Thursday, September 2, 2010

Meet the 2011 Scapegoat: Jim Hendry

One of the nice things about removing oneself from the everyday hubbub of watching the Cubs lose to nondescript pitchers of questionable talent is that you get a chance to take a step back and see the bigger picture.  I mentioned yesterday how I don't think the ticket prices are going to move downwards next year because ticket revenues won't go up by filling more of the stands because the season ticket holders aren't going anywhere.

Doc Blume commented and made an excellent point about ticket sales not being the only factor:

But getting people to actually attend the game (and avoiding 10,000 no shows) is something that needs to be a high priority as well. The Cubs have lost a ton of revenue this year in concession sales, and on top of that, television rating have plummeted. In order for the Cubs to continue to have high revenues, they will need to not only sell the tickets, but get people in the stands...the last part of the plan that I felt was important to solve the Cubs current "people problem" was to get a superstar of some sort. There isn't any draw at Wrigley right Sandberg, Dawson, Sosa or Caray.

He is right, but all the Cubs have to do is get through 2011 and have a plan to build up the hope again in 2012.  It would be nice if Hendry's three or four moves actually turn the team around and make them contenders, but it isn't essential.  Not with the Cubs' fan base. 

Like I said, the season ticket holders are locked in and as long as the Cubs don't come right out and literally hold season ticket holders' heads in the toilet, they will keep coming back.  They have more than a big enough buffer zone.  Think about how long it took for the Bears' season ticket waiting list to erode away.  Years of McCaskey meddling, Wannstedt trading away first round draft picks for Rick Mirer, and a dependency on "core" players like Alonzo Spellman (who makes Carlos Zambrano look measured and reasoned), not to mention an inability to work with the city to improve the stadium amenities.  And Bears fans are nowhere close to being as blindly loyal and addicted to the suckitude as Cubs fans who wear it as a badge of pride.

MB21 over at Another Cubs Blog has a theory that the Cubs actually could literally hold fans heads in the toilet and they would come back every year for more.  I won't go that far, but he's not as wrong about that as I'd prefer.

If things don't go miraculously well next year, the Ricketts can then entertain the thought of discounting unsold seats.  They don't care that season ticket holders can't sell their seats at face value because the Cubs already have the full price of the ticket in their coffers.  They might care, however, that they have bunches of unsold tickets.  So maybe they do some group discounts in certain sections (buy 3 get 1 free).  Maybe they just do an outright sale again like they did with the $10 bleacher tickets that pissed off Yellon (though not enough to make him consider telling his new best friend to find another sucker to buy his season bleacher seats).

Many people have wondered why the Cubs are keeping Jim Hendry around.  Wouldn't it make more sense for him to be sent away at the same time that Lou walks away?  Wouldn't it make the most sense to have a new general manager hire the new manager?

Sure, Hendry has made some nice moves.  Hell, I was ready to build a statue of him after he acquired Nomar Garciaparra and the highest rated prospect involved in the deal (Matt Murton) in exchange for Alex Gonzalez, Francis Beltran, and Brendan Harris.  This after getting Derrek Lee for Hee Seop Choi, and Aramis Ramirez (and Kenny Lofton) for Jose Hernandez, Bobby Hill, and Matt Bruback. But I don't think he is sticking around because of his job performance.

He has two years left on his deal, but eating his salary would be like eating the amuse bouche before choking down the all-you-can-eat buffet of Zambrano, Fukudome, and Soriano's salaries, so I don't think he his hanging on because of his contract status.

I'm guessing that the Rickettses need a scapegoat for 2011.  If things go horribly wrong (or, rather, as I expect them to), they won't be able to blame the Tribune as much as they were able to this year.  They will have a brand new manager, so they can't really blame him since he inherited this team of misfits.  They need someone to throw to the masses, so it might as well be Hendry.

