Jim Hendry may or may not be struggling to keep his job. With the Cubs, as of this writing, 22 games under .500, one would think it's a safe bet that no one in the front office is safe now that Lou Piniella has essentially saved his own hide via a preemptive retirement annoucement. But, whatever the case may be, Jimbo is on a roll — and we're not referring to only his recent trades.
Sure, the trades he's pulled off so far in 2010 have been decent. A 24-year-old, former first-round draft pick and a couple of decent arms for Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot. A young speedster for Mike Fontenot. Three good arms for Derrek Lee — including one, the 19-year-old Robinson Lopez, with a ton of upside.
But what's caught our eye recently is center field. One of the very few bright spots of this season for the Cubs has been the All-Star Marlon Byrd. He appears well on his way to having, quite literally thus far, a career year. In just under 500 plate appearances, he's hitting .306/.365/.453, good for a .362 wOBA and 4.3 WAR. Marlon's highest single-season WAR thus far has been 3.5 — way back in 2003 with the Phillies. According to Fangraphs, he's also excelled defensively, garnering a +10.2 rating. And, of course, there's his attitude: Sunny as an August day at half-filled Wrigley.
But what could have been? Let's rewind back to the 2009-2010 off-season and look at a trio of fellows in consideration for the Cubs center field position:
1. Curtis Granderson. He was one of the prize trade candidates of the winter months. So how's he been for the New York Yankees? Injured. He went on the 15-day DL in May for a groin injury and has remained gimpy thereafter. He's also struggled at the plate, hitting .248/.315/.443 for a .333 wOBA and 2.0 WAR. And, as many feared, his ineffectiveness against left-handed pitching continues: He's put up a scant .257 wOBA versus southpaws. Granted, Granderson is still 29 and likely remains a good player. But Cubs fans would've had a little more to scream in outrage about if he'd put up those numbers at Wrigley this season.
2. Mike Cameron. The default choice after Detroit dealt Granderson to the Bronx, Cameron has similarly struggled with the injury bug. He's had abdominal issues all season and even kidney stones at one point. In a mere 180 plate appearances, he's hit .259/.328/.401 (.321 wOBA, -0.3 WAR) for the Boston Red Sox. He's now done for the season.
3. Reed Johnson. "Succeed with Reed" read former Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly's t-shirt. But Hendry went a different direction and didn't invite RJ back for a third season. Good decision? Bad decision? Looks good to us: Johnson has been afflicted by back spasms throughout the 2010 season, necessitating at least one DL stint. Meanwhile, he's hit a mere .301/.324/.397 (.311 wOBA, 1.0 WAR) for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sure, he likely wouldn't have been the Cubs starting center fielder. Johnson probably would've platooned with a left-handed hitter — recent call-up Sam Fuld, for instance. But Reed's ongoing back issues have made it very difficult for him to stay on the field.
So Jim Hendry has that going for him. A good free agent signing going into the season and a number of decent trades as that season winds down. Oh, and let's not forget Carlos Silva. Just don't bring up Xavier Nady, OK?