Wednesday, December 14, 2005

is hendry being frozen out?

with the advent of milton bradley going to oakland and now javier vazquez turning up on the south side, this page is beginning to wonder where in the world the chicago cubs and general manager jim hendry are in all these proceedings. this unease is further fostered by the lack of movement in rumored directions as disparate as bobby abreu, miguel tejada and aubrey huff and julio lugo. despite having serious holes remaining to be filled in his 2006 lineup, hendry hasn't concluded a deal since landing juan pierre. is there something holding the cubs up? is hendry being frozen out?

this page thinks yes -- and it's a sickening feeling to contemplate why.

it's no secret that hendry is a player development man. his entire education in baseball, and particularly with the cubs, has been in scouting and talent evaluation. as such, it seems more than a little possible that hendry overvalues what he perceives to be young talent.

this is not to suggest young talent doesn't make teams winners -- it does. the question isn't of valuing young talent. it is of valuing young talent so dearly that one cannot see it objectively for what it is -- instead, exaggerating the importance of talent over other factors (such as durability) or even imagining to see it in abundance where it in fact only exists in traces.

hendry's establishment of an "untouchable" list of prospects can be seen as a piece of evidence of such a mindset. no team should have an "untouchable" list -- and if they do it surely should never include the likes of felix pie, brian dopirak and rich hill. for a general manager who has the best interests of the entire club -- that is, winning -- in the forefront, there is no player who could not be sent in the right deal, and maybes like pie and dopirak are sometimes exactly the kinds of pieces that can close a deal that really should be done.

however, it seems to this page that the reason why the quality of the "untouchables" is so questionably touchable and the slowness of the cubs progress in trade talks are, terribly, linked. the conclusion must be that the cubs simply don't have much interesting talent to deal in the middle or high minors. shedding a few pitchers for pierre is one thing -- florida had undertaken a housecleaning and had no desire to retain pierre at any cost, making them readily amenable to taking a flyer on reynel pinto and ricky nolasco. few if any other teams, it seems, seriously entered the running for pierre. but trying to come up with the kind of prospect package that would seal miguel tejada -- that is another thing entirely.

this isn't entirely new news. anyone who looked at the 2005 iowa cubs roster to find names like calvin murray, trenidad hubbard, jon koronka and phil norton leading the charge must have had an inkling. it barely matters, in this writer's opinion, what baseball america thought about the cub farm in 2002; evaluations of organization talent are notoriously ephemeral. what matters is that, right now, the cubs probably don't have the ammunition to seal the deals they desperately need to make for 2006.

one of the prices of having a farm whose best talents, if they are that, are still emerging and quite risky is that few if any of them represent really desirable trade objects in return for proven major league players. those that are, it would seem, have been deemed "untouchable" by a general manager who is perhaps overly concerned with player development and not able to divorce himself from the promise of youth to deal in the immediate best interests of the team.

hendry's widely acknowledged best moves as the cubs general manager -- derrek lee and aramis ramirez -- involved gathering the shards of teams imploding themselves in major financially-driven makeovers, which enabled him to gain talent at bargain-basement prices. lee came for hee seop choi; ramirez for jose hernandez, matt bruback and a ptbnl. hendry wasn't forced to divest himself of any young talent at all, which played a big role in why those deals got done. to some extent, this year's acquisition of juan pierre also fits that mold. but just about any general manager can swing such a deal -- participating in fire sales is not the hallmark of greatness.

great management also must involve knowing when potential can and should be converted into immediate kinetic help. does hendry know when that time arrives? does he know it's quite probably right now?

and it's doubly damning of hendry that the dearth of quality in the cubs higher minors is at least in part a consequence of his work as the director of player development for the cubs from 1995-2000 and of scouting from 1996-2000.

a great prospect like andre ethier is how bradley gets shipped. a great prospect like hanley ramirez is how josh beckett gets shipped. a great prospect like chris young is how javier vazquez gets shipped. until and unless the cub organization 1) produces real quality talent in some quantity to at least the double-a level and 2) sees itself capable of parting with those talents in trade for immediate help, the cubs are likely to remain locked out of the big deals that could really make years like 2006 worth watching -- and give the cubs a chance before their window of opportunity with this core of players slams shut.

UPDATE: how desperate are things getting at clark and addison? the mother ship is floating a patterson trial balloon for right field. apparently, things are even bleaker than this page thought possible.

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