Tom Ricketts is in an envious position. The Cubs owner can pick from just about anybody to replace Jim Hendry as GM and take the Cubs to the promised land.
By Ken Rosenthal FoxSports
Man, I would like to be Tom Ricketts right now.
I’d be the owner of the Cubs — pretty sweet. And I’d be in position to hire just about any general manager I wanted.
Not everyone is available: The Red Sox’s Theo Epstein is under contract through 2012, the Rangers’ Jon Daniels through ’15. The Yankees’ Brian Cashman is nearing the end of his deal, but downplaying any interest. The Rays’ Andrew Friedman enjoys an unusually strong relationship with his owner, Stuart Sternberg.
Well, those are only four names, and if I were Ricketts, I would at least try to speak with Cashman and Friedman.
I would call the Athletics’ Billy Beane to see if he was sick of waiting for his team to move into a new ballpark.
I would pursue virtually every GM I admire, because basically, I would be the king of the world, with maybe the most coveted job in baseball to offer.
Ricketts indicated at the news conference announcing Jim Hendry’s firing that he preferred a candidate with experience. Many current executives agree, saying that the Cubs’ position is too big to entrust to a first-timer.
The job, even in a smaller market, is not simply making trades. The GM is the leader of an organization. Strong people skills are a must. Within the span of a half-hour, a GM might talk to a minor-league manager, a high-powered agent and a rival executive, all about completely different subjects.
Ricketts, without question, would take on significantly less risk if he hired an experienced GM. But all of the names I mentioned above — Epstein, Cashman, Friedman, Beane — became GMs for the first time with their current clubs.
Epstein, in fact, took over the Red Sox at 28, while Cashman became the Yankees’ GM at 30. Both had one advantage; they already were working for those clubs, and knew the respective landscapes. Still, those jobs arguably are even bigger and more complex than the Cubs’.
So, if I were Ricketts, I would talk to some of the top assistant GMs, too — most notably the White Sox’s Rick Hahn, who is widely considered to be the No. 1 GM candidate in the sport.
In the end, I might even hire one from Column A, one from Column B and a few more, assembling the most brainpower I could find in an attempt to build the front-office equivalent of the Phillies’ Four Aces.
Not all of the executives would be equal, of course. But my appeal to each candidate would be simple. You want to be part of the franchise winning its first World Series since 1908, or what?
The job is that attractive.
If I were Tom Ricketts, I could not possibly screw this up.
HENDRY’S FINAL DAYS
As it turned out, there is a perfectly valid explanation for why the Cubs announced the firing of Hendry on Friday, even though he had known of his dismissal for nearly a month.
Hendry’s children, Lauren, 15, and John, 13, began school Monday. Hendry didn’t want them to hear the news at school; he wanted to inform them himself.
Why didn’t the Cubs make the announcement last Thursday, when the team had the day off? Because there was one other group that Hendry wanted to personally inform of his departure: The Cubs’ players, who did not gather again until beginning their series against the Cardinals on Friday.
That was Hendry, a class act to the end. If you want to know why he is so beloved within the sport, just consider how hard he worked to help the Cubs sign their draft picks after learning of his dismissal.
Ricketts gave Hendry the news on July 22, a Friday. Approximately 30 hours later, Hendry boarded a plane to Raleigh, N.C., then met Cubs national cross-checker Sam Hughes and drove two hours to Wilmington for his first meeting with the family of right-hander Dillon Maples, the team’s 14th-round pick.
Hendry continued negotiating with the family for the next three weeks, and the Cubs finally lured Maples away from a baseball/football scholarship at North Carolina by signing him for $2.5 million, the largest bonus ever given to a player selected after the third round.
As always, Hendry was the Cubs’ best salesman.
THE WEAVER DEAL: NOT BORAS’ STYLE
It is never a bad idea for a player — especially a starting pitcher — to secure financial security through a contract extension. But right-hander Jered Weaver’s new, five-year, $85 million extension with the Angels is precisely the kind of deal that his agent, Scott Boras, likes to avoid.
Boras prefers his clients to establish their market values in free agency, and often employs a “ladder” approach, using one contract to build on another. The Weaver deal does not meet either of those objectives.
True, Weaver got more than Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander did when they signed their respective extensions before the 2010 season. But at the time, those pitchers were two years away from free agency. Weaver had only one to go.