Otherwise, there is no reason why he is being allowed to hire the new manager.  Hardly any general managers get to hire three different managers under three different rebuilding plans.  It is practically unheard of.  Bruce Miles provides us with some tidbits that make me think that Ricketts is already setting the trap to nail Hendry:

"It's Jim's responsibility to go out and find a new manager," Ricketts told Cubs beat writers during a brief chat after the rededication of the Harry Caray statue. "What he'll do is he'll create a shortlist, and I'll meet with him on the shortlist. 

"Jim's out there. It's his responsibility to bring us the shortlist and talk the names through and come up with the right answer."

Got that, Jim? 

Allow me to translate the Cubs-speak again for the rest of you: "This is on YOU, Jim.  2011 is YOUR responsibility.  Win or you're out.  Oh, you want to eat a bunch of money in existing contracts and get some extra money to sign free agents?  Here's a dollar.  Don't spend it all in one place.  Good luck!"

I've said it before and I'll continue to say it until something indicates otherwise.  Cubs fans WANT to believe that every year they have a chance.  It does not matter what common sense and good reason tells us.  It does not matter that projections told us that the Cubs were going to win 78-83 games this year. We wanted to believe that the margin of error could only favor the Cubs.  It did not enter our darkest dreams that a 78-win season at this point would be a ridiculous long shot.

If Hendry pulls some rabbits out of his hat and the Cubs can stay even reasonably close next year, the no-shows won't be as big a problem.  Good weather will get nice walk-up sales.  Series against good opponents will be interesting and they will sell.

If not, they will still be announcing crowds of 32,000 when there are probably half of that in the stands, but it doesn't matter for 2011 because the Cubs will have their money.  They will just offer up Jim Hendry as the sacrificial lamb and move to building up the hope again for 2012.

All the Cubs have to do is get to 2012 with their fan base intact.  By then, most of the horrible salaries will be off the books and they can start clean.  Silva is gone with a small buyout.  Ramirez is gone. Fukudome gone. Grabow gone. Dempster will be in his final year and potential trade bait.  Same with Zambrano, though I expect he'll be gone long before 2012.

Only Soriano will have unmovable money left on his contract, so that is virtually like starting clean.  A new general manager could really come in and make a difference.  It would certainly raise expectations and hope again, which is really all the Ricketts need at this point to keep ticket prices where they are.

You wondered how Hendry still has a job after all that has gone wrong in the last two years.  This is why.  And us season ticket holders are the ones who allow it to happen.


Adam said...

I agree totally about Hendry being the absolute fall guy for 2011. We'll be able to measure Ricketts' sincerity in dollars. If every major free agent lands elsewhere and the Cubs' payroll holds firm or diminishes, it's probably a sign Hendry has been handcuffed financially.

I also like how the target in that picture makes Hendry look like Bozo. I loved Bozo.

Aisle 424 said...

The location of the bullseye was just a happy coincidence. I liked Cookie. Bozo jumped the shark when Wizzo became a regular.

I expect the Cubs will negotiate with many of the top free agents and then just miss out. It will be a return to the days of just missing out on Carlos Beltran, Mike Hampton, and Mike Piazza (not saying the Cubs fortunes would have been better had they actually signed those guys). They'll do enough to make fans think they are trying to improve, but "financial realities" will prevent actual signings.

Anonymous said...

If he is used as a scapegoat, too bad. He deserves it. And not for handing out 4 year deals to guys who would have had a difficult time find two year contracts, or for the Soriano debacle, or for giving Fukudome a ridiculous contract, or... but because the scapegoat strategy is one of the few things Hendry does consistently well.
2004-blame Sammy. 2006- blame Dusty. 2009- blame Bradley. 2010- blame Zambrano. That move to the bullpen was a sham done only in hopes that he would blow up and they could use him as what else? A scapegoat.
Let him suffer through next year, blame him, after all it is his mess, then can him. Let a real GM take over when all that money comes off the books. No new GM could fix the mess, so go after the new one when there is some incentive for one to come here, after next season.

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