Who: Jim Hendry, now-former general manager of the Chicago Cubs. Held the post for nine years; spent 16 years in the organization.
What: Relieved of duty.
Why: New ownership, the Ricketts family of TD Ameritrade fame, just found the keys to the franchise behind Sam Zell's favorite liquor cabinet.
No, really; why: Only one season of 90-plus wins, in 2008. $65.5 million due to five players next season, none of whom will likely offer an above-average performance. An inability to assess the organization's true potential, leading to a tendency to pay for the downslope of a player's career at a peak price or trade the farm to bolster the team from sixth to fifth place. Jeff Samardzija. Rob Neyer provides the list of Hendry's greatest hits.
How: Was notified on July 22nd but was asked to stay on for a month, perhaps explaining why only Kosuke Fukudome was traded at the July deadline.
Who's next: For now, it's professional pinch hitter Randy Bush, who will hand hold the team through October. The new GM will come from outside the organization.
Chicago media were only too glad to help White Sox GM Kenny Williams float his lieutenant, Rick Hahn, as a successor. Despite that, experience seems to be the buzzword. Al Yellon of Bleed Cubbie Blue has heard Brian Cashman (Yankees GM) and Andrew Friedman (Rays GM) floated, meaning calls for Branch Rickey and Pope John Paul II are next.
If the Ricketts family chooses to pull from another team's back bench, they could do worse than someone from the list of prospective general managers compiled by Baseball Prospectus last month. Of note, Kim Ng (former White Sox/Yankees/Dodgers exec; now MLB Senior Vice President for Baseball Operations) has been in the mix for every open job since she barely missed out on being the last Darrin on "Bewitched".
Why I should be concerned: In chairman Tom Ricketts' own words:
...if we had come in guns ablazing, changing everything on day one, I think the likelihood of making a mistake is much higher than it is having this year-and-a-half or two years of experience to help me think through what’s next for the baseball organization.
It takes two years to learn how to run a baseball business? A CEO that takes a whole year to begin turning around a failing organization doesn't generally get a second year. For a family fortune built on the backs of day traders, it's a very methodical approach.
Again, Ricketts voce:
We’ll look for guys that maybe have a stronger analytical background than we have here. … But I think we all have to keep that in perspective. The sabermetric stuff is important, but it’s just a piece. We’re not running the baseball organization by a computer model.
Once again: for a family fortune built on the backs of day traders on their home computers thinking they were beating the system, it's a very odd statement.
Let's not go romanticizing the life of men who travel to hundreds of baseball games a year, scarf down hot dogs as if they were the only food group, sleep in hotel rooms where the bed is made for you every night, an... actually, I revoke my complaint.
You should be worried because you could read the tea leaves and find an ownership who meanders through their stewardship, asking for state money for park renovations while fetishizing the romance of baseball and failing to treat it as a business.
Why I should be elated: Because that may not be the case. The Cubs continue to invest in the farm system, with $12 million in signing bonuses going to the 2011 draft class alone. Eighteen months of light inaction could be seen as an investment in the long run. Sam Zell could never be accused of planning beyond his next corporate deconstruction or bowel movement.
And the Ricketts clan did finally make the move, showing they recognized the state of the Cubs, cared about that situation, and are moving to improve it. Once again, Sam Zell just saw tax codes on the Wrigley Field scoreboard, Matrix-style.
Final thought: Mike Quade signed a two-year contract in late 2010 with a club option for a third season. As a replacement for Lou Piniella, the selection of an organizational soldier displayed exactly none of the big name tendencies the Cubs previously favored. Thus, the musical question: just how long had the Ricketts been planning this move?