I Know What You Did Last Winter

It was just over a year ago now that the Cubs imploded in the season's final days, losing 7 of their last 9 when the wild card was theirs for the taking. For all its flaws, and there were a good number, that was a playoff team, and so inanimately watching the postseason last year hurt all the more. At the same time though, there was at least the prospect that, if the Cubs continued to improve under Hendry, next year, or at least the year after that, would at last not yield the same October disappointment. The Cubs under Hendry, with a bit more work and a bit more luck, would be going places. So much for that... Part I: The Sosa Affair The story of the 2004/05 off-season was Sammy Sosa. As the final game of the season was approaching its conclusion on the afternoon of Sunday October 3rd, it was rumoured that Sosa had left early. After the Saturday game, Sosa, interviewed earlier that day by New York police regarding a cousin wanted for attempted murder, had approached Baker to tell him that he was hurt and wanted Sunday off. Baker had duly obliged, but in explaining the decision to the press before the game on Sunday, Baker, probably inadvertently, questioned Sosa's dedication by commenting "yeah, I want him back [next year], especially if he goes to work this winter and gets in tip-top shape mentally and physically". Though Sosa was only later informed of that comment by reporters, and thus it didn't contribute to his decision to leave early, the fact that Baker was then the first to go on the record about the walk-out after the game didn't help. Inevitably Baker only succeeded in inflaming the situation: first he implicitly acknowledged Sosa's guilt ("I didn't know he was going to leave early"), made a point of his own innocence ("I didn't give him permission"), then called upon punishment for Sosa's transgression ("Jim [Hendry]'s got to take some action"). Someone smashed the boombox Sosa kept in the clubhouse. A public relations disaster was in the making. Sosa, given his strained relationship with Baker, took things personally, too personally, and, having refused to speak to reporters before the game, and having avoided reporters after the game by leaving early, that night organised an interview with the Sun Times, which was published on the Monday morning. "I'm tired of being blamed by Dusty Baker for all the failures of this club," Sosa somewhat melodramatically lamented. "I resent the inference that I'm not prepared. I live my life every minute every day to prepare for combat. No one has ever questioned my mental or physical preparation at any level. They always find something to blame me for. I'm always the guy they are going to blame. They blame me for not going to the World Series last year. They blame me for not going to the playoffs this year. I'm tired of it." In the same interview, Sosa mentioned that he'd only left the game during the seventh inning. The Cubs, upon reading that claim in Monday's newspaper, were quick to react, checking security cameras to catch Sosa actually leaving at 1.35pm, just 15 minutes or so after the game's first pitch. That information was quickly disseminated nationally by unnamed team officials. If authorised to do so by Jim Hendry, the Cubs' GM had just made the biggest mistake of his off-season. If not, someone else made it for him. Regardless, the Cubs' offseason was rendered a disaster waiting to happen the moment they embarked on the full-scale smear campaign against the man that for years carried the franchise on his back. With every swipe the Cubs took at Sosa, and every swipe Sosa took back, the team was backed further into a corner. The rebranding Sosa as the devil-reincarnate did little to entice potential buyers. Those with any interest at all, given the Cubs' obvious desperation to offload, were awarded the upper hand in all negotiations. And other free agents, looking on from the outside, can hardly have been impressed with the underhand tricks that the Cubs employed against one of their greatest players ever. All of that certainly contributed to the all-consuming Sosa saga stretching into February, only netting a pretty pathetic haul in the end (regardless of the fact that Sosa had a horrible year in Baltimore, the Cubs ought to have been able to turn $16.15m and a big name one-time superstar into a lot more than a utility player, a Triple-A middle infielder and a retired reliever), seemingly indoctrinating within Hendry an irrational dislike of players with any sort of supposed chemistry issues (Moises Alou, Kent Mercker, Kyle Farnsworth and Andy Sisco were shown the door for little return), and significantly limiting the moves that the Cubs were able to make in other areas. That last point is critical. Hendry went into the off-season with a number of issues that he had to resolve. The leadoff spot, the team on-base percentage, the bench, starting pitching injuries, the bullpen, the closer's role, Dusty Baker, all had been significant impediments in 2004, and all ought to have been addressed as best possible by Hendry over the winter. The Cubs though went into Opening Day 2005 hardly any better equipped in those areas than they had been when things went wrong six months earlier, since by the time Sosa was out of the picture and Hendry finally had the numbers to work towards and the time to give, most of the winter's best options were already off the table. As a result, for instance, Jeromy Burnitz would have to do in right, for what other quick-fix alternatives were there? The end result of it all was a lot of talent lost and not all of it replaced, more holes and flaws created than filled, and a lot of that was the fault of the Cubs' handling of the Sosa affair. Only the legitimate prospect of healthy seasons from Nomar, Prior and Wood sustained the many that believed this year would turn out better than the last. Oh well. None of all of this, for the record, is to say that Sosa didn't act deplorably that Sunday afternoon when he slunk out, nor that he shouldn't have lied about it later that evening. It's not to say in fact that Sosa didn't disgrace himself for much of his last year in Chicago, arguing with Baker about his rightful position in the lineup, refusing to listen to any advice regarding his hitting, and it's certainly not to say that Sosa shouldn't have been traded over the winter. But the way that the Cubs handled the whole process was quite appalling, and Jim Hendry must bear the brunt of the blame. The team could have weathered the surprise trade of an unsmeared legend, as the Red Sox did the trade of Nomar. The foreseeable trade of a villified scapegoat, well what does 79-83 say to you? My response is simple. When public relations take precedence over baseball, baseball is the loser; but losing baseball, it just so happens, is bad PR. That's a lesson Hendry, whose performance this last year we'll continue to look at in the days to come, learnt too late.
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Comments

John Hill,

The one person to blame for this fiasco is Mcphail for giving Sosa that contract. Hendry was in a lose-lose sitution. Either you keep him and he sucks and you do not get the production to match 17 million or you trade him and get back players that are not great. Actually Hendry did the best he could do and got a good leadoff hitter in JHJ. Had Rusch been a SP, Dempster the CL, and JHJ the LF and lead-off hitter from day one this team might be playing in a "crosstown classic" world series right now. Other than not relasing that tape what would have you done differntly than Hendry given the handcuffs of having little money to spend?

