Firing Hendry would be wrong move

If Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts wants to fire general manager Jim Hendry at the end of the season, that’s his absolute right.

The Ricketts family paid $845 million for the Cubs, Wrigley Field and 25 percent of Comcast Sports Net Chicago in October 2009. Plain and simple, it’s their toy.

Just know this: The Cubs, no matter how this season turns out, are on the right path. The loss of Hendry and his staff would set them back.

As I reported in my “Full Count” video Saturday, the consensus around the game is that the Cubs need to show progress for Hendry to receive an extension.

I get it. If the Cubs produce a second straight losing season — and they currently are 15-18, fourth in the NL Central — it will be difficult to justify keeping Hendry.

But consider the big picture.

Shortstop Starlin Castro, second baseman Darwin Barney and right-hander Andrew Cashner are the vanguard of a wave of young talent that should leave the Cubs positioned to contend for the next several years.

Baseball America listed the Cubs eighth in its preseason organization talent rankings. Hendry subsequently moved three of BA’s top 16 prospects in the Matt Garza trade. But more talent is on the way — talent signed by Hendry’s scouting director, Tim Wilken, and developed by his farm director, Oneri Fleita. If Hendry goes, Wilken and Fleita probably will leave with him.

That alone is not a reason to keep Hendry, but what would be the benefit of dismantling the organization? If Ricketts doesn’t like the way Hendry spends money, then hire a strong club president to impose greater financial discipline, sort of the way Larry Lucchino did with Kevin Towers in San Diego. The Tribune Co., when it wanted to raise the value of the Cubs for a sale, gave Hendry almost the opposite direction.

The Cubs, with nearly $50 million in expiring contracts, are indeed reaching a crossroads – third baseman Aramis Ramirez, outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, first baseman Carlos Pena and left-handed reliever John Grabow all are in the final years of deals. Oh, and a certain Cardinals first baseman, one whom Hendry knows quite well, is eligible for free agency.

Hendry isn’t perfect; no GM is. But let’s not forget, he won three division titles in his first six full seasons after taking over on July 5, 2002. He navigated the club through the team’s lengthy ownership transition. And now the franchise appears on the verge of renaissance, thanks to a farm system that is strong enough for the team to avoid signing free agents such as Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley in the future.

If Ricketts changes GMs, his new guy is going to end up looking pretty smart because of Jim Hendry.

Seems like a pretty good reason to keep Hendry to me.

The new Pedroia . . . Sorta

When I see Astros first baseman Brett Wallace, I think of Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

The two look nothing alike; Wallace is listed at 6-foot-2, 252 pounds, while Pedroia is 5-8, 165.

Both, though, endured criticism from scouts, even ridicule, at the outsets of their careers. And Wallace, 24, seems primed to defy his critics, just as Pedroia did.

Wallace, traded three times in just over 12 months, finally is settling into one organization, and his level of comfort shows. He is fifth in the NL in batting at .339 and eighth with a .402 on-base percentage.

Yes, he has a thick lower half. Yes, he has hit only four home runs in 253 career at-bats. But at a time when numerous clubs are desperate for offense, the man can hit.

“If people want to say different things, say I have a big lower half, don’t hit enough home runs to be a first baseman, whatever it might be, at the end of the day, I believe in myself and I believe I can help us win,” Wallace says.

“It definitely does motivate you. When I was still playing third, I worked as hard as I possibly could to be the best third baseman I possibly could so that I could prove people wrong.

“You can’t get caught up in what people are saying. If I go out there and play hard, I think I’m going to help my team win. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”

And his power?

“People have always wanted to question whether I would hit home runs, drive the ball in the gaps,” Wallace says. “In the minor leagues, I always hit for pretty good power. It’s one of the last things to come.

“I do believe I can hit with power, drive in runs, hit home runs. Right now, the best thing for me to do is hit the ball consistently and let myself grow into that. The more at-bats I get, the more comfortable I get, the better understanding I have of the pitchers I’m facing and the situations I’m in, I think it’ll come from there.”

