As part of a joint venture between Baseball Digest Daily and Bleed Cubbie Blue (BDD/BCB), I'm presenting this interview with Jim Hendry. Hendry was gracious enough to spend a few minutes to not only reflect on the 2006 season, but to give us a glimpse of what to expect as we move toward 2007. Special thanks goes out to Sharon Pannozzo of the Cubs media relations department and Joe Hamrahi of BDD, my partner in this interview.
BDD/BCB: Thank you for joining us today, Jim.
Jim Hendry (JH): No problem at all. My pleasure.
BDD/BCB: It's been a tough year for you, and we all realize that. Looking back on the season, knowing that a .500 club might win the wild-card, is there anything you would do differently?
JH: When you don't do well and things go wrong, it would be foolish to say you did everything exactly the way you wanted to, and it worked out. We had a stretch of about 55-60 games when Derrek Lee went down that's hard to explain how poorly we played. I think we went 18-40. Obviously we're playing much better baseball now even though Derrek is not here.
We didn't see the prolonged (Mark) Prior injury situation. We didn't know he'd be injured at all coming to camp. In hindsight, if we'd known what was going to happen to (Kerry) Wood and Prior, it would be foolish not to say we would explore other starting pitching possibilities.
The moves that we did make in the offseason worked out well. (Scott) Eyre and (Bob) Howry have been terrific. Jacque Jones has been real solid. (John) Mabry was what we expected off the bench. So it wasn't like the plan wasn't solid. We just didn't get anything out of two quality starters that we were counting on. That would be the one thing [that we'd have addressed]. And obviously you can't control the injury factor, but that's not an excuse either.
Despite our injuries, we just didn't play very good baseball for about two months after Derrek went down.
BDD/BCB: How frustrating has the Wood and Prior situation been, and do you envision their roles seriously changing next year?
JH: Well, honestly, it's been terribly frustrating. We were in a position a couple of years ago when we felt our pitching would be good for a very long time. I mean (Carlos) Zambrano was a third or fourth starter two and a half, three years ago. Then when we brought Greg (Maddux) over it was kind of like the icing on the cake. We thought we would be good for a long time...pitching wise. It's been very tough.
Hopefully Mark is going to be healthy again and ready to go by next spring, and Kerry's situation is obviously a lot different. He's going to have to go through a long extensive rehab and probably pitch next year out of the bullpen. Hopefully we'll find a way to work it out here still. We certainly won't be picking up his option for $13 million.
BDD/BCB: And as far as Lee goes, how well is he doing in his rehabilitation?
JH: Lee's doing fine. Lee's doing very well. He took some soft toss (Saturday). I fully expect Derrek to be back in a couple of weeks and probably play the last month of the season.
BDD/BCB: Just to touch on some of the younger pitchers...Rich Hill has returned to Chicago and looked like a different pitcher. Is there anything he's doing differently this time around?
JH: I think it's a lot. Some guys adjust quicker than others. It's a process. Obviously it's a different ballgame when you get to the big leagues. You're pitching now at the highest level. You're pitching with 40,000 people in the stands every night. Some guys adapt quicker than others. It doesn't mean they can't do it. It doesn't mean they won't find it. The game is full of people who didn't do well when they first came up for a couple of months, but then they found it and went on to have great careers.
Hopefully he's over the hump now. He threw exceptionally well three of the last four times out. He pitched great the other night in the bullpen. He pitched the 17th and 18th innings in Houston very aggressively and with more confidence. He's got great stuff. Everybody knows that. And he's left-handed. So hopefully he'll be putting himself in a position that we can count on him at the end of the year.
BDD/BCB: Have there been any other young pitchers who have really impressed you?
JH: (Sean) Marshall did a good job for what he got thrown into when Wood and Prior went down early in the season and didn't come back. He did a solid job. He's out with that oblique muscle [injury] now, but he's doing fine.
