So what do we learn from this?
First of all, Hendry’s good trades are really good, and his bad trades aren’t that bad when taken individually. His worst trade by WAR (to date) consists of a fourth outfielder going to the Mets. A lot of GMs would be thrilled to have that as their worst deal.
That said, the jury is still out on some of his other trades. The Juan Pierre deal will continue to get worse so long as Ricky Nolasco pitches for Florida. The Rich Harden deal is right now a 6.0 for the Cubs, but that could change. The Matt Garza deal is a 0.2 for the Cubs, and that one will definitely change (but whether it goes more positive or dips into the negatives is tough to say).
Speaking of the Garza trade, what about Hendry’s alleged tendency to constantly trade away the entire farm system? He keeps giving away all the Cubs’ best talent, right?
Actually, not so much. I was surprised to see that most of the minor league players the Cubs gave up in any trade never reached the majors, or had a negative WAR when they did. On the whole, the minor league players he has acquired have done much, much better than the ones he has dealt away.
For example, in the Nomar Garciaparra trade the Cubs sent Justin Jones to the Twins. At the time of the trade, Jones was ranked as the #56 Prospect in all of the minors by Baseball America. This was undoubtedly a case of the Cubs dealing a top prospect, similar to if the Cubs dealt Matthew Szczur today.
Justin Jones never made it past Double A.
In that same deal the Cubs gave up Brendan Harris. Harris played in 485 games over the course of his career, most of them after he left the Cubs. He also totaled a career WAR of -2.0, and never managed a WAR over greater than 1.0 in any one year.
Other highly regarded young players the Cubs gave up include:
Josh Donaldson (career WAR of -0.2),
Eric Patterson (career WAR 0.2),
Sean Gallagher (career WAR -1.7). Gallagher was rated as high as #82 among all prospects by Baseball America.
Hee-Seop Choi (career WAR 1.6). Choi was ranked as high as #23 among all prospects by Baseball America.
In fact, with the exception of the Juan Pierre trade, Jim Hendry has dealt very little in the way of young players or prospects who went on to have successful careers. That does not mean the players in the Garza trade will not pan out, but it drive home the point that they are called ‘prospects’ for a reason. Chris Archer could be the next Justin Jones and Hak-Ju Lee could be the the next Eric Patterson. Or they could both be in Hall of Fame one day. There are no sure bets when it comes to prospects for any team, and the Cubs track record when dealing prospects is actually pretty good.
Meanwhile, the Cubs have acquired Marcos Mateo, Scott Maine, Justin Berg and Brian Schlitter in past trades. Schlitter is on the DL right now, but all four have already made at least brief appearance in the majors and all four are likely to be competing for a bullpen job in 2012. Mateo and Maine could finish this year in Chicago if a few relievers are dealt.
It is a bit early be evaluating the prospects who came back in the Garza and Gorzelanny trades, but both Zach Rosscup and Graham Hicks are off to a good start. Evan Crawford, acquired for Mike Fontenot, is looking like a good pickup so far as well. It is perfectly possible that, at the end of the day, none of these guys will pan out. But even if that’s the case, Hendry will still have a record of not emptying the farm system. Instead, on average, he as acquired at least as much talent as he has given up. Unless all the players in the Garza trade do very well for Tampa, I think his net record on minor leaguers dealt or acquired will show a balance in favor of the Cubs. That is mainly a credit to the Cubs’ scouting department, led by Tim Wilkens since 2005. However, Jim Hendry is the guy who hired Wilkens, so some of the credit has to go to the GM.