Time to stop betting against him, don’t you think?

How hard will the Tribe go for it?

The Indians, whose $49.1 million payroll is the fifth-lowest in the majors, should have enough financial flexibility at the trade deadline to add veterans.

The bigger question, perhaps, is whether first-year general manager Chris Antonetti will be willing to part with the necessary prospects.

The Indians, whose farm system was ranked seventh by Baseball America, appear sufficiently deep in talent. But, like most low-revenue clubs, they are rightly protective of their young players. What’s more, they know how easy it is to get burned — they built their club largely through successful veteran-for-prospect trades.

Still, the Indians need not operate out of fear.

Remember when they traded three young pitchers to the Cubs for infielder Mark DeRosa on Dec. 31, 2008? One of those pitchers was righty Chris Archer, who became a top prospect with the Cubs and then went to the Rays as the principal chip in the Matt Garza trade.

And yet, that deal wasn’t close to a disaster.

The Indians flipped DeRosa to the Cardinals on June 27, 2009 for two young pitchers. One of them, right-hander Chris Perez, is now the Indians’ closer.

Trades don’t always work out so well, of course. But if the Indians traded for the right kind of potential free agent, they always could end up with draft picks.

If only Kelly Johnson could get hot . . .

In this, the Year of the Pitcher II, teams with strong offenses are in excellent position to trade for pitching. The Diamondbacks, in particular, seem ideally suited to make such a deal. But the player they are most likely to move, second baseman Kelly Johnson, is batting .175/.256/.317.

Johnson, 29, is a potential free agent earning $5.85 million. The Diamondbacks almost certainly would be open to a deal for a starting pitcher at a comparable salary and service level. They could replace Johnson, a left-handed hitter, with a combination of Ryan Roberts and Willie Bloomquist, both of whom bat right-handed.

Only Johnson isn’t cooperating, even getting benched by manager Kirk Gibson the past two games.

Maybe Johnson will snap out of it and increase his trade value. If not, the Diamondbacks are comfortable with right-handers Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson as stalwarts of their rotation. They’ve got a number of pitching prospects at Double A and could add two more in the June draft — the D-Backs hold the third and seventh overall picks.

Braves’ Wallace: Not a bad backup

Only the Braves could replace a suspended pitching coach, Roger McDowell, with one who is just as good if not better — Dave Wallace, who previously held the job with the Dodgers, Mets, Red Sox and Astros.

Wallace began substituting for McDowell on April 29 and immediately helped closer Craig Kimbrel make adjustments in both his mechanics and approach.

McDowell’s two-week suspension ends Friday. The Braves, after going 13-13 with a 3.07 ERA under McDowell, are 7-3 with a 2.27 ERA under Wallace.

The Brewers offered Wallace their pitching coach’s position last off-season, according to a major league source, but Wallace preferred to stay with the Braves as minor-league pitching coordinator.

Ripken, Gehrig on same field . . . at last

A moment of absolute baseball poetry occurred during the recently concluded President’s Cup in Baltimore, a city-wide tournament featuring the best public and private schools from the city.

In the championship game at Camden Yards, the starting pitcher for Mount Saint Joseph was Gehrig McCracken, named by his parents for the late Yankees Hall of Famer.

The first baseman and No. 3 hitter for Gilman?

None other than Ryan Ripken, the son of the man who broke Gehrig’s consecutive-games record, Cal Ripken Jr.

Ripken went 1 for 3 against Gehrig and scored a run in Gilman’s 2-0 victory.

“I’m not sure if they realized the irony of the moment as they were standing on the field, but it’s certainly a story these young men will tell and re-tell for years to come,” said Baltimore City Council President and tournament organizer Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

Former Oriole Larry Sheets is Gilman’s head coach; Cal is an assistant.

Bowa: Offering a helping hand

At the request of his friend, Nationals bench coach John McLaren, Larry Bowa — a former major league shortstop, coach and manager — is helping Nats shortstop Ian Desmond with his defense.

Desmond has a tendency to wait on grounders and rely too much on his arm. Bowa suggested a drill in which a coach rolls balls slowly to Desmond, forcing him to charge. He also has spoken with Desmond on the phone.

“Guys have such great arms, they lay back on balls — and this guy has a cannon,” says Bowa, who is now an analyst for MLB Network. “He catches ’em flat-footed. He catches ’em deep. He doesn’t understand the mechanics of coming and getting the ball.

“I told him, ‘As athletic as you are, you can’t think you’re going to make every play. If you backhand a ball in the hole and the guy runs less than 4.0 (seconds) to first, eat it. A double-play situation when the ball is not hit hard, just get one.’”

Desmond, 25, led all major league shortstops with 34 errors last season, and his eight errors this season tie him for the lead with the Rangers’ Elvis Andrus and Cardinals’ Ryan Theriot.

“His mentality is that he wants to turn every double play,” Bowa says. “That’s how you get a lot of errors. I’m not saying he’s not thinking. He’s just being too aggressive on every play.

“He’s a good kid. He’s going to be a good shortstop.”

A reliever who gets it

Right-hander Matt Capps, who is 5 for 6 in save chances since replacing Joe Nathan as the Twins’ closer, gave a near-perfect answer when I asked him about the difference between setting up and closing.

“It’s not a comfort thing,” Capps said of closing. “It’s kind of what you thrive on. There is a little more adrenaline, a little more excitement. You kind of get fired up and feed off that.

“Early in the year, a couple of times, I came into games in the seventh inning. I felt pretty good. Sometimes, we have to put ourselves back in reality. We’re pitching in major league baseball games. We have to find a way to get fired up and get prepared no matter when it is.

“It’s tough. I say that. I try to live by that. Getting accustomed to one thing and trying to change it can be a tough thing to do. But the reality is, we’re paid a lot of money to get people out, no matter when it is.”

Capps, 27, will be a free agent at the end of the season.

Around the horn

• Royals first-base phenom Eric Hosmer reflects the team’s draft philosophy under GM Dayton Moore: Don’t take the player who will come the quickest, but the one who can best help the franchise win a championship.

Hosmer, drafted out of Plantation (Fla.) H.S., was the third overall selection in 2008. The Royals passed on two college hitters who indeed reached the majors faster, Florida State’s Buster Posey and South Carolina’s Justin Smoak.

Posey went fifth to the Giants, Smoak 11th to the Rangers. The first two picks in that draft were high-school shortstop Tim Beckham, who went to the Rays, and Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who went to the Pirates.

• Angels right-hander Jered Weaver lost consecutive starts to the Red Sox and Indians after opening the season 6-0, but made a believer of Sox designated hitter David Ortiz.

“He has the best stuff in the game,” Ortiz said. “He threw me a 3-2 changeup on the black. I don’t even think (Roy) Halladay can do that consistently. That’s pitching.”

• Dodgers first baseman James Loney is 7 for 19 during his modest five-game hitting streak, which might be coming just at the right time.

If Loney continues to struggle — and he has only two extra-base hits in 128 at-bats — the Dodgers might simply turn first base over to rookie Jerry Sands and patch left field.

Sands is batting only .214/.286/.321, though the Dodgers are encouraged that he will figure it out. If not, they might send him to Triple A for a breather, the way they did with lefty Clayton Kershaw in 2008.

• The Reds, boosted by the returns of right-handers Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto could activate third baseman Scott Rolen and his backup Juan Francisco on their next homestand, which begins Friday and lasts seven games.

The returns of both players would give the Reds the chance to spell Rolen when necessary, putting him in the best possible position to stay healthy. The Reds could bump infielder Chris Valaika and outfielder Fred Lewis to accommodate Rolen and Francisco.