Friday, August 19, 2011

Cub Vote of Confidence Becomes a Long-Overdue Death Knell

Few words scare any team executive, coach, or even player quite like the dreaded “vote of confidence.” In fact, according to a Wall Street Journal study done last year, 20% of coaches who receive a vote of confidence from their boss are pursuing gainful employment within just the next month, while others are fired shortly thereafter. So when Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said that the plan was for GM Jim Hendry to stay on for the foreseeable future last week, Hendry might as well have simply started to clean out his office. Though switching GMs midseason can have drastic effects on the culture of the organization, the Cubs’ decision not to retain Hendry will likely be a boon to them as they approach the offseason. Though Hendry certainly proved he was a talented evaluator in his service to the Cubs over the last 16 years, his nine-year tenure as GM made it clear that he didn’t have equal aptitude for player valuation and the negotiation skills required of an MLB GM. He survived a vote of confidence last year, but was unable to do the same after another year of mediocre results.

Hendry has consistently been rated among the worst GMs in the league, and just a quick glance at his big-name signings makes it clear why. The last time Hendry made a big investment, it was his 2009 signing of Milton Bradley for 3 years at $10M per. Uglier contracts negotiated by Hendry include Carlos Zambrano’s 5-year, $91.5M deal and Alfonso Soriano’s 8-year, $136M monstrosity that is currently considered one of the biggest albatrosses in the game. So, with nearly $50M opening up in budget space for next offseason, including a projected $10M increase for their few big-time arbitration cases, the Cubbie brain trust decided they needed a new captain to steer the ship and perhaps decide whether Albert Pujols or another big-name free agent finds a home in Chicago.

The end result is that Hendry’s tenure was marked by expensive, underachieving teams. Cubs payrolls since 2009 have averaged $137.7M, and yet the team hasn’t made a playoff appearance in that span and are below .500 overall. They currently have the second highest payroll in the NL, even after dealing Kosuke Fukudome’s big contract to the Indians, but they’re the second worst team in the league, at 55-70. With the team heading toward what could be a huge offseason that will shape the fortunes of the club for years to come, the decision to find a new GM will likely be a boon to the franchise. Though Ricketts gave Hendry the vote of confidence last week, he had actually informed Hendry that he would be relieved of his duties on July 22, but Hendry stayed on to facilitate a smooth transition after the trade and draft signing deadlines. Immediate control will turn over to Assistant GM Randy Bush, but the team will begin their search for a long-term replacement as soon as possible. Hendry’s tenure did provide some success for the Cubs, but in the end he hasn’t done enough to turn dollars into wins, especially recently. The Cubs will look for a more statistically oriented GM, according to Tribune Cubs writer Paul Sullivan. The decision for the Cubs to start catching up with the rest of baseball from an analytical standpoint could be the first step to ending their century-long Series drought.

It’s too early to speculate on the list of GM candidates, but odds are that they could look just south to White Sox Assistant GM Rick Hahn, a very well-respected executive among baseball circles who would be an excellent choice to fill the void. Kim Ng, a former Dodgers Assistant GM and current Senior VP for Baseball Operations for the Commissioner’s office, would be an incredibly interesting name as well, as she’d become the first female GM in the history of major American sports. She’s exceptionally qualified, and has been interviewed for several GM jobs in the past, so it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if she was asked to contend for the position. With several enticing GM candidates filling other smaller executive positions throughout baseball, the Cubs will have a number of possible choices. Cubs fans should feel better about handing any of these candidates the reins than they would have had Hendry retained his position. Especially with such a crucial offseason coming up, the decision to part ways amicably with Hendry and find a new direction could allow his replacement to shift the club’s fortunes somewhat quickly, despite having $65M committed to Soriano, Fukudome, Ryan Dempster, Marlon Byrd, and Carlos Marmol for next season.

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