Tuesday, December 20, 2005

hendry chooses never

confirming this page's suspicions that genral manager jim hendry had been backed into a corner, news this evening comes that the cubs have inked jacque jones to play rightfield for three years and $16mm. this is slightly more per annum than they paid jeromy burnitz, last year's disappointing rightfield signing. burnitz responded by hitting 258/322/435 with 24 homers. jones last year hit 249/319/438 with 23 homers; the year before, 254/315/427 with 23 homers.

change the name on the uniform, but the cubs essentially just extended the burnitzalypse in right by three long seasons.

"We like a lot of things about Jacque," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said Tuesday in announcing the deal. "He's a very versatile guy. We were very intent on trying to get a left-handed hitter. He's very athletic, has some pop in his bat, an outstanding throwing arm. He's a versatile player and had a lot of upside in him."


moreover, jones -- as a type-a free agent, having been offered arbitration this very evening by the minnesota twins -- will also cost the cubs their second, third and fourth round draft picks this next draft year.

while there's little positive to say about this, there is a possibility that another deal may be closed to help things out in right. jones, as a lefty, is a reasonable hitter against righthanded pitching, carrying a 2005 split of 268/348/466. if the cubs found someone like craig wilson or... well, someone who hits lefthanded pitching, they might salvage a reasonable platoon in the sheffield corner. (it was long speculated that kevin mench might be that guy, but the rangers today dealt terrmel sledge as part of the adam eaton trade, effectively creating a need for mench in texas.) but until or unless this is done, jones is clearly the cubs' rightfielder until 2008.

the team also tendered contracts to all its arbitration-eligible players -- including korey patterson, who is now assured of making some $2.4mm in 2006. we have already noted that this princely sum for a pauper's output probably means patterson cannot be traded -- at least, to any sanely managed team -- and will likely end up as the cubs end-of-the-bench outfielder. (UPDATE: jim hendry clearly feels otherwise, saying, "I'm sure once people see he is being tendered a contract -- after a lot of people thought he wasn't going to be tendered -- we'll see an increase of interest for Corey." we sure hope you're right, mr hendry, but color us skeptical.)

this page has been saying for some time that 2006 is a make-or-break season with this group of players. some additional expenditures will befall the team immediately -- both carlos zambrano and mark prior were to be offered arbitration tonight. hendry has never let a player go to arbitration in his tenure as general manager, and as noted above that trend has continued -- so they can be expected to see agreeable raises this year.

but this will be derrek lee's contract year -- with an offensive season that lands somewhere between 2005's triple crown run and his career line of 276/363/501, he will be in line to join the elite first basemen of the game in next year's free agent crop. because of the bizarre and self-defeating contract hendry agreed to with aramis ramirez, 2006 is also effectively his contract year -- as was noted here at the time, such cockamamie deals put all the risk on the club and direct all the reward to the player. if ramirez has a year anything like his 302/358/568 output of 2005, he too will be swimming in richer waters; if he stinks or is injured, the cubs will keep him. moreover, as was noted over at cub reporter, both maddux and wood are probably gone after this season as well and will need to be replaced.

in short, it looks very much like this core of cub players will be disassembled following this year. with extremely little in the cubs player development system to draw from, 2007 looms as a potentially dismal year, with the cubs forced to man the squad with a sprinkling of free agents betwixt holdovers which could include (if no fire sale intermediates) prior, zambrano and jerome williams in the rotation; eyre, howry and dempster in the bullpen; barrett and neifi on the infield; murton, pierre and jacque jones in the outfield. those positions not filled through the free agent market would have to be filled from shallow iowa and west tenn squads. that's what makes 2006 a now-or-never year.

so which did macfail and hendry choose?

having failed to close the deal on furcal, having failed to close the deal on bradley, having failed to even offer at brian giles, the cubs are sitting on ronny cedeno at short and jacque jones in right -- effectively, making no change from last year's neifi and burnitz. the pierre trade, as necessary as it was to remove the spectacularly bad klown from everyday duty if not baseball, remains insufficient to make this team into a winner. with the rotation also basically unchanged from the middle-of-the-pack lot of last year, and with the bullpen arguably as weak or weaker -- and both certainly not of playoff caliber -- one wonders why the cubs even bothered to try to get pierre.

signing jones is an affirmation that the jig is up -- a signal to expect no messiah to deliver the team from a painful mediocrity in 2006 or 2007. bolder paths will remain untaken, and increased quarterly profit goals will be met yet again as scads of sentimental fools selfishly immerse themselves in thoughts of olde tymes past with no concern for the responsibilities of fan stewardship. wrigley field is to remain again this year less a vital, living ballpark than a museum, gathering dust.

"now or never?", came the question. and hendry answered, "never." so much the better.

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