Grading the Jim Hendry Era: A Dark Age

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Jim Hendry spent nine years as the General Manager of the Chicago Cubs. In four of those nine years the Cubs made the playoffs. However, Hendry’s business model of signing high priced free agents and trading prospects to acquire major league talent resulted in a system devoid of minor league talent and filled with losses at the major league level at the end of his tenure. He traded short term success at the expense of long term sustainability.

Hendry’s business model lived in the 80s and 90s. In an era where teams were using the Moneyball model and getting younger and investing via the draft, Hendry clung to old practices. It worked great in 2003 when the Cubs were 7 outs away from a World Series. It also worked great in 2004, 2007 and 2008. But when injuries took hold and players began to get old in 2009 and 2010, the team went downhill quickly and there was no redundancy built into the organization to replenish the big league club. Hendry was out the door soon after the Ricketts family took over.

The Jim Hendry era reads pretty close to a bad dark fantasy novel. However, it is not without its morals.

As Darkness spread upon the land…
Hendry’s business model worked great in 2003 and 2004 when there was talent to trade, but as the years wore on, the lack of spending money via the draft began to hurt the Cubs.

Back then, the draft was different. Up through 2011, draftees held the upper hand in negotiations. Stephen Strasburg signed a four-year, $15.1 million contract with the Nationals having never thrown a pitch. The Cubs never wanted to approach that kind of money for an unproven player. And as a result, they rarely put any money into the draft until 2011.

In the new 2012 collective bargaining agreement, new drafting limits were put in place. When the system changed, top pick Carlos Correa signed for $4.8 million with the Astros. But by then, Hendry was gone. However, many of his picks from his last draft still are in the Cubs system.

Here are some notable names from Hendry’s era that either made it as professionals or were Cubs for a brief period.

Jeff-Samardzija
Jeff-Samardzija

2003 – Jake Fox, Sean Marshall, Casey Mcgehee, Sam Fuld (unsigned)
2004 – Fuld, Sean Gallagher
2005 – Nothing, not one single prospect made it – the Mark Pawalek draft – he tripped over his Playstation and ruined his elbow when he hit a wall.
2006 – Tyler Colvin, Jeff Samardjiza, Steve Clevenger
2007 – Josh Donaldson, Darwin Barney, Brandon Guyer, Josh Vitters
2008 – Andrew Cashner, Ryan Flaherty, Josh Harrison, Jeff Beliveau, and an unsigned Sonny Gray

The Well Dried Up
Combined these drafts don’t amount to much for the Cubs. Samardjiza became an All-Star as did Cashner, Donaldson, Harrison, and Sonny Gray for other teams. Now that the major league team was getting old and not producing, Hendry had no one left to trade in the minors to acquire major league talent.

Hendry’s drafts left behind lots of players who are still in the system, but only Darwin Barney was an everyday player. This lists for 2009 and 2010 find more players that fit the mold of organizational and bench players – not one All-Star nor one on the horizon.

2009 – Brett Jackson, DJ LeMahieu, Rusin, Wes Darvill, Brooks Raley, Justin Bour, Trey McNutt, and an unsigned Colin Kaepernick
2010 – Matt Szczur, Erick Jokisch, Elliot Soto, Dustin Geiger, Dallas Beeler

Knowing his time was at an end in 2011, Hendry convinced new owner Tom Ricketts that Hendry should stay on through the 2011 draft to help restock the system. After the draft was over, so was Hendry.

The resulting draft placed many prospects in the system who are now at the upper levels of the Cubs organization, with only a handful having a shot at the major leagues. Currently, only Andrew McKirahan is playing at the major league level for Atlanta. The other players are at Iowa, Tennessee, and Myrtle with one player (Maples) still trying to figure his way beyond short season A. baez 1973

And With One Final Breath…
2011 – Javy Baez, Dan Vogelbach, Tayler Scott, Shawon Dunston, Jr., Daniel Lockhart, Trey Martin, Dillon Maples, John Andreoli, James Pugliese, Andrew McKirahan, Michael Jensen, PJ Francescon

As a whole, Hendry’s draft era gets an F and 2011 gets a B for now. 2011 could evolve into an A depending on which of those prospects make the big leagues with the Cubs. Still not one prospect has. I think 4 of them might make it with McKirahan, Baez, Andreoli (who is close), and Pugliese. Martin, Dunston, Scott, Jensen, and Francescon all have a lot to improve on to make it.