I respectfully disagree, ChiFan. Sosa was all the team had at the time of his extension. I don't fault MacPhail for that, although the terms were certainly a bit excessive.

You mention releasing the tape, which certainly should not have been done, but the tape was just a part of the illustrious campaign that was so very short sighted by management. I don't know what they were thinking tearing down their trade bait. The whole affair was classless by both the Cubs and Sosa.

That said, you make another good point that Hairy could have led off in LF from the start, which certainly would have been an improvement. Maybe Hendry didn't realize the personnel fight he had on his hands with Dusty. At any right, it was certainly done poorly last off season.

Here's to hoping for a productive winter this year.

I respectfully disagree, ChiFan. Sosa was all the team had at the time of his extension. I don't fault MacPhail for that, although the terms were certainly a bit excessive.

You mention releasing the tape, which certainly should not have been done, but the tape was just a part of the illustrious campaign that was so very short sighted by management. I don't know what they were thinking tearing down their trade bait. The whole affair was classless by both the Cubs and Sosa.

That said, you make another good point that Hairy could have led off in LF from the start, which certainly would have been an improvement. Maybe Hendry didn't realize the personnel fight he had on his hands with Dusty. At any right, it was certainly done poorly last off season.

Here's to hoping for a productive winter this year.

Of course Hendry's job ultimately was to make the most of a bad situation with Sosa walking out on the team with $25m still left on his contract. How you can possibly argue he did that though is beyond me. What the Cubs had to do last winter was maximise Sosa's remaining value, and then trade him. That ought to have meant completely sweeping the leaving early issue under the carpet, giving it as little press as possible, telling Dusty to shut the hell up rather than engage in a very public row with Sosa, or better yet get Baker and Sosa together and have them reconcile their differences, not publicly releasing information that portrays Sosa as a liar and not fining Sosa, all the while making a big play of Sosa's magnificent career as a Cub, his Hall of Fame statistics, what he meant to the team and what he still means, underlining that it was only after he suffered a freak injury that his numbers in 2005 went downhill, not necessarily irreversably so, and so on and so on. He ought to have made it look as though the Cubs were extremely willing to go into 2005 with Sosa as their right fielder. And then he should have pulled the trigger on a deal. Did Hendry do any of that? Er, no. He took a bad situation and allowed it to become (and contributed to it becoming) a whole lot worse; then, when he'd backed himself so far into the corner he could go no further, he took a lousy deal. Jerry Hairston? He's a roughly average second baseman, a very good utility player and a pretty awful starting outfielder. In other words, Dusty Baker flagrantly misused him, which is a possibility that Hendry, if he's going to insist upon employing Baker, ought to have considered.

Did Hendry do any of that? Er, no. He took a bad situation and allowed it to become (and contributed to it becoming) a whole lot worse

John, I agree completely.

Not only that but the Sosa debacle led to his decision that if he indeed was possibly going to get stuck with Sosa, he wasn't going to keep Alou and Sosa, so they quickly said goodbye to Moises. Moises can still hit and although he was part of the 2004 whining team, he was respected in the clubhouse. If he could have unloaded Sosa sooner (that could have happened only if he had spun it the way you suggested above) he might have kept Alou and just gone for one outfielder instead of two. They wound up with the Holly/Dubois experiment, which would never have been considered if they only needed a right fielder .The late timing of the Sosa deal led to Burnitz as the only remaining replacement choice. Still the earlier signing free agent RF choices like JD Drew had bad/injured seasons.

The Braves needed outfielders and the free agents they took were mostly busts (like Brian Jordan) so they went to their kids.

I'm not sure who would have been a saving grace? Carlos Beltran? I doubt they would have gone as far as the long contract he wound up with, although he would have helped this team and would have probably changed the season that CPat produced since Beltran was demanding to play in CF.

"The Braves needed outfielders and the free agents they took were mostly busts (like Brian Jordan) so they went to their kids."

yeah...around mid-season...

mondesi/jordan got a lot of early-year work til injury and suckage appeared.

about the braves "youth"...some people are quick to give the props to Cox when he usually averages a couple years of 200-ish ab seasons from kids before he lets them take on full time rather than the GM who supplies the club with the kids.

mondesi got 2 months to suck it up without much rest or change from cox until he got injured...jordan til june where he got injured...

when you're left with no options, you play what you got.

to clarify...im not saying Cox is bad...im saying he gets way too much credit vs. his GM...the organization on whole is a lot stronger than any coach they got in place there.

personally...i'd call schuerholz a hero long before cox as far as the organization goes. he's the architect and he's the visionary.

and im not saying that cubster was saying cox was all that or whatever...just taking a tangent off the braves sucess and what i see out of the organization.

...and people think b.beane invented it...he just dont have a payroll like schuerholz...

this game f'n rocks...go houston...go NL...death to the DH...

CWS go up 2 games to 0...game still rocked...hehe

Whoever said Lidge is done as a closer this playoffs, was 100% DEAD ON!! I remember someone arguing with this person, well step up and admit you were wrong becuase giving up a HR to Pods is a JOKE. How many did he hit this year?? 1???

Well, 2 good things might come out of this postseason. Clemens might have to retire and Puljos and Pods might of just made Lidge into only an ordinary closer.

and im not saying that cubster was saying cox was all that...

I think we're on the same point here. I brought up the Braves as an example that they started with a veteran experiment that went wrong (not to mention their closer plan in Dan Kolb, and 3 of their starters going down). Fortunately for them they had young pitching and outfielders that worked out in time to save their season. Cox went to them because he had no little choice...and they came through.

Dusty is always going to be more reluctant to do something like that. Thus we hardly knew ya Ronnie Cedeno, and knew you all too well Neifi Perez.

