I'd like to re-consider Jim Hendry's offseason, which now is under attack. I'll add the qualifiers up front - I'm sure it's a lot harder to be a real GM then to armchair it. I think Hendry has been a very good GM for the Cubs overall. No, I don't think I know more than him.
This is a long fan post, which I'll be the first to say is not a good thing. To help in reading it, I've bolded my main points and used the indent feature to separate the review from the proposed action sections.
The following decisions were made and up for review.
1. Signing Milton Bradley to a 2 year contract with a vesting option for games played.
2. Trading Mark DeRosa to give Mike Fontenot and Aaron Miles the 2B job.
3. Trading Jason Marquis to give Sean Marshall the 5th starter job.
4. Replacing Wood, Howry, and Wuertz with Gregg, Heilman, and Patton.
5. Sticking with Fukudome.
6. Giving Hoffpauir the 1st man off the bench role; replacing Blanco with Hill; providing no backup left-side of the IF role players either for the bench or AAA team.
7. Underselling Pie, Cedeno, and Ceda to help make 1-4 happen.
Reviewing these decisions so far.
1. Milton Bradley has been a disappointment in terms of batting results. His approach has not looked bad. His fielding has been ok. It's possible his luck has just been bad. Here is my concern. The contract Jim gave Milton seemed smart, protecting the Cubs on that third year in case Milton was injured too much. But I'm beginning to fear that the very clause which protects us in 2011 is hurting us in 2009. Milton Bradley has a 12 M dollar incentive to play hurt. I don't think signing Bradley was the mistake. I think the incentive clause is starting to look like a mistake.
2. Against LHP, Aaron Miles has a .908 SLG; Fontenot has a .743 OPS v. RHP; That betters DeRosa's .697/.973 R/L split. Jim Hendry was right that Fontenot/Miles could replace DeRosa at 2B. The problem is twofold - 1) Lou has played Miles against RHP way too often and 2) Fontenot/Miles haven't just been used at 2B. More on that later. First, let's talk about this decision to go with Fontenot. He hit .305/.395/.514 last year. How do you not give him a shot, at least in a platoon role? And DeRosa wasn't going to sit for a platoon role after his career year. The only move that was fair to both Mark DeRosa and Mike Fontenot was to trade DeRosa. The problem was not in trading DeRosa; it was failing to cover his position flexibility with the rest of the bench.
3. Jason Marquis has pitched well this year. Good for him. Sean Marshall has pitched better. Good for us. Well done, Jim Hendry.
4. The bullpen looks bad. I don't need to go into detail. The problem is that if you step back and look at all of baseball's lower-priced off-season relief moves, none really look that good. When it comes to the bullpen, I throw my hands up wondering what could Hendry have done differently? He appears to have been right to save money on Kerry Wood.
5. Fukudome has been this team's saving grace so far. If Fukudome falls back again, he'll be a real enigma. His SLG has fallen back in May, but this could just be the normal ebb and flow of baseball. We'll see.
6. Hoffpauir and Hill look to be worthwhile risks paying off. Over the last 7 days, Hoffpauir is 2/14 with 7 Ks. Hopefully that also is just the normal ebb and flow hitters go through, because otherwise he's been a real asset with the bat. It's the rest of the bench that is the disaster. No backup was provided for 3B or SS. Perhaps Jim expected Corey Koskie to play. Even then, there was way too much "hope and faith" in Ramirez and Theriot - two players known to be at risk in regards to their durability. This isn't just a problem that was exposed by bad luck. It was going to be a problem season-long if Lou did not feel he had the options necessary to rest Theriot and Ramirez.
7. I'm on record saying we undersold those guys. Pie and Cedeno started the season very poorly - their first in the AL - but both have rebounded lately. Over the last 14 days, Ronny's hitting .263/.300/.526 and Felix is hitting .242/.306/.455 in May. Of course, that, too could be the normal ebb and flow of baseball, and regardles the OBPs look bad. Again, to be clear, it's not that I think we need those guys on the team; I think we could have gotten more in trade had we handled things differently.
Overall, my quibbles with Hendry are on smaller things. It's just that these smaller things have added up this season and been magnified with Bradley, the big off-season acquisition, not hitting. There were good moves in here, too. In particular, I think at the end of the season, we are going to be glad with Mike Fontenot as a platooned 2B.
Alright - where can we go from here?
My view is that something needs to be done to give this team a shot in the arm and to help re-sort the bullpen and bench. Pre-season, I'd have liked to see a guy like Maicer Izturis, Brandon Wood, or Wilson Betemit added to the roster. But a move like that wouldn't help this team with the idea that management still believes and is expecting a turnaround.
I have my eye on Aubrey Huff. He's hitting just ok, so far this season. Andy McPhail is intending to trade him and now has the concern - what if Huff's 2009 follows 2007 and not 2008? Did McPhail wait too long to trade Huff? Hendry can offer to buy now, paying full price, saving McPhail some of that risk. Huff played for Lou in Tampa and has played in the NL Central before, too. He can play 3B now and gives us Bradley insurance in RF later. The demand for Huff should be lower than for DeRosa, whose 2B skill and versatility make him more attractive to more clubs. That means the price could easily be lower, too. I also think the Cubs need Bradley insurance more than they need Fontenot insurance.
The other real benefit to trading with Baltimore is that, especially in contrast to Cleveland, they should be shopping for young 1B/DH players, which is what we have to trade. In 2006, the Rays sent Huff and cash to the Astros for Mitch Talbot and Ben Zobrist. I think we can match that offer with an increase to pay respect to Huff's 2008 and to get this done earlier.
But I'd actually like to expand this trade to get George Sherrill, too. He would solidify our bullpen as a strong LH late-inning guy. Sherrill and Huff are getting paid 10.75 M dollars together. So we would probably need some $$$ help from Baltimore to do this. If the return was good enough, the O's have money to spare.
So, package Micah Hoffpauir, Jake Fox, Randy Wells, and Neal Cotts. Hoffpauir and Fox go straight into Baltimore's lineup. Wells goes into their tattered rotation. Cotts helps cover innings. Is that enough to get Baltimore to pay part of the salaries due to Huff and Sherrill? There's no real marquee name there, but it's a lot of cheap talent with upside. I imagine that some Cub fans will think it's too much.
But we get a real hitter to cover 3B and a real LH bullpen pitcher. This would go a long way towards fixing the problems our roster faces. The pressure comes off Marmol-Gregg. Heilman moves to a multi-inning, mopup role. Huff jumps into the middle of the lineup, taking pressure off Bradley. We're still going to want a SS backup, but a smaller trade for a lesser-known player can look to fixing that later. Maybe Baltimore is even willing to throw in Robert Andino somehow.