He arguably is less accomplished than Hernandez and Verlander, but this is his best season yet by many measures, even though his strikeout rate is more in line with his previous levels than last season’s career-best mark.
With another big season in 2012, Weaver easily would have eclipsed $20 million in average salary and perhaps approached $25 million. Instead, he will earn $17 million per season — a healthy number by any measure, just not one that meets Boras’ usual standards.
This is the second time in eight months that a Boras client has signed a lucrative extension — outfielder Carlos Gonzalez agreed to a seven-year, $80 million deal with the Rockies in January.
Weaver, like Gonzalez, clearly wanted to stay with his present club. And given the past reluctance of Angels owner Arte Moreno to engage Boras in free agency, Weaver was wise to make his move now.
ON THE OTHER HAND . . .
Outfielder Jose Tabata’s new five-year, $14.75 million deal with the Pirates is a complete head-scratcher from the player’s perspective.
Tabata, 23, is not exactly an established force — he has only a .740 OPS in 761 career plate appearances. But this deal is a far worse gamble for him than it is for the Pirates.
In Tabata’s three years of arbitration, from 2014 to ’16, he will earn a total of $11.5 million. The Pirates then hold below-market club options of $6.5 million, $7.5 million and $8.5 million on what would have been Tabata’s first three years of free agency.
Tabata clearly wanted immediate security; his deal reportedly includes a $1 million signing bonus. He could have suffered a major injury, damaging his earning power. But he also could have commanded much higher salaries if he had continued to improve and was willing to wait.
“We threw a lot of good ideas out there,” Rollins said. “They had some things they were doing with Spike Lee, getting him on board with some short, mini-movie type things, something like that. Obviously, we haven’t seen any of it. Neither have the MLB fans. In short, nothing has come of it.
“You can promote yourself as a player. You can always do that. But that doesn’t help brand the game. The overall agenda was, ‘How do we brand black players in the game with baseball? It’s not an easy thing to do by any means.
“Young black kids today look to the glamour sports, what appear to be glamour sports. Take your helmet off on the sidelines, clown on the touchdowns. In the NBA, you do a dunk, give the Incredible Hulk to the crowd, things of that nature. Those things hit home. In baseball, if you hit a big home run and do anything other than run around the bases, you’re a clown.”
I asked Rollins if Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard and Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder were the kinds of African-American players that should be the focus of baseball’s efforts.
He had an interesting reply.
“(Justin) Upton is on his way up,” Rollins said. “Football, basketball, they take guys on their way up. They make money off them, promote them before they even make their top dollar.
“Baseball, it’s history and numbers and all that. You’re great once you’re old and out of the game. You’re good when you’re in the game. But everything comes back to, ‘Look at the history, the golden age of baseball.’
“Kids don’t care about that stuff. They weren’t even born. What’s happening now and today? Especially with the way society is, it’s about what’s happening at this very moment. Twitter, Facebook, all that stuff, it’s what’s happening now.”
As I wrote in the initial article, baseball is making significant efforts on each of those fronts, and players such as Granderson and Rollins are not aware of all that the sport is doing.
Case in point: The appearance of electro hip-hop duo LMFAO last week at the MLB Fan Cave. Such a development would have been unthinkable even two years ago.
Braves general manager Frank Wren recalls discussing his club’s need for speed when he interviewed Fredi Gonzalez for the team’s managerial opening.
Evidently, Wren was serious.
The Braves have focused on adding faster players in their past two drafts. Outfielder Jose Costanza was their top target in the minor-league free-agent market last offseason. And center fielder Michael Bourn was the player they wanted most — and landed — at the non-waiver deadline.
“We’re trying to get there,” Wren says. “Those two guys allowed us to get there much quicker.”
Constanza finally is cooling off — he’s in a 3-for-17 slide — but he already has given the Braves more than they expected, displaying game-changing speed and producing a 1.021 OPS in his first 67 plate appearances.
The Braves had strong reports on him from their scouts who saw him in the Dominican Republic in each of the past two winters. Constanza, who turns 28 on Sept. 1, spent his first six professional seasons in the Indians’ organization.
He always hit in the minors, but is not a prototypical defender in center field, lacks the power to profile on a corner and simply ran out of time with the Indians.
TIGERS: LAST TEAM STANDING?
The Tigers opened a 4-1/2 game lead in the AL Central with their weekend sweep of the Indians. That lead soon could grow larger based on attrition alone.