Dusty for all the bashing he deserves did play kids out of the bullpen because he had little choice when it was apparent that Remlinger/Hawkins veteran presence was lethal (and our GM had enough of watching Hawkins). Thus we suffered with Wellemeyer/Koronka/Leicester/Novoa/Wuertz/Ohman until the dust cleared...leaving the last three as this years survivors. Some of our rookies did OK, certainly they learned alot. The Braves bullpen wasn't all that good this year either...the difference was better starting out of the rookies like Jorge Sosa/Kyle Davies.

Finally they lost Estrada mid year and they had the talent to go to McCann rather than the backup (Eddie Perez). If that had happened to most teams (and of course the Cubs) we would have seen Blanco (which was not a bad alternative the 2nd half), just like the Twins did in 2004 when Joe Mauer went down.

John Hill,

While I agree with your points that Hendry could have handled the PR aspects better I still do not think that we could have gotten equal value for Sosa. If Hendry does all those things maybe he gets Julio or Gibbons with JHJ in that trade. The optimistic way to look at that trade is that it freed up 4 extra mil this year by that Buyout being relocation bonus. Hendry was stuck between 2 big egos. He felt pressured to take a side and took Baker's. If he had kept Sosa a Holly-Cpat-Sosa OF would have been the worst OF since like 1879. The tribsters wanted Sosa gone because people hated him. Alot of it was out of Hendry's control so I feel like he deserves a mulligan. He does control what goes this off-season and I will judge him accordingly. Though it seems like he is 0 for 1 if what Al is saying at BCB is correct and he does not want to trade Hill to get Pierre.

"Whoever said Lidge is done as a closer this playoffs, was 100% DEAD ON!! I remember someone arguing with this person, well step up and admit you were wrong becuase giving up a HR to Pods is a JOKE. How many did he hit this year?? 1???"

It was me - and I still disagree completely. If you think you can evaluate a player's "done-ness" based on a sample size of two games, you know nothing about baseball. They were pitching Podsednik inside the entire game - and he was sitting on that fastball. He hit 0 HRs all season. Now he hit his second in the post season. But Brad Lidge is still one of the three best closers in the NL. Saying he's not because of one or two bad outings is shortsightedly silly.

I have to disagree about the Sosa contract. That contract and the extension that MacPhail gave Sosa was what Sosa was due. He put up amazing numbers over a 5-6 year span. No one has ever hit for power like that (until Bonds juiced himself up)in the history of baseball.

The common mistake was that the Sosa contract was based off of future performance. It was based off of his monstrous seasons and the Cubs organization recognized his contributions and paid him for the past performances. What should the Cubs of done? Say, "Oh you put up numbers no other baseball player in history has done, but we are just gonna give you $10 million a year, not even in the top 10 of baseball players salaries."

As for the Hairston situation that really just exposed Dusty as a two-faced liar. When the Holly and Dubois situation was going bad he said he couldn't put Hairston in LF because it is one of the toughest positions to learn in baseball if you havent played it much. What a load of crap that was. It wasn't like Hairston had been playing CF his entire life he barely had as much experience in CF as he did in LF. But in Dusty's world CF is easier than LF, go figure.

When Dubois and Holly got traded and only Matt Murton was left for LF suddenly Hairston was good enough to play LF to cut into Murton's time. Which is kind of odd because LF is so freaking hard and Dusty refused to play him when 2 other guys were failing. But he was more than willing to cut into a players time who was hot with the bat. It is stupid, it is idiotic, and it is just what Dusty does.

If you need proof Dusty is a liar, if you need proof Dusty looks at service time in the majors over talent, then all you have to look at is the Hairston situation.

Centerfield is easier than LF.

There's a critical omission in the 'Sosa Debacle' story and that is that Hendry wasn't going to trade him. It wasn't until the monkeys mascarading as Cubs fans at the Cubs' Covention booed Sosa that Hendry realized Sosa wouldn't be able to play for the Cubs in '05. If there's any party most guilty for the necessitating of and the low return on the Sosa trade it is the 'fans', who showed the class of NY or Philly fans.

When are we gonna address the mediocre starting pitching?

This is and has been a team built around stud pitchers, who can gloss over a lot of flaws, but Prior wasn't elite, Wood was hurt, Maddux is older, and the 5th starter wasn't Matt Clement (who isn't an ace - but is a lot better than a 5).

The Cubs hopes still primarily rest on the stud pitching - if it still exists. If it doesn't then your window wasn't big enough.

So, is it too early to start discussing the World Cup of baseball? Am I the only one waiting with incredible anticipation(along with wondering if it will be carried by XM, so that I can listen at work)? U.S. versus Dominican for the championship(possibly). US has the depth, but DR has the best offensive 9 in the tourney. I cannot wait.

If we would not have resigned Sosa, the fans would have been in an uproar. It is revisionist history to suggest otherwise. When the discussion about sending him to the Yanks for a package that included a young (pre-arbitration) Alfonso Soriano happened, the fans in general went ballistic.

Sammy was, for a long period of years, what the majority of the fans (the sheep, not the diehards) and the Tribune (the business) wanted this team to have. People paid lots of money just to see Sammy. In the 4 seasons between 1999 and 2002, we had a .442 winning percentage, finished 3rd once, 5th once, and 6th twice (yes - behind Pitt, Cin, Mil, Hou and STL), but still we drew 2.8mm fans per year, many of whom (again - the sheep, not the diehards, but that's where the Trib's operating model is built) came to see Sammy and his 226 HRs during that period (57 per year).

If we didn't resign Sammy, of if we traded him, the fans would have been rioting in the streets. Up until the Trib finally decided to stop marketing Sosa, and started to destroy his public image (a good thing if you ask me - I always felt he was a dirtbag and was bad for the team) he WAS the Chicago Cubs in the era after Sandberg. It was never Grace's team. It was never Kerry's team. It's not Prior's team or Z's team. It was Sammy's team. Then it became Dusty's team. Now that Dusty is not the media/fan darling, let's see who'd team this is next year?

