So Far, So Good For Jim Hendry


Coming off of a disappointing season in which the Chicago Cubs went 75-87, finishing in 5th place in the National League Central, the spotlight was on General Manager Jim Hendry to improve the Cubs, while still putting his primary focus on the future. While the Cubs will never come out and say it, they are indeed in a rebuilding phase. However, the Cubs are in a position where they have to at least be competitive while they are in the process of a youth movement. Still, many Cubs Fans and insiders around Baseball believe the Chicago Cubs will still be one of the less fortunate teams in 2011. Looking at the moves that Jim Hendry has already made, the Cubs are in a position to be a surprise team for the 2011 season.

In an off-season in which many believe is “make or break” for Hendry, the General Manager has done surprisingly well considering the resources he was given. When Tom Ricketts told the media in his state of the team address that the Major League Payroll will decrease, many figured that Hendry would have a difficult time finding any type of success through free agency or trades. The Cubs primary targets for the winter were adding a power hitting first baseman, a veteran starting pitcher, as well as a veteran set-up man. We are still over a month away from Spring Training, and Hendry has already filled two those needs.

Hendry’s first splash was at the Winter Meetings when he signed free agent first baseman Carlos Pena to a one year, $10 million deal. Many Cubs fans feel that paying $10MM for a player who hit .196 last season is another failure by the Cubs General Manager. To the contrary, I actually think it is a very good deal for the Chicago Cubs. Scott Boras’, Pena’s agent, was originally seeking a three year deal, worth $30MM. While the Cubs are still paying the base salary of $10MM, Hendry did well by not shelling out another disastrous long term deal. As for the $10MM price tag, FanGraphs believes that even if Pena improves marginally from a poor 2010 season – hitting .196 with 28 home runs and 84 RBI’s – the Cubs would be getting even value.  If Pena does have a comeback season, where he hits around .240 with 35+ home runs, then the Cubs would be more than willing to bring him back on a multi-year deal.

After the Cubs signed Carlos Pena, they shifted their attention to adding more pitching depth to the team. The Cubs first steps to improving the pitching staff was signing Kerry Wood to a one year deal, worth $1.5 million. While the contract may only be for one year, the expectation is that the Cubs will re-sign Wood to a multi-year deal at some point next season. Last season, Wood proved that he can still be a dominant pitcher as he had an ERA of 0.69 as a set-up man late last season with the New York Yankees. Hendry, albeit with the help of Kerry Wood wanting to come back to Chicago, was able to strike a deal with Wood that was less than half of what other teams were offering him. Hendry’s strong relationship with Wood, is another factor that led to Wood returning to the Cubs.

With these moves, Hendry has put the Cubs in position to be contenders next season for a wild-card spot. Considering that nothing was expected out of the Cubs this off-season, credit has got to go to Hendry for being creative this winter and improving the Cubs, while not mortgaging the future. As much as fans want to chastise Hendry for his past failures, they should credit Hendry for having a very good off-season. Obviously, the Cubs are not done making moves before the season, but Hendry has indicated that there will be no big splashes- just a little “tinkering”.