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A look at Cubs trades in the expansion era: 2009

This was not a good year for Jim Hendry’s trades.

Tom Gorzelanny
Getty Images

This is the year when Jim Hendry’s GM tenure went off the rails. From signing Milton Bradley as a free agent — a colossal mistake — to some weird and bad trades, 2009 began his downfall.

January 18: Acquired Garrett Olson and Henry Williamson from the Orioles for Felix Pie

Pie was a highly-touted prospect who was a bust in Baltimore, giving them -1.1 bWAR over three seasons.

Williamson never played in the majors.

Olson was a Cub for 10 days.

January 28: Acquired Aaron Heilman from the Mariners for Garrett Olson and Ronny Cedeno

Jim Hendry was a close friend of longtime Notre Dame baseball coach Paul Manieri and had what some might term an unhealthy obsession with Notre Dame baseball players. It began with Hendry overpaying Jeff Samardzija to give up football (and Samardzija did have a decent MLB career), to this trade. (If only Hendry had been as obsessed with Notre Dame product Brad Lidge, who actually could have helped the Cubs in the Hendry era.)

Heilman had been acquired by the Mariners from the Mets in a three-way deal in December 2008. His numbers in New York were pretty pedestrian: a 4.24 ERA in 305 games over six seasons, a total of 2.4 bWAR. But he was talked up by Hendry as some kind of bullpen savior. (NARRATOR: “He wasn’t.”)

Heilman appeared in 70 games for the Cubs and posted a 4.11 ERA and 0.9 bWAR. He was traded away after the season.

Cedeno, touted as the Cubs shortstop of the future in 2006 (NARRATOR: “He wasn’t.”), had a couple of decent years in 2010 and 2011 for the Pirates, but his defense had declined by then and he was worth negative bWAR after he left the Cubs. Neither he nor Olson did much in Seattle.

This was a deal that hurt both teams.

February 2: Acquired Justin Sellers and Richie Robnett from the Athletics for Michael Wuertz

This was another “What were you thinking?” kind of deal. Wuertz had been a capable middle reliever for the Cubs and in 2009, put up a 2.63 ERA and 2.3 bWAR for the A’s, with 102 strikeouts and only 23 walks in 78⅔ innings. This is just the kind of year the ‘09 Cubs bullpen could have used. Injuries later ruined his career, unfortunately.

The Cubs sent Sellers to the Dodgers in April 2009 for cash considerations. Robnett never played in the majors. This was another bad Hendry trade.

May 8: Acquired Ryan Freel from the Orioles for Joey Gathright

Gathright had been a good base stealer (and not much else) for a few years, and got a bit of notoriety for this video showing him jumping over a car:

The Cubs had signed him as a free agent in December 2008 and he hit .311/.408/.328 in 61 spring at-bats with 10 walks and nine stolen bases. You’d think that would have been enough to make the Opening Day roster, but no, he never played a regular season game in the Cubs organization.

Freel played in 14 games for the Cubs, going 4-for-28 (.143) before he went to the Royals in July for cash considerations.

Freel had suffered a significant head injury while with the Reds in 2007 and had other concussions during his career. He died in 2012 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and was discovered to have Stage II CTE, the first MLB player diagnosed with such a condition.

July 2: Acquired Jeff Baker from the Rockies for Al Alburquerque

Yikes, another bad trade. Baker had put up decent numbers as a part-time player in Colorado in 2008, so Hendry thought... welp, didn’t happen in Chicago, Baker batted .280/.326/.421 with 15 home runs in 283 games until he was traded away in 2012. That was worth 1.6 bWAR.

The charmingly-named Alburquerque (and yes, that was the correct original spelling of the name of the guy the New Mexico city was named after) didn’t pitch in the majors until 2011, by which time he was with the Tigers. He pitched five years for them with a 3.20 ERA and 4.7 bWAR in 241 relief appearances, including pitching in the World Series in 2012. He also pitched briefly for the Angels, Royals and White Sox.

The Cubs could have used that more than what Jeff Baker gave them.

July 30: Acquired Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow from the Pirates for Kevin Hart, Jose Ascanio and Josh Harrison

Well, let’s see. Gorzelanny had a 4.43 ERA and 1.8 bWAR for the Cubs in 2009 and 2010. Grabow had a 5.02 ERA and -0.9 bWAR for the Cubs from 2009-11, so that’s a total of 0.9 bWAR.

Hart made 10 starts for the Pirates with a 6.92 ERA and -1.3 bWAR in 2009 and never pitched in the majors again. Ascanio made 10 relief appearances for the Pirates in 2009 and 2011 with -0.2 bWAR.