And have you ever thought how other major league baseball players look at the Cubs franchise? Look at how if they don't want a player anymore they will do anything to destroy a player? I am sure that makes the Cubs a real attractive franchise to play for. If your skills decline, the franchise will just make you a scape goat, and blame you for everything. Doesn't matter how much you have done in the past.

It might be one of the reasons the Cubs don't get the best free agents. Or alot of the players they need. Nor will any player take a discount to play for the Cubs. Because in the end it is a real pain in the ass to play for the Cubs.

----Nor will any player take a discount to play for the Cubs.----MIKEC

You mean except Todd Walker?

I'm not even looking for guys to "take a discount"...

Past Jim Thome, I can't think of any STUDS (don't Todd Walker me - please) who have wanted to come to this team since Andrew Dawson left a signed contract with the amount blank on the GMs desk. I'm sure there are some - I just can't think of them off the top of my head.

3mm fans per year...Day baseball...a great city...

At the end of the day, I think players want to play for a winner and the Cubs management has yet to prove that they have the skills to build a team that is capable of winning 90+ games on any sort of regular basis.

The Cards have had 2 sub-.500 seasons since 1996. The Stros have had only 1 sub-.500 season since 1992. Over the past 10 years, I believe the Reds have a better record than we do also (not 100% sure)... and that's without looking at any other division.

These guys are all wealthy. They play the game for the money, but they will get that wherever they go. The best of the best want to not only make the money, but to win also.

Until this team has the intestinal fortitude to do what will make the team better, rather than to satisfy the sheep (the masses, not the diehards), I struggle to see how we will become an annual contender.

I don't know about anyone else, but the White Sox winning this thing is absolutely killing me. I don't even live in Chicago anymore. My father said it's awful there.

How is everyone else feeling? Can anyone offer support here? Any advice? My best friend (a Sox fan) is relentless.

I really don't feel like talking about what mistakes the Cubs made last year. That's over and done with. The focus needs to be how we are going to win the World Series. We are now all alone in the spotlight--it's been that way Nationally for a long time, but now Regionally as well.

Brian,

I think it is great for the city and good to see the city as energized as it was in 2003. I wish it were the Cubs, but I'd rather it be the Sox than the Cards, the Yanks, the Red Sox or any of a number of other franchises.

This is good for the city despite how much some Sox fans will rub it in if it plays out that they win.

spinning sosa in a positive light may very well have backfired. had sosa truly believed the cubs continued to be his team (fan support) he could very well have not agreed to any trade. and considering his 2005 year, trading him was a good thing.

John:

I think you're overestimating the impact of the Management/Sosa feud on Sosa's trade value. I'm pretty sure Hendry's handling of Sosa's last-game walkout tied his hands far less than this did:

2001: 160G, 577AB, .328/.437/.737, 160RBI, 64HR
2002: 150G, 556AB, .288/.399/.594, 108RBI, 49HR
2003: 137G, 517AB, .279/.358/.553, 103RBI, 40HR
2004: 126G, 478AB, .253/.332/.517, 80RBI, 35HR

Sosa had four years of steady-to-sharp decline in just about every offensive category (the above being just a sample). Factor in his nagging injuries and personal problems (the corking, the reaction to the booing, the management clashes) and I don't think any GM realistically expected Sammy to turn it around. And they were right:

2005: 102G, 380AB, .221/.295/.376, 45RBI, 14HR.

Granted, I don't think anybody expected Sosa to drop off quite that much, but his primary value by the end of a distinctly mediocre 2004 season was PR -- trading for him would be a big splashy move that would draw a team a lot of attention, and there'd be a lot of positive PR (and merchandising) again when he broke 600 HR (which, amazingly, he failed to do).

The only thing I can fault Hendry for with regards to Sosa is not dumping him right at the beginning of the offseason -- it was obvious the Cubs were going to have to eat his salary and get little in return, so he might as well have done that early and hopefully left himself a little more flexibility during the offseason.

But without knowing what was really going on behind the scenes in terms of the no-trade clause, other team interest, etc. I find it difficult to even make that criticism.

Thanks for a well-delineated and eloqent, piece, John. I respectfully disagree in that I find it hard to fault Hendry and Baker for a mess that is entirely of Sammy's manufacture.

Before the last game of '04, Sosa was an aging player in sharp decline, due for an enormous payday in an era when even superstar contracts have been market-adjusted downward. We now know that his decline dovetailed neatly with the rise of PED restrictions and the Cubs probably were closer to this situation than we were. As you note, his attitude toward coaching and even his place in the batting order was was publicly intransigent.

Compare and contrast this with Giambi, another overpaid pariah coming off a dreadful season. The Yankees would have traded him for anything. They discussed demoting him to the minor leagues, voiding his contract or releasing him. The local media shredded him, with nary a word of support arising from the front office.

The difference in the 2 player's '05 performance speaks to their respective abilities. Again, it's Sammy's fault.

Which organization treated their player better and managed to maneuver when caught in a tight situation? The team that punished a player for breaking team rules, then traded him for a useful utility man and decent 2B or the team that left the superstar out in the cold and had to play him because they were stuck paying for him?

The problem Hendry had to fix (not of his own making) was that he had a declining, problematic, expensive player in right. He presciently identified that he had to get rid of him (many of us thought Sammy would at least be good for another .360/.480). He did so and got some value in return. Out of respect for the fans and the team, he ate a ton of salary to get rid of someone who would have been booed out of the city by June.

Hendry didn't get it done this year and has to do better. But if Sosagate distracted him, that's Sammy's fault. And without Hendry's handing of the situation, this season would have been even worse.

"Factor in his nagging injuries and personal problems (the corking, the reaction to the booing, the management clashes) "

And Vorare, there is also a [sarcasm]slight[/sarcasm] chance that Sammy had a history involving steroids/HGH/etc. I'm not 100% sure on that...well...yeah..sure...

ChiFan--"If Hendry does all those things maybe he gets Julio or Gibbons with JHJ in that trade."

