Nov. 25, 2003: the Cubs trade minor leaguer Mike Nannini and Hee-Seop Choi to the Marlins for Derrek Lee.
For all the heat Jim Hendry received during his tenure as Cubs GM, this was one of his better deals.
Lee, then 28, had just wrapped up his first Gold Glove and a World Championship with Florida. He was in the prime of his career, his best seasons were still ahead and he would soon become the clubhouse leader in Chicago.
Meanwhile, Nannini never reached the majors and Choi finished his underwhelming career with the Dodgers two-years later.
Lee of course went on to have the best season of his career in 2005. He played 158-games, won the NL Batting Title (.335), Silver Slugger Award (46 HR, 107 RBI), his second Gold Glove and finished third in the MVP race (5.7 WAR).
It’s hard to know what happens in Lee’s career had he not broke his wrist in April of 2006 after colliding with Rafael Furcal near first base in Los Angeles. He returned from the injury two months later, but clearly wasn’t the same hitter as before the collision.
Lee’s recovering wrist appeared to cripple his power during the next two seasons, including the playoffs, before his return to form in 2009: .972 OPS, 35 HR, 111 RBI. Now 34, however, it proved the last glimpse of Lee as the power-hitting threat from four-years earlier.
Lee’s numbers offensively didn’t live up to his 5-year, $65 million contract in 2006 (in fact, the ink had yet to dry when the wrist injury occurred) but his value on defense and outstanding leadership arguably made him the face of the franchise until Starlin Castro‘s arrival in May of 2010.
Three months later Lee was traded to the Braves for three minor leaguers, none of which have yet to reach the big leagues. Lee’s seven years spent on the North Side were over and soon so was his major league career.
Nevertheless, Lee’s arrival in Chicago ultimately proved a landslide trade-win for Hendry and the Cubs.
Two things crossed my mind while watching former-Cub Angel Pagan this postseason.
1. How many titanium necklaces does one need around the neck to feel comfortable playing a baseball game?
2. It’s a shame the Cubs ever parted ways with Pagan.
Let’s begin with No.2. To jog the memory, Pagan spent his first two major league seasons with the Cubs in 2006-07 as a fourth outfielder.
But a succession of nagging injuries greatly limited his playing time and ultimately lead Jim Hendry to trade the then 25-year to the Mets for two minor leaguers you’ve never heard of and who never reached the majors.
It’s still a wonder why Hendry didn’t hold on to the switch-hitter a little longer, especially considering the return in the trade was so negligible and Pagan was still a young man showing encouraging potential when healthy.
Instead Hendry put his chips down on outfielders Buck Coats, Matt Murton, Felix Pie and Sam Fold–each experiencing limited success with the Cubs, but none panning out as well as Pagan has.
By Angel’s second season with the Mets he posted the top WAR on the team (3.8) despite playing in only 88-games…partly limited by injuries and partly blocked by an outfield of Gary Sheffield, Carlos Beltran and Jeff Fancoeur.
In his third season, however, Pagan managed to play in 151-games and again had the highest WAR of any Mets player (5.1).
His offensive numbers didn’t jump off the page in either season, but he was proving to be an above average, all-around outfielder with plus-defense and the ability to steal bases, swiping 55-bags total in his first three season in New York.
His fourth and final season with the Mets was marked with more physical ailments, specifically a pesky oblique injury in early April, which limited Pagan’s season to 123-games, and saw a significant decline in his offensive production.
That likely led to New York’s decision to part way with Pagan in the offseason dealing him to San Francisco for reliever Ramon Ramirez and center fielder Andres Torres.
Pagan, now 30, responded with the best season of his career playing in a career-high 154-games, leading the majors with 15-triples, posting a solid 121 OPS+ and playing a sparkling center field on his way to winning a World Series ring.
All said, there’s no reason to believe Pagan wouldn’t have been just as good throughout his career with the Cubs had Hendry held onto him.
Meanwhile, from 2008 to present the Cubs have gone through outfielders: Buck Coats, Matt Murton, Felix Pie, Sam Fold, Jacque Jones, Cliff Floyd, Craig Monroe, Eric Patterson, Kosuke Fukudome, Milton Bradley, Jake Fox, Jim Edmonds, Reed Johnson, Bobby Scales, Ryan Freel, Joey Gathright, Tyler Colvin, So Taguchi, Marlon Byrd, Xavier Nady, Brad Snyder, Luis Montanez and Joe Mather.
Did I miss anybody?
What stands out is there’s not a single outfielder on that list who was significantly better while with the Cubs than Pagan has been during his career.
So it seems safe to say this was one (of many) deals Hendry would’ve liked to have had back, even if Pagan is, in fact, injury prone.
Better still, Pagan is also better than the centerfield options the Cubs presently have on its roster. I know there’s high hope for Brett Jackson, but it’s a near lock he won’t be on the 25-man roster come Opening Day 2013.
What’s next for Pagan? He’s a 31-year-old free agent primed to cash-in with a multi-year deal this winter.
It’s unclear if any team will risk Angel’s long history of injuries to pay him top-dollar over multiple seasons. I happen to like his chance of returning to the Giants…say in the 2-3 year range.
As for those unsightly titanium necklaces, Pagan seems to prefer wearing two necklaces when playing.
I figure you could get 13 or 14 around his neck comfortably and let’s say 19 if you really forced the issue.
But when you’ve helped your team to a World Series title with leadoff home runs and sensational defense, not to mention winning free tacos for all of America, you get a free pass to wear as many necklaces as you wish.
The only thing I’d change is that Pagan was wearing his titanium rings with the Cubs.
*Look who steals third in the video below…
I’ve offered to host a hot-debate between two @BullpenBrian Twitter followers.
The matter at hand is whether or not Jim Hendry should have traded 5-prospects for Matt Garza on January 8, 2011. (Hak-Ju Lee, Chris Archer, Robinson Chirinos, Sam Fuld & Brandon Guyer).
Below is a summary of each case. Please vote to determine the winner. May the best case win.
Court’s now in session:
The addition of RHP Andy Sonnanstine shows us Theo Epstein has a complete lack of faith in the Cubs current pitching prospects or an unbelievable amount of faith in new Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio.
Outside a decent (13-9) season in 2008 for Sonnanstine, the 28-year-old Ohio native has struggled through most of his five year career with Tampa Bay, of which Epstein witnessed first hand in Boston.
Now he’s the latest project of Epstein’s methodical approach to piecing together the Cubs pitching staff with lower-risk offseason moves through trades and free agency.
As the Cubs discovered last year, you can never have enough pitching depth, which immediately hampered the team when both Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner suffered lengthy arm injuries during the season’s first week.
Below is MLBTR’s list of the top 20 GM candidates in MLB. Other names that popped up over the weekend include Josh Byrnes, Andrew Friedman and Boston’s Theo Epstein.
Jerry DiPoto, Senior VP, Scouting & Player Development, Diamondbacks
Rick Hahn, VP, AGM, White Sox
Thad Levine, AGM, Rangers
Ben Cherington, Senior VP, AGM, Red Sox
David Forst, AGM, Athletics
Tony LaCava, VP Baseball Operations and AGM, Blue Jays
Mike Chernoff, AGM, Indians
Bryan Minniti, AGM, Nationals
A.J. Preller, Senior Director, Player Personnel, Rangers
Kim Ng, MLB
DeJon Watson, AGM, Player Development, Dodgers
Al Avila, VP, AGM, Tigers
Damon Oppenheimer, Scouting Director, Yankees
Mike Radcliff, Vice President of Player Personnel, Twins
Bill Geivett, Sr. VP Scouting & Player Development, AGM, Rockies
John Ricco, VP, AGM, Mets
Jeff Kingston, AGM, Mariners
Logan White, AGM, Amateur & International Scouting, Dodgers
Peter Woodfork, MLB
Matt Klentak, Director of Baseball Operations, Orioles
Honorable mentions in alphabetical order: Matt Arnold, Director, Pro Scouting (Rays), Jeff Bridich, Senior Director of Baseball Operations (Rockies), John Coppolella, Director of Baseball Administration (Braves), Dan Jennings, VP Player Personnel & AGM (Marlins), Jason McLeod, VP, AGM (Padres), J.J. Picollo, AGM, Scouting & Player Development (Royals), Shiraz Rehman, Director of Player Personnel (Diamondbacks) and Josh Stein, Director of Baseball Operations (Padres).
Got to be honest. I had my doubts Tom Ricketts had it in him to fire Jim Hendry.
But it’s the bold move I talked about yesterday, sending the message all Cubs fans want to hear–losing is no longer acceptable.
Ricketts has done well spreading the good cheer, which is commendable for any owner, but losing can never be overlooked.
Firing Hendry let’s us know the ownership is listening, they’re committed, they’re keeping their word about bringing winning baseball, in particular a World Championship, back to Chicago.
Handing out coffee, meeting with fans and offering encouraging words for his players is all a nice gesture, but it doesn’t win games.
If the Ricketts family wants to be loved, the way Yankees fans loved George, winning comes first above all else.
In this case that means starting over with a new GM, and likely, a new manager.
Hendry and Mike Quade are two of baseball’s good guys. I’m certain both will land on their feet with another big league organization.
The direction of the Cubs under Hendry is of much debate. But I suspect Jim will not be viewed in the same light years from now that he is today.
It wasn’t always this bad on the North Side, and Hendry deserves some credit. But with Cubs fans frustrated to no end, in part by some of Hendry’s questionable moves, he’s being run out of town on a rail.
