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Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Hitting coach 'overrated'?

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs have gotten so used to throwing big money at bigger problems that they're starting to overpay for coaches, too.

Jim Hendry
Jim Hendry may be overpaying for a hitting coach.

Former Texas Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo is going to be paid $2.42 million over the next three years to become the newest Cubs' hitting guru. That's about $800,000 dollars a year ... for a hitting coach.

To be clear, Jaramillo has obviously proven over the course of his career that he is very good at what he does. His teams are usually ranked near the top in hitting statistics, and he has developed a track record for getting hitters back on track.

I don't blame him for taking the money. What I'm trying to figure out is: How is he going to be that much different than the two men who used to guide the Cubs hitters -- Gerald Perry and Von Joshua? And, most importantly, why in the world would Cubs general manager Jim Hendry pay a coach that much money when his best player admitted just a few weeks ago that a hitting coach isn't as important as one might think.

"I hate to say it, but a hitting coach is overrated," Derrek Lee said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "It's more of a mental thing. Gerald was a great guy.

"He always had positive things to say -- and same with Von. They're always in your corner. But the bottom line is the best hitting coach is yourself. No one knows your swing like yourself. None of the blame should go to either of those two guys. We just struggled as a whole all year."

Perry, as you'll recall, guided the Cubs to the top spot in most hitting categories during the 2008 season. After the team started slow in 2009, he was replaced by Joshua, who fared a little better but didn't make the type of major impact that Hendry was hoping for.

Enter Jaramillo, the team's third hitting coach in the past four months. He is expected to get all of Hendry's high-priced, underachieving talent to start hitting again. But, unless he is a miracle worker, how much of a difference can he make?

Is he suddenly going to get Alfonso Soriano to stop swinging at off-speed pitches in the dirt -- the same pitches he's swung at during his entire career?

Is he going to stop Kosuke Fukudome from spinning himself into the ground all of a sudden?

Is Geovany Soto going to magically turn back into the hitter he had become in 2008?

How about Mike Fontenot and Aaron Miles? Are they going to learn how to hit again thanks to Jaramillo's supposed magic touch?

The real problem here, which has become clearer over the past year, is that Hendry has simply made far too many mistakes.

Yes, Soriano dealt with a knee injury for most of the season, but it was clear to anyone who watched the team play that his skills were starting to deteriorate -- quickly. His contract will hang around the Cubs neck like an albatross for the next five years.

Speaking of bad contracts, Fukudome has a terrible one of his own. No matter what Perry and Joshua said or did, it wasn't going to make a difference. The Japanese import is a mediocre MLB player with a vastly oversized price tag.

Was it really Perry and Joshua's fault that Soto regressed so badly? Or was it due to the fact that he came into the season out of shape, and couldn't adjust when pitchers started to pitch to him differently?

Again, were Perry and Joshua really to blame because of the struggles of Fontenot and Miles, or was it because Fontenot simply wasn't a full-time player and Miles, who was signed to another bad contract by Hendry, wasn't much of a player at all?

Of course, we're forgetting one of the biggest reasons why we're here in the first place -- Milton Bradley.

Yet another terrible signing that went awry, Bradley failed to meet the hype which was was caused when Hendry signed him to another big money deal in the offseason. When he didn't hit over the first few months, Perry -- his friend -- got the axe and was replaced by Joshua, whom he ended up getting in a fight with before Bradley was suspended for the rest of the season. Now, was it really Perry and Joshua's fault that Bradley didn't hit, or was it mainly due to the fact that Bradley was miserable at Wrigley Field and hated to come to work on most days?

Hendry will stand up at the latest Wrigley Field press gathering today and rave about how the Cubs have snagged one of the best coaches in the business. Only time will tell how much of an impact Jaramillo's presence will have, but for the moment, the only thing that's clear is that the position of hitting coach in this organization has become the main scapegoat for all of Hendry's recent mistakes.

As has become custom, the GM is throwing more money at the team's latest problem and hoping that will fix it.