The Indians, already playing without second baseman Jason Kipnis and center fielder Grady Sizemore, also could lose designated hitter Travis Hafner, who will undergo an MRI on Monday for his strained right foot.
White Sox right fielder Carlos Quentin, meanwhile, likely will sit until at least Friday with a sprained left shoulder. That makes three White Sox regulars who are down or out — catcher A.J. Pierzynski is at least a week away from returning from a fractured left wrist and designated hitter Paul Konerko still is unable to play first base due to a bruised left knee.
The Sox could replace Quentin with rookie Dayan Viciedo. The Indians continue to search for a right-handed hitting outfielder, but do not expect that they could acquire a second baseman who is better than Jason Donald.
IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING…
It took a perfect storm of events for the Twins’ Joe Mauer to make his first-ever start in right field on Thursday night.
Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span and Matt Tolbert were out with injuries. Jason Kubel was away due to a family emergency. And Luke Hughes, who had been summoned from the minors, missed his flight to the Twin Cities.
Mauer, Drew Butera, Jim Thome and Justin Morneau all were forced into the lineup. Of that group, Mauer was the most logical candidate to play right field.
Mauer, in the first year of an eight-year, $184 million contract, also has made 11 starts at first base, but don’t look for him to make a permanent change in positions anytime soon.
“He’s a tremendous athlete, and probably can play anywhere,” Twins GM Bill Smith says. “But we still want him to be a catcher. He’s an impact catcher. When he’s going well, he’s as good as any catcher in the game.”
WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED TO ANDRE?
The struggles of right fielder Andre Ethier reinforce the need for the Dodgers to add a major slugger in left field or at one of the corner-infield positions this offseason.
Heaven knows how the Dodgers would afford such a player given their ownership issues, but Ethier and center fielder Matt Kemp are their only true offensive threats.
The pressure might be getting to Ethier, who is so hard on himself, he can enter a tailspin quickly when he is slumping.
Ethier, who had a 30-game hitting streak earlier this season, is batting only .233 since the All-Star break with one home run in 120 at-bats.
BIRTH OF A SUPER UTILITY MAN?
The Dodgers’ injuries and fall from contention have created opportunities for some relatively unheralded young players.
Right-hander Nate Eovaldi produced a 2.12 ERA in his first three starts. Closer Javy Guerra converted 10 of his 11 first chances. And shortstop Justin Sellers, a player who was not even on the team’s 40-man roster, made the most surprising debut of all.
The Dodgers obtained Sellers from the Cubs in April 2009 because they needed a shortstop at Double A. They promoted him to the majors on Aug. 12 because they needed a replacement for rookie shortstop Dee Gordon, who had gone on the DL with a shoulder injury.
Sellers, who grew up in Huntington Beach, Calif., hit a three-run homer against the Astros two days later, endearing himself to fans as a local boy making good. He won’t replace Gordon as the team’s shortstop of the future, but club officials like his enthusiasm, fearlessness and ability to play second, third, short and outfield.
AROUND THE HORN
• As one scout put it, the Diamondbacks “got mowed, flat-mowed” on their trip to Philadelphia and Atlanta, going 1-5 and scoring only nine runs in the six games.
As good as the Giants’ pitching is, the Phillies rank first in the league in ERA and the Braves third. And the Braves’ ridiculous bullpen will only get better — righty Peter Moylan is expected to return from back surgery soon.
• Athletics outfielder David DeJesus has cleared waivers, according to major-league sources, but will teams even view him as an upgrade?
DeJesus has batted .203/.300/.328 since June 3, and wasn’t much hotter before that. He is still owed about $1 million, and is a free agent at the end of the season.
Outfielder Coco Crisp and right-hander Rich Harden were among the Athletics players who were claimed on waivers and pulled back.
• If the Red Sox are unable to land a right-handed hitting outfielder in the waiver process, they might face little choice but to continue playing Josh Reddick against lefties.
Reddick, a left-handed hitter, has fared well against lefties thus far, but the sample is small — he’s 9-for-26 with three walks.
• Twins outfielder Denard Span is back on the DL with migraine symptoms, an issue that had bothered him even before he suffered his recent concussion.
The two conditions are not related, Twins GM Bill Smith says.
“We’ll let him regroup,” Smith says. “We’re looking forward him to coming back and playing the month of September.”