the Indians.
Meanwhile the Cubs have nothing to show for the trade, and Marquis is one of the league leaders in wins with Colorado.
Jim Hendry was widely commended for picking up center fielders Reed Johnson and Jim Edmonds during the 2008 season as free agents. But why did Hendry have to pick up either one of them? Because he had almost no outfield depth, and his prize rookie Felix Pie failed to develop into a major league ballplayer as so many future phenoms fail in the Cubs farm system. I’ll get to that in the next chapter.
I don’t give credit when you fail at your job and have to desperately search the scrap heap to correct your mistakes. They both played very well and helped the team make the playoffs.
Johnson is still there, though he doesn’t play much because he doesn’t bat left handed, so he sits while the Japanese corkscrew continues trying to dig himself into the ground.
And finally, I’m going to blame Hendry for what he didn’t do. Before the 2008 season, all you heard was the name Brian Roberts and that he’s coming to the Cubs. You heard that practically all winter and until the trade deadline last year.
Hendry couldn’t manage to put together a deal to get that long sought after lead-off hitter with his former boss Andy MacPhail, who now toils for the Orioles.
Whether it was a lack of talent in the Cubs farm system, or Hendry’s reluctance to include certain players in the trade, it never happened.
Players rumored to be sought after by MacPhail included Rich Hill, Felix Pie, and Jose Ceda. Now, all of those players are gone and the best the Cubs have to show for it is Kevin Gregg, their new closer.
He refused to let any of them go last year, but in 2009, he practically gave them away. Would the Cubs have had a better chance in the playoffs last year with Roberts leading off instead of that albatross Soriano batting first?
Then this year he repeats it with the Jake Peavy watch. Again, supposedly he didn’t have the goods to make the trade and traded away a fan and team favorite in Mark DeRosa, allegedly to get more prospects to throw into the pot so he could complete the trade.
Why he even wanted Peavy is a mystery to me. The starting staff isn’t the problem. He still needed that lead-off hitter.
We all know that never happened and the worst possible scenario happened to the Cubs. Aramis Ramirez went down for at least two months with an injury and no adequate back-up to replace him. Wouldn’t DeRosa look really good if he was still with the team? I won’t mention he also has far more RBI than any current Cub player.
This is the end of Chapter 2, The Bad. Stay tuned for The Ugly, coming soon to a computer near you.