WASHINGTON, August 19, 2011 — Looking for a spark to ignite a failing team, the Chicago Cubs announced this morning the firing of general manager and vice president Jim Hendry. Hendry had been the general manager of the Cubs since July of 2002, and had worked for the franchise since 1994. He comported himself well in the announcement, remarking that the news of his departure, which he was notified of on July 22, may have been “one of the best kept secrets in Cubs history.”
Team chairman Tom Ricketts announced that assistant general manager Randy Bush, a longtime outfielder for the Minnesota Twins, will serve as interim general manager until a permanent replacement is found.
The move was long overdue. Despite seeing the Cubs’ payroll grow from $75 million to a high of $144 million under his watch, the team generally struggled, and Hendry was widely lambasted for his reliance on high-priced free agent signings. The most notable of those occurred prior to the 2007 season, when the Cubs re-signed Aramis Ramirez, and added Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly, Jason Marquis, and manager Lou Piniella. Combined, those five deals played an integral part not only in Chicago’s back-to-back division titles, but also in severely restricting payroll flexibility to this day.
The Cubs now find themselves in a crucial position. Whoever is hired to replace Hendry will inherit a franchise at a crossroads. After the season, the new general manager will have the option of buying out the aging Ramirez, or picking up the team’s end of a $16 million mutual option. If Ramirez returns, or if buying him out doesn’t alleviate enough payroll stress, the new GM will also have to factor in the twin problems of Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano. Both have full no-trade clauses, both have seen their performance decline, and Zambrano has been suspended for 30 days for his latest melodramatic breakdown. Finally, they’ll then have to navigate one of the biggest free agent showdowns of the decade, when three NL Central star first basemen—Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and the Cubs’ own Carlos Peña—hit free agency.
With Hendry as good as fired in the minds of fans and media alike since the 2008 postseason collapse, many names have been suggested as possible candidates. Legendary executive Pat Gillick, recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, would be a boon to any team looking for a new head. Former Arizona Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes, currently VP of Baseball Operations for the San Diego Padres would also be a prime candidate. J.P. Ricciardi, formerly GM of the Toronto Blue Jays hasn’t been connected to the Cubs, but is one of many former baseball executives who deserve a second chance.
The Cubs are rebuilding, or at least should be, with only the hapless Houston Astros below them in the division and the league. They need a leader who can carry them through the crucial period of starting that process. Jim Hendry wasn’t that man. The franchise now has two months to find someone capable of turning around one of baseball’s most storied franchises. The clock is ticking.
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