That at least would have been a start. Personally I feel he could have got more than that still. Regardless, the critical factor is that he could quite easily have moved Sosa earlier, probably to the Mets instead, giving him a lot more time to deal with much more pressing issues. The offseason was ruined not just because Hendry made the trade, but because Hendry devoted so much time to making it.

ChiFan--"Hendry was stuck between 2 big egos. He felt pressured to take a side and took Baker's."

Of course. But he shouldn't be taking sides at all in public if doing so hurts his job performance. Privately, fair enough.

Real Neal--"There's a critical omission in the 'Sosa Debacle' story and that is that Hendry wasn't going to trade him. It wasn't until the monkeys mascarading as Cubs fans at the Cubs' Covention booed Sosa that Hendry realized Sosa wouldn't be able to play for the Cubs in '05. If there's any party most guilty for the necessitating of and the low return on the Sosa trade it is the 'fans', who showed the class of NY or Philly fans."

And the critical omission there is that Hendry and the Cubs had spent the last few months whipping the fans into an anti-Sosa frenzy with a full-scale smear campaign. The difference in attitudes towards Sosa before the events of the season's last day and thereafter was enormous. As the season approached its end, I think a lot of people would have quite liked Sosa traded, but at the same time were resigned to him coming back, and to be honest they weren't totally devastated about that. Once the Cubs were done with dragging Sosa's name through the mud, those that even entertained the prospect of Sosa returning were few and far between. Certainly, Sosa didn't help his own cause by leaving the game early, but far greater misdemeanours have been swept under carpets. That's what should have happened. Instead, the Cubs being afraid of how the public might react to a Sosa trade, decided to try turning the city against him. As the Cubs Convention attested, they succeeded.

X--"If we had not re-signed Sosa, the fans would have been in an uproar."

And that's the fundamental problem with the Cubs. As I said in my piece, when public relations take precedence over baseball, baseball is the loser; but losing baseball, it just so happens, is bad PR. You have to make decisions based upon how it will impact the quality of the team, not whether or not the fans will like it.

KJK--"spinning sosa in a positive light may very well have backfired. had sosa truly believed the cubs continued to be his team (fan support) he could very well have not agreed to any trade."

I suppose I didn't fully consider that. Would it not have been possible for the Cubs though to make it entirely clear that Sosa wasn't welcome back privately?

H.Vaughn--"The problem Hendry had to fix (not of his own making) was that he had a declining, problematic, expensive player in right."

Absolutely. Don't then go and make your problem doubly disastrous by letting the entire world know that you know that he's a declining, problematic, expensive player that you ever so desperately need to rid yourself of.

"He presciently identified that he had to get rid of him (many of us thought Sammy would at least be good for another .360/.480). He did so and got some value in return."

Presciently? Or fortunately? Personally, I'm pretty sure Hendry made the move more on the basis of the chemistry than on the basis of performance.

"Out of respect for the fans and the team, he ate a ton of salary to get rid of someone who would have been booed out of the city by June."

Out of respect for the fans he ate the salary? Come off it. He ate the salary because he'd made a bad situation so much worse that it gave him absolutely no option but to pull the trigger on a deal, any deal, $16.15m or not.

"If Sosagate distracted him, that's Sammy's fault."

I'm sorry, but that's rubbish. Firstly, Hendry helped to create Sosagate. Secondly, as the General Manager, when it comes to roster construction, the buck stops with him, he's the man in charge. If the roster he delivers his manager for Opening Day isn't good enough, excuses be damned, it's his responsibility. If you have an essay due tomorrow, it's your fault the dog ate it. You shouldn't have left it where the dog could eat it.

I think that the tardiness of Sosa's departure, principally cost the Cubs Moises Alou. Alou's bat could have helped enormously, but Hendry did not get rid of Sosa early enough.

alou was given his walking papers well before the sosa thing...he was lumped into the "attitude house cleaning" that the cubs addressed this offseason.

mercker, alou, farnsworth, etc etc...

picking fights with the announce crew and having your manager have to even deal with addressing it to the media is something a team shouldnt have to deal with. whether you wanna blame mercker/alou for not dropping it or you wanna blame the media for not dropping it...it was something that dragged on far too long.

that issue along with alou's declining horrible D and his age and him wanting a mult-year deal is a big reason he's "only" getting 8m a year after putting up the season he had in 04.

my bad...alou's contract pays about 7m a year.

13.25 for 2 years.

check swing strikeout
argue with the ump
claim the umps are "baiting" him
get ejected
go pee on his hands

...the Moises Alou story

John Hill: Right on the money! Manny Trillo has to love you right now...You nailed it. They lowered the value of their product, a sin in business.

John Hill:

There is a difference between assumptions and facts. Let me show you an assumption:

'Hendry and the Cubs had spent the last few months whipping the fans into an anti-Sosa frenzy with a full-scale smear campaign.'

Let me show you a fact.

Someone let it be known that the Cubs had video evidence of Sosa leaving early on the final day of the season, after he had been given the day off.

Another fact:

"What I've been saying is true; I assume he'll be back (in 2005)," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said of Sosa on the eve of baseball's winter meetings.

Maybe it was someone in the organization who had a vendetta against Sosa, maybe it was Jim Hendry or someone who thought he was helping Hendry, but to jump to the conclusion that Hendry was the motiviating factor isn't right. You have no proof of that, not even circumstantial evidence of that, Hendry doesn't have a record of destroying a player's value and then trying to trade him. Your conjecture is contrary to Hendry's historical and stated operating procedures. Case in point: Check the Cubs' 40 man roster and you will find a C. Patterson.

Now before you say 'Well what about the other 'Bad Eggs' Alou, Merker and Farnsworth?' They all were very public in their childnish during the '04 season, unless you're going to say that Hendry was whispering in Merker's ear to pick a fight with Stone on the airplane.

Carmenfanzone-
I think now that the season has been over for the Cubs for about a month, people will look back over 2005 without as much emotion and see what I have been saying for awhile now. Maybe John Hill is one of them now.

That isn't to say Baker gets a free ride. He is the manager and also needs to be held liable for a losing season. And like I have been saying they should get 2006 ONLY to see if they can move the Cubs in the right direction into the playoffs or they both should be gone (no extentions).

