Friday, March 19, 2010
BP: Jim Hendry's last stand?
By Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus
Since getting tabbed to take over as Chicago Cubs GM during the 2002 season, Jim Hendry has overseen one of the most successful stretches of play in club history. His résumé now boasts three division titles and winning records in five of his seven full seasons at the helm. Unfortunately, he still lacks a World Series ring. And with the team he's assembled seemingly further away from a title than it was two years ago, it's unlikely he'll be around to get one.
With the Ricketts family taking over the team this winter, this isn't a case of what have you done for me lately, but what have you done for me. The veteran team Hendry has assembled is a win-now ballclub that didn't win last year, and whose window may already be shut. The average age in the lineup was over 30 years old last season, and swapping out a 32-year-old Milton Bradley for a 32-year-old Marlon Byrd doesn't turn back time for a crew of offensive regulars that should count just one regular under 30: Geovany Soto. Talking about positive vibes with new hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo is swell, but Jaramillo's bag of tricks doesn't include unpacking the even more pleasant hitting environment in Texas he had the advantage of working with.
If the offense is going to bounce back from last season's drop from first in the NL in runs scored to ninth, it's not going to be Jaramillo who is the key factor, it's going to be getting a slimmed-down Soto to hit more like he did in his rookie season, and enjoying a healthy campaign from Aramis Ramirez. Based on VORP, that duo produced 51.4 fewer runs last year than they did the year before. Simply getting those two back to that level for a full season could total up to 50 runs of difference in the offensive ledger, or roughly five wins in the standings, easily the difference between October and front-office executions.
While both those bouncebacks are possible, Hendry could still undone by a weak farm system. There's no major help on the horizon in terms of position players or pitchers who can alter the club's reliance on the aged, and not nearly the kind of depth that would allow Hendry to deal from it to acquire that last veteran player (or three) this club needs. And can the team really afford the additional financial commitments that would push payroll well past $140 million? Here again, as spectacularly disappointing as Hendry's track record for accumulating prospects has been, the massive long-term financial commitments made to merely decent performers like Alfonso Soriano or Kosuke Fukudome put the club in a hole not just now, but in 2011 as well -- the North Siders are already set to spend more than $100 million that season on a team that hasn't won a playoff game since 2003.
With a preseason PECOTA projection of a record around .500, the Cubs' window is already narrow, even in the parity-empowered National League. Hendry's current group has seen its best shot at a ring pass it by, and the next Cubs rebuild will likely be on someone else's watch.
Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus.