|Ricketts and Hendry reflect on the Piniella era: it’s not success, but it ain’t that bad.|
Now that we know Lou Piniella’s days as manager of the Chicago Cubs have a definitive number (while Jim Hendry’s do not) and we’ve all endured the initial explosive reaction from media both social and mainstream, it’s time to take a deep breath of whatever gaseous substance you wish to inhale and look at where the Cubs really stand. Between the lines of yesterday’s press conference is a rather clear portrait of what the near future of the Cubs is going to look like.
While I can’t argue too fiercely with interpretations to the contrary, I don’t think it’s that bad. Let’s strip down yesterday’s off-the-field developments to bare facts.
Lou Piniella is retiring after this season. I always thought this was the plan, but until yesterday Lou had discussed his longterm outlook with a certain je-ne-sais-Favre. Speculation swirls as to why Lou’s agent let the news slip at this point in the season, and I can answer that question with resounding certainty: I don’t care. I mean, really, between the trades that aren’t happening and the NL Central deficit that isn’t shrinking, there isn’t much left to distract from. The reasons behind the news leak or Lou’s decision to retire construct a thoroughly boring mystery. I trust Lou when he says he’s retiring because he wants to retire and not because of the product on the field. No one really cares about the why, it’s the what next that’s generating real buzz. And Lou’s replacement is far less important than the matter of Hendry’s job security.
Jim Hendry still has a job. A lot of Cub fans are angry about this because of how awful they think Jim Hendry is. While I think most fans have given Hendry an unfair and ill-informed job evaluation, I’ll save that argument for another day (or for smarter people). What’s even more baffling to me is how urgently people want Hendry gone. Tom Ricketts’ vote of confidence in Hendry midway through a horrendously disappointing season in which injuries can’t be used as an excuse at all strikes many fans as a betrayal of his initial promise as owner to hold his front office accountable. I call bull drama. Let’s look at what Ricketts said:
Jim is our general manager full-stop. He will be leading the effort to find our new manager for next year and will be our general manager going into next year.
I’ll tell you exactly what that means:
A) Tom Ricketts uses expressions like “full-stop,” and that’s kind of weird.
B) Ricketts viewed 2010 as a transition year. After buying the team in a process that took longer than he expected in an economy that sucked harder than he had predicted, the opportunity for Hendry to adequately build a champion just wasn’t there, in Tom’s opinion. He at least figured that it wasn’t enough of a slam dunk to expect a 2010 World Series crown. This season was Jim Hendry’s grace period. You can throw Piniella in that mix as well, but his retirement makes their plan toward Lou a nondecision. Firing Lou this year would just force them to pay someone else to babysit the failure.
C) Jim Hendry has one last chance to build a winner. If the Cubs don’t legitimately compete and succeed in 2011, Hendry will be out of a job. If they’re under .500 by the time June 2011 rolls around, Jim will be gone. If they haven’t sniffed first place by July, he’s fired. If the Cubs reach the postseason and put up a bagel, Hendry will have eaten his last donut as the Cubs’ GM.
D) There will be no fire sale. Not this year, anyway. Jim Hendry will manage this team, generally speaking, like a man fighting for his job, not a man building for the future. He won’t be allowed to mortgage the future entirely—don’t expect any Soriano-type free-agent deals that completely restrict Hendry’s successor (although, Hendry likely had very little to do with the terms of Soriano’s contract). But Hendry’s mindset will be win-now all the way. I’m not saying the Cubs will compete, but Hendry will be fired if they don’t.
E) The next Cubs manager will be the guy Hendry thinks gives the team the best chance to win. He won’t hire Ryne Sandberg if he’s not satisfied he can win now, nor will he do so if there’s even the remotest possibility he can sign Joe Torre. Jim Hendry knows he’s in no position to give anybody a chance to prove themselves because this is his last chance to do the same. So, if Jim Hendry has anything to say about it (as Ricketts has emphasized that he does), you can forget the marketing-driven decisions and the goodwill gestures. Hendry will be desperate to win, not to coddle the fan base.
F) (It seems fitting that this list end in F) Success for the rest of this season will be measured in expiring salary that can be dumped. There’s a slight chance Hendry would trade for a significant impact player on the block provided they can negotiate a contract extension (with a complimentary No-Trade-Clause). Then the off-season will be a mad rush to trade whatever remaining baggage Hendry has no more use for and to sign his next free-agent man crush.
My 2011 prediction: Joe Torre is the next manager of the Chicago Cubs, which will improve the team by exactly half a win. Hendry’s assorted trades and signings will improve the team by 4 wins. The Cubs’ luck will improve by 3 games. The Cubs will win the wild card, get swept again in the first round by the Giants, and Jim Hendry will be fired. It will be the last time the Cubs make the playoffs until 2017.
Meh. Could be worse.