The Darkness Spreads from Overseas
Hendry didn’t have any more success in the International Market selecting players.
Below are some international free agents Hendry signed that are still in the system at low A or higher or with another team.

0172010 – OF Rubi Silva (Cuba): $1.1M, SS Carlos Penalver (Venezuela): $550K, 3B Jeimer Candelario (Dominican Republic): $500K, OF Jeffrey Baez (Venezuela): $350K, C Alberto Mineo (Italy): $225K, RHP Daury Torrez (Dominican Republic)
2009 – C Willson Contreras (Venezuela): $850K, IF Pin-Chieh Chen (Taiwan): $300K, RHP Felix Pena
2008 – INF Hak-Ju Lee (South Korea): $725K, RHP, INF Arismendy Alcantara (Dominican Republic), Frank Batista RHP, Dominican Republic
2007 – OF Kosuke Fukudome (Japan): 4/$48M, IF Junior Lake (Dominican Republic): $500K,
2006 – SS Starlin Castro (Dominican Republic): $45K
2005 – RHP Alberto Cabrera (Dominican Republic)
2004 – RHP Rafael Dolis (Dominican Republic): C Welington Castillo (Dominican Republic):

Hendry’s level of acquiring top notch foreign amateur talent was dreadful. Despite Castro and Castillo, most of the international picks Hendry signed never made it to the majors. While the above list contains many international players and prospects Cubs fans know, there is only one All-Star. And you can’t win with just one All-Star.

I think Hendry doesn’t grade out better in international free agency. I would give him a D for the international free agent classes. While there are several names underlined, only Castro made it big.

And ultimately, when it comes down to the final grade, it’s not about how many names we know in the upper minors, it is the names we know in the major leagues. And for that reason alone, Jim Hendry failed.

…And the darkness ended.

The Morale of the Story
Today when I see someone on Twitter suggesting a trade using prospects, I cringe, I really do. That’s not how this is supposed to work. The whole emphasis on building up your farm system is to replace stars when they begin to age or leave via free agency. It is not to trade prospects. Sure, I can see an occasional trade to acquire a particular need. As long as both sides get equal value I am OK with it. But trading away prospects is what brought us the dark ages of 2009-2014.

Here are what I think the lessons from the Hendry era are:
1. Keep the cupboard full.
Investing in the draft with $10-12 million per year for draftees and International Free agents is a great value. You have five years to develop them and then you control them for another 5-6 years at the big league level. It makes much more financial sense to get 40 players a year for this price rather than one.

2. Don’t be in a hurry
2014 showed the prospect parade of last summer was just the beginning. They are up again this year, producing and competing. Only Soler remains in the show from the 2014 parade. Baez and Alcantara are back in AAA. It is not a perfect process. You have to be patient. Someday Baez will figure it out and it could be this summer.

In 2017, the flow of prospects to Chicago will be phenomenal. By then Pierce Johnson, McKinney, Vogelbach, Gleyber Torres, Underwood, Tseng, and maybe even Eloy Jimenez will all be ready. That’s a ton of talent coming.

3. Think Long Term
I don’t think Theo and Jed thought this would be the year. I really don’t. I always have clung to 2016. And you can see why. Byrant, Soler, and Russell are slowly making adjustments to the league. After a full year and a half in the league come the summer of 2016, they should know what to expect when pitched and how to prepare their minds and bodies for the everyday grind of a 162 game season. There will be streaks, there will be slumps. They need to learn to prepare for both. When they do have that experience, look out!

This team is still a left fielder, one starter, and a couple relievers away from being ready. The Cubs are not going to trade away a lot of prospects to acquire 4 players when 2 of the needs could be filled from within the next year in Schwarber and Carl Edwards, Jr. The Cubs are likely to get another great starter and/or a left fielder this winter in free agency as they have the money thanks to the remodeling advertising. And maybe, just maybe, they make that one trade that puts them over the top and it only costs a low A pitcher versus three top prospects.

Patience, Cub fans, patience.

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