Then with so many FA's for the Cubs going into 2007 it will most likely be a rebuilding year, unless they make the playoffs next year.

"And that's the fundamental problem with the Cubs. As I said in my piece, when public relations take precedence over baseball, baseball is the loser; but losing baseball, it just so happens, is bad PR. You have to make decisions based upon how it will impact the quality of the team, not whether or not the fans will like it."

Agreed...

Cubs Sheep (not the diehard fans, but about 2mm of the 3.2mm who come through the gates), while they are the reason we have a 100mm payroll, also make it so that the team's priority is maintaining revenue streams, not being competitive. (the two are not one and the same).

It's a difficult paradox...If they did what's best for the franchise, they'd have had to alienate the SosaLovers. They'd have pissed off the Rynoites. They finally enfuriated the Gracies (even though he was actually productive by some measures). But if they did the right things, and pissed off the 2mm sheep, who knows what would happen to their precious revenue?

"The problem Hendry had to fix (not of his own making) was that he had a declining, problematic, expensive player in right."
Absolutely. Don't then go and make your problem doubly disastrous by letting the entire world know that you know that he's a declining, problematic, expensive player that you ever so desperately need to rid yourself of.

But John, all this was quite evident except the "desperately need to get rid of" element, and as it turned out, only Hendry knew how desperately we needed to. Surely you don't believe the Orioles would have traded us anyone had they foreseen how terribly Sosa would decline. And I know you aren't arguing that the Cubs should have kept Sosa. Even if the Cubs had covered up Sosa's early departure and made up a phantom, rapid-healing injury to explain away his low production, what team would have traded value or picked up a dollar of Sosa's salary in exchange?

Presciently? Or fortunately? Personally, I'm pretty sure Hendry made the move more on the basis of the chemistry than on the basis of performance.

The move was optimal regardless of the motive and Hendry has been prescient in the past in his creative dumping of Hundley and pickups of Ramirez and Barrett.

Out of respect for the fans he ate the salary? Come off it. He ate the salary because he'd made a bad situation so much worse that it gave him absolutely no option but to pull the trigger on a deal, any deal, $16.15m or not.

Sosa bottomed the situation out by losing his ability to perform while simultaneously creating bad PR with the fans and bad relations in the clubhouse. Hendry had the option to stick Sammy back out in right this year and rightly chose not to because a) he would have put out an inferior product and b) Cub fans have righteously become more intolerant of lousy performance and will take action to get rid of poor performers like Hawkins and Patterson. Or is there another option I'm missing, perhaps Jim could have traded him to Seattle for King Felix and cash?

I'm sorry, but that's rubbish. Firstly, Hendry helped to create Sosagate. Secondly, as the General Manager, when it comes to roster construction, the buck stops with him, he's the man in charge. If the roster he delivers his manager for Opening Day isn't good enough, excuses be damned, it's his responsibility. If you have an essay due tomorrow, it's your fault the dog ate it. You shouldn't have left it where the dog could eat it.

First, Sammy created Sosagate through poor performance. If he had hit and comported himself as a team player and fan favorite should, there is no controversy. All Hendry did in '04 was to mail him 16 million dollars worth of checks for 6 million dollars worth of production. Second, the only causal tie from Sosa to opening day '05 roster construction was that Hendry had to fill the vacancy in right that Sammy left despite being contractually bound to perform to a high standard.

Wow. This blog sure knows how to beat a dead horse. Next, we should talk about whether the Cubs should keep Walker or Grudz.

Given that Sosa might not even be in MLB next year, I find it curious that someone would write an article blaming Hendry for trading the guy. Even though it only netted Hairston and Fontenot, it's still a ripoff deal in favor of the Cubs.

Real Neal, one fact may have escaped you: Jim Hendry is the General Manager of the ballclub, and he was the General Manager of the ballclub at the time of the events we're talking about. And as General Manager, the biggest part of Hendry's job is to put together the best roster possible.

Let's hypothesise that Hendry had absolutely nothing to with the smear-campaign, and that it was entirely orchestrated by the Tribune. There it's Hendry's responsibility to make it clear to those above him that dragging Sosa's name through the mud compromises the ability with which he can do his job of putting together the best roster possible. If he's got the communication skills required to be a General Manager, he ought to be able to quite easily make the case that, even if you boil things down to just public relations, the team's success is the bottom line with the fans. The 2004 Red Sox aren't the perfect example, but there was absolute consternation when they traded Nomar at the deadline. By the end of October, who gave a damn about Nomar? The potential reaction of the fans ought to never be the principle motivation behind any move: it has to always remain entirely secondary to how the move will affect the team and it's performance in terms of wins and losses.

Hendry, if he made that argument, quite clearly didn't pull it off, which either speaks for him not being persuasive, the Tribune being completely obstinate, or both. He also then took the matter no further, and you can certainly strike that against his name. It's not acceptable for Hendry to allow others within the organisation to compromise the job that he's capable of doing and for him to just live with it. If that means that Hendry has to personally put his own job on the line to get stuff done, my way or the highway, that is the way that it has to be. Quite clearly you'd hope it wouldn't come to that, but Hendry cannot allow people to take decisions for him if he's the one that'll be taking the fall for them going wrong. So even then if we suppose Hendry was opposed to the action that the Cubs took against Sosa, he still doesn't come out of the affair smelling of roses: rather he comes out as something of a coward, having abandoned his principle for the sake of ensuring his continued job security.

The trouble with this supposition that Hendry didn't agree with the smear-campaign is that he himself on occasions contributed to it, even if perhaps that wasn't his intent, in which case he's guilty of naivety and clumsiness. The day after Sosa left early, Hendry commented that "Sammy Sosa's actions are something we do not take lightly. It's certainly inexcusable for him not to be at the ballpark and dressed with his teammates. It will not be tolerated here." I don't think anyone here disagrees with the sentiment of the words, but couple that with a $87000 fine and Hendry is hardly publicly sweeping things under the carpet here as he ought to have been. All action, all punishment, all criticism ought to have taken place behind closed doors, and not in the public arena.