So the Cubs win this... oh, wait, there’s Josh Harrison, who batted .277/.317/.408 with 154 doubles and 75 stolen bases in eight years in Pittsburgh, made two All-Star teams and posted 14.6 bWAR for them. Huge win for the Buccos here — and Harrison also played for the Tigers, A’s, Nationals, White Sox and was still active for the Phillies in 2023, a 17.1 bWAR career.

Harrison was the Cubs’ sixth-round pick out of the University of Cincinnati in 2008 and in ‘09 he was batting .337/.377/.479 with 16 stolen bases in 79 games for Low-A Peoria and had just been promoted to High-A Daytona a couple of weeks before this trade. A colossally bad talent judgment by Hendry and his scouting staff — the Cubs sure could have used Harrison for the next several seasons.

November 19: Acquired Scott Maine from the Diamondbacks for Aaron Heilman and Ryne White

One year in Chicago was enough for Hendry to send Heilman away. In two years in Arizona he posted a 5.28 ERA and -1.2 bWAR.

Maine made 41 relief appearances for the Cubs from 2010-12 with a 4.87 ERA and 0.0 bWAR. White never played in the majors.

So the Cubs sort of “won” this deal but they might as well have not bothered.

December 3: Acquired Jeff Gray, Matthew Spencer and Ronny Morla from the Athletics for Aaron Miles and Jake Fox

As a Cub, Jeff Gray is best-known for being the only guy to wear No. 34 between 1998 and now besides Kerry Wood and Jon Lester. He pitched in just seven Cubs games in 2010 with a 6.75 ERA and -0.3 bWAR before leaving after the season as a free agent. Spencer and Morla never played in the majors.

Aaron Miles was another bad Hendry free agent signing. He’d been a decent MLB player for three years in St. Louis but for the Cubs he was just bad: .185/.224/.242 in 74 games, -1.8 bWAR and it’s hard to put up that much negative bWAR in only 74 games. Somehow he wound up back in St. Louis in 2011 and actually had a decent season for the Dodgers in 2012 before hanging ‘em up.

Jake Fox is another example of a player who the Cubs could have used well if the NL had the DH in that era. Fox, drafted as a catcher, wasn’t a good defensive player there, or at third base, left field or first base, other positions where he was tried. The guy could hit, though, at least in brief bursts: He had a 19-game stretch for the Cubs in June and July 2009 where he batted .338/.373/.647 (23-for-68) with six doubles and five home runs.

He never got much of a chance in Oakland, though, and wound up also playing in the Orioles, Phillies, Pirates, Diamondbacks and Blue Jays organizations, with stops in indy ball and one year in Korea.

This deal didn’t do much for either team.

December 18: Acquired Carlos Silva from the Mariners for Milton Bradley

After Bradley had thrown the entire team, media and fanbase under the bus in a September tirade chronicled by the Daily Herald’s Bruce Miles (quoted here, though the original Daily Herald link leads somewhere else), he was sent home for the rest of the year and Hendry knew he had to try to offload the rest of Bradley’s contract, try to make a bad-contract-for-bad-contract swap.

After being a decent starter in Minnesota for several years, Silva had signed a multi-year deal in Seattle before 2008 and was awful, posting a 6.81 ERA in 36 games (34 starts) for -2.8 bWAR. The Mariners agreed to take Bradley’s deal and the Cubs took Silva’s.

And you know, for a short time this looked pretty good. Over Silva’s first 16 starts he posted a 2.96 ERA and 3.54 FIP and... well, there was no extracurricular activity. Then he got hit hard a couple of times and eventually missed most of the second half with injuries. The Cubs released him at the end of Spring Training in 2011 with a year left on his deal, but they’d accomplished their goal, dumping Bradley’s contract. Bradley got into more trouble in Seattle in 2011 and they let him go mid-season; more details here. Eventually he got into legal trouble and served some prison time.

By bWAR the Cubs also won this deal. Bradley was worth 0.0 bWAR in Seattle and the Cubs got 1.9 bWAR from Silva.

But the real lesson here is that Jim Hendry should never have signed Bradley in the first place. There were other, better, less expensive options at the time, including Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu, or just keeping Jim Edmonds, who had done a pretty good job in 2008.

Despite bailing himself out of the Bradley deal with Silva, I’m going to give Hendry’s 2009 trades a grade of F. None of the other deals helped the team at all and some useful talent (Wuertz, Harrison) was traded away.


Give the Cubs a grade for their 2009 trades.

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