Jim Hendry to Theo Epstein; It’s not just writing the biggest check

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Jim Hendry spent nine seasons as the GM of the Chicago Cubs. As a lifelong fan, I couldn’t help but be excited when he signed big name players, made deadline deals, or hired big time managers to come to Chicago. But with some of those deals, Hendry handicapped the Cubs ability to compete; well after he was gone.

There were a handful of deals that he made that can’t be denied, changed the Cubs organization in a positive way. In 2003, Hendry sent 2B Bobby Hill, SS Jose Hernandez to the Pittsburgh Pirates for CF Kenny Lofton and 3B Aramis Ramirez. Lofton helped energize the Cubs at the top of the order, while Ramirez settled in as the Cubs 3B  for the next nine seasons. Later, the Cubs acquired Randall Simon after the waiver deadline for Ray Sadler. All three helped key the playoff run in 2003 that fell just short of returning the Cubs to the World Series.

In 2007, Dusty Baker was coming to the end of his tenure with the Cubs. Just as he had done in San Francisco, he led his team close enough to touch the World Series, but fell short. It became a calling card of sorts for Baker as things ended in a similar fashion in Cincinnati last year. The man he tabbed to replace Baker was none other than Lou Piniella. “Sweet Lou” would lead the Cubs to back-to-back division titles and win a Manager of the Year award in the National League, but eventually fell out of favor with Chicago fans.

Hendry handicapped the Cubs ability to compete; well after he was gone.

But while the Cubs were winning those division titles, Hendry was handcuffing them for the future with astronomical deals, heavy in terms of years, and almost always with a player’s no-trade clause. The Cubs would find themselves with players who were wearing out their welcome, but had no ability to cut them loose without paying for it heavily.

In 2007, Hendry went on a spending spree that the Cubs just recently found themselves out from underneath. It started with the signing of Alfonso Soriano for a eight-year/ $136 million contract. Tied into that was a player friendly no-trade clause. Soriano was a good player, offensively at least. But the Cubs were forced to play him everyday when it was clear it was time to move on.He was part of the two-time division winners, but his legacy in Chicago will be the size of that contract.

He followed that by signing Carlos Zambrano to a five-year/$91.5 million contract. The talent was always there, but his mind was not. Yes, Big Z would throw the most recent no-hitter in Cubs history. But his inconsistency, and ever-increasing outbursts made it impossible to allow him to stay. He would be traded to the Marlins for Chris Volstad. But that contract was another that hampered the team’s ability to progress because of the strapped payroll.

This is only a sample of what Hendry did in his tenure. He spent money. LOTS of it. It was never about building the farm system. Never about signing guys before they exploded and demanded more money. Because Hendry would simply pay that money. While the Cubs made the playoffs in back-to-back years, and of course the NLCS in 2003, Hendry did more harm than good to the organization. The stories of him signing players while in the hospital sounded great, but he was flat-lining the Cubs.