Even if Hendry was wise enough to for the most part distance himself from the public smear-campaign, there can be little doubt that he was complicit with it, given that people under Hendry's authority repeatedly publicly aired their grievances with Sosa. Hendry, were he in such strong disagreement with the smear-campaign, should have ordered everyone beneath him, from Dusty Baker (who continued to take thinly veiled digs at Sosa for much of the winter), to Mark Prior (who demanded an apology), to Todd Walker (who I presume must have spoken at length about the Sosa affair, simply on the grounds that last winter he spoke at length about everything), to shut their mouths and keep quiet as he tried to handle things as professionally as possible. Given that they continued talking all winter, it doesn't seem as though Hendry was that dissatisfied with other people bad mouthing Sosa essentially on his behalf.

Why would that have been the case? Perhaps because Hendry, like Dusty Baker below him and probably men above him too, wanted Sosa gone, and he didn't want that to be an act that was unpopular with the fans, for his own sake? After all, would dragging Sosa's name through the mud not represent a sure fire way of turning the city of Chicago against the slugger to the extent that he could be traded without fear of the move instigating a public backlash? It's around about this time that, if this is the case, Hendry begins looking like a coward again, this time more concerned with public relations than the good of the team.

You can pretend all you like that you don't know exactly what was going on, and to an extent that's true, but there is no possible explanation for what went on last winter that clears Hendry's name.

X--"But if they did the right things, and pissed off the 2mm sheep, who knows what would happen to their precious revenue?"

But if doing the right things helped them actually, you know, win stuff...

"Sammy Sosa's actions are something we do not take lightly. It's certainly inexcusable for him not to be at the ballpark and dressed with his teammates. It will not be tolerated here."

Did Hendry really say that? That is pretty harsh considering all the crazy behavior of the Club during the year of which Sosa was not a part of. Yet he gets singled out? Screw Hendry.

And Hendry should also realize that it was a day Sosa was given a day off, he wasn't required to dress for the game. If he planned on sticking around at all he would of sat in the clubhouse. But with the team acting like a bunch of whiney babies I can see why Sosa walked out on them.

And yes I am defending Sosa, he was never the problem of what was going wrong with the Cubs as proved with the 2005 team.

H.Vaughn--"Even if the Cubs had covered up Sosa's early departure and made up a phantom, rapid-healing injury to explain away his low production, what team would have traded value or picked up a dollar of Sosa's salary in exchange?"

The Mets: I'm absolutely convinced of it. I suspect that they were a lot closer to pulling the trigger on a Sosa deal than a lot of people realise. Incidentally, I'm not advocating that the Cubs simply "make up a phantom rapid-healing injury". Rather I'm suggesting they should have given bigger play to the freakish nature of Sosa's back sneeze injury, and the enormous effect that that had on his season (he hit .291/.385/.590 before the injury, .238/.311/.488 after it). Of course, that would have painted Sosa as fragile, and that .238 average is pretty scary, but that ought to have also have created the impression that his 2004 performance understated his remaining abilities. And teams are noticeably more willing to take gambles on injured talent than healthy crap.

"Sosa bottomed the situation out by losing his ability to perform while simultaneously creating bad PR with the fans and bad relations in the clubhouse."

I think you're neglecting to mention the impact that Dusty had on Sosa, and how he contributed to the creation of the monster. But that's a whole other discussion. I also disagree with you about exactly when the situation bottomed out for the Cubs.

"Hendry had the option to stick Sammy back out in right this year and rightly chose not to because a) he would have put out an inferior product and b) Cub fans have righteously become more intolerant of lousy performance and will take action to get rid of poor performers like Hawkins and Patterson. Or is there another option I'm missing, perhaps Jim could have traded him to Seattle for King Felix and cash?"

I absolutely agree that Hendry had to trade him, though I wasn't clever enough to see that at the time. All the same, I'm now not debating that. What I disagree with now, and have disagreed with most all along, is the way that Hendry went about making the trade. I believe that he could have got it done without taking up an entire winter that he really needed to use to address other things, and that he could have got a better deal in the process. Obviously not King Felix and cash better, but better all the same. The 2004/05 offseason was dominated by Sosa. And Hendry didn't get it done. You don't see a connection there?

"First, Sammy created Sosagate through poor performance. If he had hit and comported himself as a team player and fan favorite should, there is no controversy. All Hendry did in '04 was to mail him 16 million dollars worth of checks for 6 million dollars worth of production."

Absolutely. Please don't for a second think that I don't completely condemn Sosa for his actions, words and attitudes in his last months as a Cub. All the same, my point is that the Cubs handled a bad situation terribly, and made things a whole lot worse. Therefore, pointing the finger solely at Sosa just won't do.

"million dollars worth of checks for 6 million dollars worth of production. Second, the only causal tie from Sosa to opening day '05 roster construction was that Hendry had to fill the vacancy in right that Sammy left"

By I believe Jim Hendry's own admission, that's simply not true. I can't find the exact quote, but I swear that Hendry at some stage this season mentioned that Sosa for a big part of the off-season tied his hands. Whether or not Hendry admitted it or not though, it's true. Only in February did Hendry know whether he needed a new right fielder, and only in February did he know how much he had to spend at other positions. There is absolutely no doubt that that meant Hendry couldn't be as active in pursuing free agents and other trade targets as he would have liked to have been, simply because he couldn't afford to spend money that was conditional upon Sosa and some of his salary being moved.

John Hill,

What did the Mets have that we would have wanted? Yes, Floyd had a good year but he was coming off of 3 out of the last 4 years being injury-prone seasons.

Two brief points:

If Hendry is to shoulder blame for the difficulties in moving Sosa, then so to should Baker for his comments to the Chicago media on the eve of the winter meetings. By stirring up controversy when he did, he effectively killed any remaining chance of a deal being done.

Hairston as lead-off? His lead-off OBP this year was .307.