Quade might still be a good big league manager. Chicago, however, hasn’t been a good fit for him. The mish-mash of overpaid veterans and budding youngsters has been an unsolvable puzzle for Quade all year.
Building a winning team takes time, a good plan and patience. Quade didn’t have the privilege of any of those things–only the support of his boss Hendry, who of course, is no longer his boss.
This moment, however, is not one of celebration. In fact, it’s a reminder just how far the Cubs are from any celebration at all.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, starting with the hiring of a new GM, and soon to be, his new manager. The offseason will be the Cubs most important one in years, setting the foundation for what we hope to be a championship caliber team–sooner rather than later.
If winning starts at the top down, it’s a relief knowing the Cubs finally have an ownership that gives a damn. For that we can all agree on.
Can’t say I remember the last time the Cubs placed a player on the DL, as in ‘Disqualified List’…not the disabled list.
Apparently it’s the same list our favorite former hot-head, Milton Bradley, landed on in 2009 with Chicago…but it seems I only remember that as a being labeled a suspension. Nevertheless…
As Paul Sullivan of the Tribune put it “In a virtual reenactment of the end of Milton Bradley’s Cubs career, the players had few positive things to say about what might have been Zambrano’s last act with the team.”
According to the MLB Rule book: Disqualified list includes those who play with or against a club which during the current season has had a connection with an ineligible player or person; and the Ineligible list collects those involved with attempts to throw games, bribe players or umpires, or bet on games, and those convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude.
Moral turpitude seems to sum up Zambrano nicely. He’s obviously well deserving of the list and left Jim Hendry no other immediate choice but to release him.
The 30-days suspension without pay is meaningless for Zambrano. But it does give the Cubs some time to think through its next move for the troubled pitcher.
Releasing Carlos is still a viable option, of course, but maybe Zambrano does decide to retire letting the Cubs off the hook for the rest of his super-sized contract, which is easily worth waiting 30 days for.
It’s also possible another team could be interested in acquiring Z. The Mariners, after all, traded for Milton Bradley. And if Z clears waivers, there’s a chance Hendry could move him in September, although Z wouldn’t be playoff eligible for any contenders.
Whatever the case may be, Carlos returning to the Cubs, this season or beyond, should not be considered. How could it be?
I can’t even imagine a scenario where Zambrano pitches another game for the Chicago Cubs.
Heaven help us if he does.
Chris Jaffe of the Hardball Times talks about Zambrano and The ALL Time HR List For Pitchers.
For now, here are the top ten all-time at hitting homers while pitching:
37 Wes Ferrell
35 Bob Lemon
35 Warren Spahn
34 Red Ruffing
33 Earl Wilson
29 Don Drysdale
24 Bob Gibson
24 John Clarkson
23 Walter Johnson
23 Carlos Zambrano
My goodness…where to begin?
Just when I thought Mike Quade was saving his job with a (14-12) record since the All Star break, the wheels came off yet again.
The Cubs may not lose 100-games this season, but they’ll come close. Trouble is, there’s a larger problem at stake for Mike Quade.
It seems popular belief that Jim Hendry was an idiot for signing Alfonso Soriano to a mega-deal in 2007.
I never quite looked at it that way. Rather, I though Hendry was simply willing to take a major gamble on a player, who at the time, was very capable of helping the Cubs win a World Series.
Back to back division championships showed us Hendry wasn’t too far off base, but in typical Cubs fashion, they choked both postseason opportunities away.
For argument sake, had the Cubs won, or at least reached the World Series, Hendry would have been absolved from some, if not all of his sins, including Soriano.
But that gamble, of course, never panned out…leaving the Cubs’ GM stuck with an overpaid LF who’s better fit as a DH than an everyday outfielder.
If that makes Hendry an idiot, so be it. His risk, his responsibility. And if Hendry is fired following the season, the Soriano deal is what he’ll most likely be remembered for.
That said, I had a gut feeling Hendry would find a taker for Soriano at the trade deadline, especially following the Cubs’ decision to eat most of Fukudome’s contract.
Moving Sori would have certainly been viewed as a desperation move, but what’s to be expected from a team bumbling through the season and a GM whose job is on the line?
What the Cubs need is fresh talent, a new start, and a more flexible payroll…not an aging, injury plagued, poor fielding outfielder who’s better served as an ideal short-risk gamble at DH for an AL contender.
Eating Soriano’s contract to move him seemed very logical, but instead is a missed opportunity on Hendry’s part.
Soriano finishing the season with Chicago is yet another reminder of Hendry’s failure to turn the Cubs back into a consistent winner.
Hendry gambled early with Soriano and lost. He’s also had two years to right the ship with Soriano, but to no avail. Now he’s stuck with him, all $51M of him.
So is there any question the Cubs should take another gamble on Hendry?