Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gamblin' Jim Hendry Strikes Again

Say what you want about Jim Hendry, but the man has to be the most optimistic person on the face of the earth.  He doesn't just see the glass as half full, he sees it as a glass half full of liquid diamonds.

I made a comment on Twitter today that Hendry loves reclamation projects as his reasoning to sign Xavier Nady.  Afterall, he's the one who took guys like Mark Grudzielanek, Eric Karros, Jim Edmonds, Reed Johnson, Jeff Baker, and Ryan Dempster off of the scrap heap and made them into useful members of the team (at least for a little while).

Of course, the flipside to that is he also picked up Todd Van Poppel, Neifi Perez, Ismael Valdes, Kevin Gregg, Cliff Floyd, Wade Miller and many other depressing failures that caused Cubs fans to moan and wail the he should have known better.

But he also likes guys coming off of career years.  Aaron Miles, Milton Bradley, Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Mark DeRosa, Todd Walker, and Ted Lilly were all inked to deals following seasons that were either at or near that player's best year prior to the contract.  The results of these signings are more all over the place than a member of the Cardinals heading home from the bar.

So, when Jim sees a player playing the best baseball of his life, he thinks, "Great! I can sign this player who has figured it all out so he can step right in and be an immediate asset to the team and we will win the World Series!"

When he sees players struggling to find a team because they have body parts hanging off of them, he thinks, "Great! I can sign this player to a deal that will be viewed as fantastic as soon as he gets healthy and productive again so he can help us win the World Series!"

So how is the same man capable of making such seemingly polar opposite moves throughout his career?  I've likened Jim Hendry to a gambler before and it seems to be the only thing that fits all the scenarios.

To enjoy gambling, you have to have a sense of optimism and you have to have a certain tolerance for risk.  You would not place a bet at all if you knew for sure you were going to lose.  What the hell would be the point?  You have to have some sort of optimism that your bet will get paid off.  Hendry had a blinding sense of optimism that Aaron Miles was useful in some way. He thought for sure that Milton was not truly insane and good at producing runs in the middle of the lineup.

At the same time, you have to be prepared for the fact that you will indeed lose that bet. Again, if you can't handle the possibility of losing a wager, you would never make a bet.  It wouldn't be fun for you.  In looking at his roster moves, you almost have to think that Hendry's love of risk is approaching fetish levels.

Jim likes to gamble and he doesn't like to stick to just the penny slots.  He's plunked down $30 million on Bradley, $40 million on Lilly, $75 million on Aramis Ramirez, and $136 million on Soriano just for starters.  So the question is how much is Hendry's raging sense of optimism affecting his evaluation of his hand before making a bet.

The difference between decent poker players and the professionals is that a professional is really good at evaluating the value of his hand versus what his opponents are holding.  A professional will lay down three of a kind at the drop of a hat if he thinks the guy across from him has a straight that beats him.  At the same time, a professional will have no problems throwing down big money on a pure bluff if he knows that his opponent also has nothing.  It is all about reading the landscape and understanding the situation as it relates to the ever-changing ebb and flow of a game.

Evaluating baseball talent and determining value in the marketplace is similar in many ways. The market changes all the time (Carlos Beltran makes more money than Albert Pujols), much like a hand of poker changes as each card is revealed.

Over the last few years, Hendry has seemed like the guy at the poker table that will bet everything he has as soon as he gets a pair of aces in his hand.  Sure, it will probably work out a fair number of times, but that pair is going to get burned an awful lot as well.  Jim has had his successes, but he has lost some awfully large pots too.

As for the Nady signing, he could have saved some money and signed a less talented player that would have a more predictable outcome, but the risk Jim is taking here is not too terrible.  For one, the deal is only a year, so it won't be a mistake that hamstrings moves for next season.  Second, the base salary isn't terrible and if Nady produces like we all hope he will, the incentives will be well worth the extra cash spent.

Maybe Gamblin' Jim has started to learn the art of value betting.


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