Indeed. I'll get to Baker later in the off-season, Neil, and then we can have a nice big slanging match!

Neil M:
"Hairston as lead-off? His lead-off OBP this year was .307."

Actaully his OBP in 2005 as a leadoff hitter was .344, but he did get 306 of his 380 AB's there.

But, he was not good defensively in the OF, he ran the bases poorly and if I remember correctly missed signs a few times. He is nothing more than a utility guy and backup, but if we have an injury situation like Walker 2B, then he is a good sub to start for the short term.

To the people who say Lidge is done...

From firejoemorgan.com

Just throwing it out there to sidetrack the Baseball Crank's day, but after Brad Lidge's second demoralizing walkoff homer, is there any way to figure out the ratio of "Closer eventually bouncing back and becoming effective again" to "Closer who was never the same"? For instance, Calvin Schiraldi was probably the best pitching prospect in the Boston farm system before the '86 playoffs -- look at his regular-season stats in 1986 compared to everything that followed in his career. And what about Byung Hyun-Kim, Donnie Moore, Mitch Williams, Mark Wohlers, Tom Niedenfuer ... really, the only guy I can remember who kept chugging along was Dennis Eckersley after the '88 World Series. Anyway, let's see what the Crank can dig up on this.

This has been discussed ad nauseum on this thread on the Sons of Sam Horn message board (check out pages 5 through 12). I believe all of those names save Niedenfuer came up (and Jose Mesa was thrown in).

I'm just going to pick out one name in particular: SoSH flashpoint Byung-Hyun Kim. We all know he had a disastrous 2001 World Series. Psyche-crushing, right? Irreparable mental damage?

2001: ERA 2.94, ERA+ 156, 19 saves
2002: ERA 2.04, ERA+ 216, 36 saves

It wasn't until 2004 that BK fell off a cliff. We might never know why, but he lost velocity on his fastball.

What's that? You want one "Moore" piece of evidence? (Previous sentence written by New York Post headline writers).

Donnie Moore
1986: ERA 2.97, ERA+ 138
1987: ERA 2.70, ERA+ 161

I think he got injured midway through the '87 season and his career was pretty much over after that.

The point is, Simmons is calling these guys closers "who were never the same" after pitching poorly in the postseason.

Kim got better after his 2001 debacle. Moore, in a small sample, also improved after 1986's disaster.

I understand why people make these mistakes. Our memories are faulty and it's easier to believe that a guy stops being able to do his job correctly after suffering a devastating failure at work. But just because it's easy to believe doesn't mean it's true.

Thankfully, people have written down what happens in baseball games and we don't have to trust our memories. We can look at results. And we should.

The Mets: I'm absolutely convinced of it.

Omar likely would have done the Floyd deal, but Mets upper management put the squelch on it. That was that. I contend that a happy face dog-and-pony spin campaign would not have changed Fred Wilpon's mind or that of any other organization with a resource that would have helped the '05 Cubs. Consider this: Luis Gonzalez is a somewhat comparable player who is well-regarded and held up as a model by his club. Now, if he were scheduled to make 16 mil next year, what could Arizona expect to reap in return for him? Or: Milton Bradley is a productive player with serious personal issues. The Dodgers have all but telegraphed he is gone. Would you argue his trade value was damaged by Indian and Dodger management or by his legal transgressions and press comments? And if the Dodgers spun his arrests and tirades as mere evidence of his competitive zeal, would they get more value in return?

I think you're neglecting to mention the impact that Dusty had on Sosa, and how he contributed to the creation of the monster.

By saying he hoped Sammy got his act together in the offseason? By batting him lower in the order because he wasn't producing? By trying to keep Sammy from poisoning the workplace further by tolerating his boombox?

There is absolutely no doubt that that meant Hendry couldn't be as active in pursuing free agents and other trade targets as he would have liked to have been, simply because he couldn't afford to spend money that was conditional upon Sosa and some of his salary being moved.

This is quite true, but the root of the problem isn't PR or the time spent on dumping Sammy, it is the 16 million dollar contract for a non-producing asset. That contract, now mercifully gone, meant that Hendry couldn't sign JD Drew (snicker) or compete for Carlos Beltran (.266 .330 .414), who wouldn't have outproduced Burnitz this year anyway.

X:
"To the people who say Lidge is done..."

I personally never said he is done, but do believe he won't be the same (as good) from now on. I may be wrong, as I have been before, but I may be right, as I have been before. Only time will tell.

H.Vaughn--"Consider this: Luis Gonzalez is a somewhat comparable player who is well-regarded and held up as a model by his club. Now, if he were scheduled to make 16 mil next year, what could Arizona expect to reap in return for him?"

If Gonzalez were two years younger, so the age that Sosa was at the time, I think he could have netted a decent return, at least one very decent prospect and a serviceable player. The trouble is though that, 2001 aside, Gonzalez has simply never played at the level that Sosa occupied for a good half decade, and as a result he doesn't have anywhere near a comparable public stature, so the comparison is of limited use.

As for Milton Bradley, the trouble is that he's behaved the way that he has on the field, for all to see. For obvious reasons it's a lot harder to try and spin that kind of thing: everyone sees for themselves what's happening, and they make up their own minds there and then. Still, I don't think the Dodgers have handled the Bradley situation at all well, they too have compromised their negotiating position. Then again, because the situation's a little more complicated than Sosa one, the dispute being with a fellow player rather than the manager, and mid-season too, I think their options were more limited.

"By saying he hoped Sammy got his act together in the offseason? By batting him lower in the order because he wasn't producing? By trying to keep Sammy from poisoning the workplace further by tolerating his boombox?"

Dusty and Sosa went waaay further than that. They absolutely hated each other.

"the root of the problem isn't PR or the time spent on dumping Sammy, it is the 16 million dollar contract for a non-producing asset."

That is also quite true. Absolutely the root of all the problems was Sosa, his contract, his attitude. But what I am saying that the Cubs made things worse for themselves, unnecessarily. And it was that more than anything else than compromised their entire off-season.

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