And actually (Carlos) Marmol has done a good job. I think he's hitting a wall [now]. He was converted from a catcher just a couple of years ago, and we always thought he'd be an outstanding bullpen guy...which he was when he came up here. He threw great out of the pen. We pushed him into the rotation and he did well, but I think he's going through the dead arm syndrome since he hasn't been there before. But he's been impressive.
And we hope that Angel Guzman is now on track. He had a good outing the other night in that long game in Houston so we're hopeful.
Been happy with those guys.
[Also,] we're happy with (Cesar) Izturis going into the offseason. We feel our infield has a chance to be really good. (Michael) Barrett has had a terrific year. Around the horn you certainly can paint an optimistic picture. This is not a gloom and doom situation. It's a matter of getting a little healthy and making some good decisions in the offseason. Hopefully then we'll be right back in it next year.
BDD/BCB: Of the pitchers in the minors, do you have any idea of who you might consider bringing up come September?
JH: A lot of them are already here. We're going to get Marshall back, and we're going to get Wade Miller for about a month in the big leagues. That's been a long rehabilitation project, but he's fighting through it pretty well. Maybe he can give us a boost. You'll probably see Jae-Kuk Ryu back...who had the disastrous start against Atlanta. He's actually throwing the ball pretty well.
I don't think they'll be a lot of surprises. We'll see what we got here with the (Ryan) O'Malley kid who pitched so great the other night. [We'll see] if he can keep it up.
Some of the guys are already here, and some of the guys on the DL will be back so I don't think it will be some great group of surprises.
BDD/BCB: A little bit on the draft...obviously you only had the one pick in the first four rounds. We know about Tyler Colvin and Jeff Samardzija. What impressed you so much about these guys and who else from this draft should we keep an eye out for in the near future?
JH: Well, Timmy Wilken handles the draft. I don't tell him who to pick. I helped him with the Samardzija contract. But we feel like we really made up for the picks we lost. We picked up a kid in the 11th round, Chris Huseby, who was unsignable type guy. We had him as a first round talent. We gave him a heck of a bonus, but we're thrilled to have him in a year we didn't have three picks.
We also took a kid named Drew Rundle in the 14th round that we projected [to go in] the third or fourth round. We knew he was going to be a tough sign, and we gave him $500,000 which is third or fourth round money. We thought we made up for the picks. And Oneri Fleita signed one of the four or five top pitching prospects in Latin America, a kid named Larry Suarez from Latin America.
We had a good plan, and Timmy and Oneri executed it well so we feel like we more than made up for the picks we lost.
BDD/BCB: What do you feel is your biggest need going into this offseason?
JH: We'll have to see where Prior is at. Hopefully he'll be healthy...so we can count on him to come to camp healthy. We'll probably need at least one starting pitcher, and then we'll probably be looking for maybe one more quality hitter who can augment (Aramis) Ramirez and Lee a little bit better.
BDD/BCB: You've invested a lot of money in your draft picks, and that's a credit to your organization. Do you see yourself making a big splash in free agency this year?
JH: We're always pretty active. We don't set any records, but we try to fill in the cracks if we don't have it in-house. We had a glaring need in the 8th inning last year and got out of the gate early in [signing] Howry and Eyre, and they have delivered everything we hoped they would. They've been terrific.
So, we know we're going to need another starting pitcher, and we're probably going to need a little bit more offense. We'll do our best. We'll take a good look at resigning Juan Pierre hopefully before the end of the year. We'll start working on that probably in September and see where that goes.
BDD/BCB: And just to wrap it up with the question everyone asks...I assume you're maintaining the stance that you're still going to evaluate Dusty (Baker) at the end of the year and see where things go from there?
JH: Yeah. It's not a question of evaluating him, but what I'll do at the end of the season is what I've said I'll do all along. I'll do what's in the best interest of the Cubs moving forward. It's really as simple as that.
BDD/BCB: Great. Thanks again for taking the time Jim and good luck today and the rest of the season.
JH: You're welcome. Any time man. Thank you.