Monday, August 24, 2009

Jim and Lou

I haven't written anything about the Cubs lately because the West Coast trip was predictably disasterous, and I was just plain sick of the Cubs. That happens sometimes, and makes me glad I have the White Sox, too, though the Sox haven't exactly been tearing it up (more on that later this week).

In fact, maybe semi-seaonal sickness of the Cubs is what originally drove me to become a passionate White Sox follower. When things go wrong with the Cubs, they really go wrong, and I think we all need an outler from that.

Having said this, the other reason I haven't posted is because the sale of the Cubs, finally maybe almost very close to happening, doesn't intrigue me much as a fan. Sure, the Rickettses could make a lot of changes, including changes at the GM and manager level, but those changes would be debated anyway, regardless of whether or not a sale was happening. The sale to me is just another promise, just another reason to believe, and I don't want to have anymore than I already do. I'd prefer just to think of it as business-as-usual.

Because, when you get down to it, whatever changes after this year depends on whether Jim Hendry or Lou Piniella gets the blame for the Cubs not making the playoffs (of course, there's still a chance--I only speak hypothetically). I do buy the argument that Hendry's hands may have been tied some by the pending sale, though coming into this year, there wasn't much reason to tamper with a 97-win team unless it was to move an aging first baseman or obsolete lead-off man/left-fielder.

Instead, Hendry acquired another pricy free agent, this one with a shaky rep, and let go of the loosest-seeming guy on the club--looseness being a quality that the rest of the team seemed to be lacking last year.

To me, Hendry's long-ago acquisition of Alfonso Soriano was his biggest blunder, and one he has yet to pay for. The potent but incredibly streaky, poor-fielding Soriano fools you with tape-measure homers, but will never help you win against play-off caliber pitching.

Hendry's done a lot of good for the Cubs. Division wins in 2003, 2007 and 2008 prove that, and the nature of the GM job is that bad deals will be made. Ultimately, has he made too many bad deals? No. The Cubs should have been able to overcome the loss of Mark DeRosa this year but haven't, and that's where Lou comes in...

Lou is suddenly looking an awful lot like Dusty Baker circa late 2004/early 2005. He acts as though he doesn't understand why the players aren't hitting, which is sort of OK if you actually then do something about it, Some media analysis that he waited too long for Milton Bradley and Soriano to come around is right on (though safer to say in hindsight, of course). What's mystifying is ongoing faith in his veterans (just like Dusty) even when they aren't winning and potnetially viable replacements (Sam Fuld and Jake Fox) present themselves.

Ultimately, it doesn't seem like Lou has instilled a sense of urgency or hunger in this team, preferring let them fall back on injuries as an excuse for not winning. No one has used that excuse, of course, but it's there just the same. It gives some of us a reason to say, "It just wasn't their year."

Lou has a year left on his contract, while Jim has a few more. I think that barring the emergence of a GM candidate with a radically different plan, Hendry should return. I think he's an above average GM that has built, on the whole, better teams than we have seen in the decades before. He should be told, however, by new ownership that he needs to unload Soriano and Bradley in whatever way possible. The Cubs, and the new owners, will have eat a lot of money to make that happen, but I'm wondering if both of them could be packaged for delivery to a small-market A.L. team like the A's or Royals. And, Jim: Just say no to high-priced, multi-year free agents.

And Lou? He is still a solid manager, and has gotten a lot out of this year's team in stretches. He says he wants to be back. You could say he has nothing to prove in the last year of what might be his last-ever contract as an MLB manager, but that's exactly why he might be able to make some magic next year. And again, if there's a better option out there, I don't see who it is right now. I would keep him, but only for as long as he keeps the Cubs in contention next year.

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