2011 Organizational Rankings #19 – Chicago Cubs

The Cubs wield great financial strength, which gives them an advantage over the bulk of their competition. But as their ranking indicates, they haven’t necessarily put those resources to best use.

Present Talent – 74.17 (t-22nd)

Cubs Season Preview

Future Talent – 75.00 (t-20th)

Cubs Top 10 Prospects

Financial Resources: 83.46 (t-5th)
Baseball Operations: 71.67 (29th)

Overall Rating: 76.46 (19th)

The FanGraphs staff does not have a particular affection for Jim Hendry. Not only do his 2011 team and farm system rank in the bottom third of the league, but the entire baseball operations ranks ahead of only Houston, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for one of the longest-tenured GMs in the game.

Hendry took over the Cubs on July 5, 2002, when the team had a 34-49 record. They went 33-45 the rest of the way, but then experienced a 21-win improvement in 2003, winning the NL Central and making it to Game 7 of the NLCS before ultimately falling to the Marlins. The run certainly bought him some favor in Chicago. Since then he has produced a mixed track record.

For the Cubs, the baseball ops score goes hand-in-hand with the financial resources one. It’s not as though they’ve performed poorly since Hendry took over. In three of the eight years of his tenure they’ve finished below .500, but in another three years they made the playoffs. For many teams, perhaps most teams, that would be considered a favorable set of outcomes. But for a team that wields the financial might of the Cubs, the inconsistency comes as a disappointment.

In terms of trades, Hendry has a decent, perhaps even good, track record. Trading for Kenny Lofton and Randall Simon in 2003 helped them in their World Series quest. (Hendry also receives praise for acquiring Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek before 2003, even though they represented downgrades at their respective positions.) Getting Aramiz Ramirez along with Lofton was an even bigger steal. He won huge on the Derrek Lee trade. Acquiring Rich Harden in 2008 proved a solid move, as did swapping Milton Bradley for Carlos Silva last season. He even turned a profit on Tom Gorzelanny. There are some losers on the list — trading Ricky Nolasco and Juan Pierre, for example, but for the most part Hendry’s trade record has been a net positive.

The problem is the way Hendry has deployed his considerable financial resources, which has come mostly in recent years. Sure, signing Jeromy Burnitz in 2005 might not have been a great idea, but it was only a one-year deal. Re-signing Nomar Garciaparra might not have worked out, but it was a swell enough idea. Perhaps the only glaringly bad move, in both process and results, that Hendry made before the 2006 off-season was continuing to employ Neifi Perez. There were some good moves mixed in there, too, such as bringing back Greg Maddux and signing Ryan Dempster (the first time, though the second was quality, too).

In 2006 his track record took a turn for the worse. It started with the eight-year, $136 million contract for Alfonso Soriano. Perhaps Soriano was worth a $17 million annual investment, but not for eight years. After a stellar debut season, Soriano’s production has, not surprisingly, declined. Even with a rebound in 2010 he was worth only 2.9 WAR. His three-year, $21 million deal for Jason Marquis that same off-season was also misguided — Marquis, remember, had produced a 6.02 ERA the year before, with a nearly matching FIP. Ted Lilly’s $40 million deal worked out well, but it was almost negated by Marquis.

Hendry was quiet the next few offseasons, save for re-signing Ryan Dempster. It was a risk move, considering Dempster had just moved back to the rotation after years in the bullpen, but the move has worked in Chicago’s favor. But the next offseason Hendry again misguidedly handed out a multi-year deal – Milton Bradley for three years and $30 million. Only the Silva trade fixed that. And while it wasn’t a major move, paying $7.5 million for two years of John Grabow wasn’t a well-advised signing. While we’re at it, neither was two years and $4.9 million for Aaron Miles.

There is also the team’s draft record to consider. Since Hendry took over in 2003, this is the list of the team’s draft picks who have made the major leagues, whether with the Cubs or another organization: Jake Fox, Sean Marshall, Casey McGehee, Mitch Atkins, Eric Patterson, Sam Fuld, Sean Gallagher, Jerry Blevins, Micah Owings, Donnie Veal, Tyler Colvin, Jeff Samardzija, Josh Donaldson, Darwin Barney, James Russell, Andrew Cashner, and Casey Coleman. Few names stand out, and one that does, McGehee, was placed on waivers, only to realize success elsewhere. The 2005 draft was particularly poor. Veal was the only pick to make the majors, and that came only because the Pirates selected him in the Rule 5 draft.

Every GM has blemishes on his track record. General Managers with big market teams are prone to them, because they can afford to outbid others on big talent, and we know that it’s not a rarity for big talent on the free agent market to provide less value than their contracts suggest. But, again, this is more about the baseball operations in relation to the team’s strong financial position than it is strictly about a poor GM and front office. For the last two seasons the Cubs have ranked third in the league in payroll, spending a combined $269.62 million. For their efforts they have won just 158 games, finishing second with 83 wins in 2009 and fifth with 75 wins in 2010.

For a while it appeared as though the Cubs were headed for big things. They made some splashes, and in 2007 and 2008 won the NL Central. But behind the scenes things weren’t completely set in place. The Cubs might have finished second in 2009, but there were definite problems abound. Before last season we ranked them No. 18. You can basically look at Dave’s summary there and say the same thing about the team this year. The first line in his concluding paragraph has aged well. “When I try to balance the strengths and weaknesses, this is where the Cubs end up – in the middle of the pack, getting less out of what they have than most clubs, but having enough to keep them from being too bad.”

We hoped you liked reading 2011 Organizational Rankings #19 – Chicago Cubs by Joe Pawlikowski!

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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.

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Xeifrank
Guest

I have the Cubs ranked 21st, so no argument here. Given the Cubs bloated 2011payroll of around $147M one would hope they would be a little better team than they are (Vegas expected win total of around 79 games). They do have deep pockets and a franchise that is worth a lot of money, but they haven’t done a good job of putting that money to good use of late. If win trends meant anything, the Cubs would be “buy low” stock in terms of wins as they won 97 games in 2008, then 83 in 2009, only to see their win total drop for a third straight year last year with 75 wins.

There seems to be a bit of an American League bias so far in these results. Mariners and Orioles are hitting their 10th month of pregnancy. In other words they are both long overdue. 🙂

RC
Guest
RC

The biggest problem with the Cubs is they have HUGE amounts of payroll locked up in players that don’t produce at an elite level. IE, they won’t be able to use their considerable financial might for a whole lot until those contracts run out (IE, 3 or 4 years)

jaybandit
Guest
jaybandit

Good point, but two of those contracts are up after this season:
Carlos Silva & Kosuke Fukudome

Soriano has a few years, and I refuse to say that Zambrano’s deal is a “bad” contract. He can play at a high level and earn the value of his contract.

Ramirez’s contract is also up after this season (option for the following season), but that is not a “bad” contract.

There really isn’t any massive money tied up in anyone else besides those named above. But, when you have $25 million tied up in a scrub pitcher and a 4th outfielder, you don’t have money invested in a viable good player. This offseason will be addition by subtraction for the Cubs at the very least.

Jack Nugent
Guest

Agree very much so re: Mariners and Orioles.

Seriously, how have the Mariners not come up yet?

Bronnt
Member
Bronnt

Orioles even worse than the Mariners, I think. Mariners likely have greater spending power at their disposal and a plan designed at a contending team by 2013 or so. I really can’t see how the Orioles have anything on the last 6 or 7 teams in the rankings.

erich1212
Guest
erich1212

to piggyback on the NL heaviness of the rankings thus far:

i wonder whether following a division–say the al west/al east–closely over 162 games leads to a increased familiarity with those teams that, in turn, makes the authors/rankers more likely to evaluate the teams in those divisions more favorably by simply being able to cite more positive things about them.

having said that, given that two of the NL’s biggest markets– LA and NY–are both in the bottom ten because of their ownership messes, the bottom of the list probably isn’t surprisingly nl heavy. absent those issues, the eight-two split is more likely six-four.

Luke in MN
Guest
Luke in MN

What’s the Mariner’s contend-by-2013 plan based on? Do they have a big free agent or two in their future? My perception was that their farm is ok, not great and the MLB roster is a disaster. They seem far more buried for longer than the Cubs, Padres, Mets, and Brewers to me. Orioles too although I think the Orioles are buried a more more due to division than talent.

Bronnt
Member
Bronnt

I didn’t say it was a good plan, and I wasn’t trying to be too specific about the year. They at least seem to be looking toward the future with an idea of putting a team together just competitive enough to win the division-much easier task for them than it is Baltimore.

Kyle H
Member
Kyle H

i think the eric bedard trade alone make the mariners below the o’s

Bill
Guest
Bill

The Orioles have, under this ownrship shown a willingness to spend when competitive. They have money, a middle of the pack team and a middle of the pack farm system. They should be up fairly soon, but the Orioles are better than the cubs (and Seattle).

Jim
Guest
Jim

Contrary to what Luke in MN and others above me said, I can’t see how you put the O’s or Cubs above the M’s.

The M’s have no major competitor in the Pacific Northwest, a great ballpark, stable ownership(Nintendo of America), the ability to put up $100 million payrolls, and 2 superstars who they can build around(Ichiro and King Felix).

The negatives are the ones apparent to those who’ve paid attention(and given c*ap to Dave Cameron because of last year’s ranking at #6–hence, the #6org meme we see repeatedly used(and yes, it’s tiresome.) A minor league system left almost bare by the previous regimes, a major league roster littered with sub-replacment level talent, and a few onorous contracts(at least in 2010 and 2011).

However, the reason for a decent ranking this year is the arrival of some future building blocks in Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak(who arrived last year), and Micheal Pineda(which means, no, their major league roster is far from a disaster–that was last year, FYI). A rejuvenated minor league system and the promise of some soon-to-expire contracts(Milton Bradley and the money owed to Carlos Silva) leave them looking a bit better going forward than the Cubs, if you ask me.

Jim
Guest
Jim

And to Kyle–seriously, the Erik Bedard trade? That was 3 years ago, dude. The M’s have recovered from that, for the most part.

It’s the Carlos Silva fiasco that they’re still dealing with, but only for 1 more season. 🙂

And to Luke in MN: I think the Mets are a bit more buried than the M’s, given that they’ve got 2 teams currently clearly better than them in the Phillies and Braves; a team with its own different problems in the Marlins who could likely challenge them this year and in future years for that 3rd place, 85 win scenario; and the Nationals, who figure to just get better with each passing year and could catch them by 2013 and perhaps even surpass them.

The M’s can at least count on a bit of decline for the Angels and A’s, who both have weaker minor league systems currently(and for the A’s, financial restrictions based on the lack of a new stadium.) And there’s only 4 teams in the AL West, too. 😉

jaw
Member
jaw

Unrelated to baseball, but very related to Chicago – are you THE “Z-Frank?” Or just a fan? Or is your handle a reference to something else?