Cubs General Manager on Baseball 365 with Bruce Levine
With 18 days until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, Jim Hendry was on ESPN 1000 on Saturday Morning. Hendry spent an hour with Bruce Levine and even took phone calls. For the past week or so, the Cubs front office has been quiet, except for the signing of Wade Miller and the acquisition of Angel Pagan, so it was good to hear him on the radio….especially during Sox Fest.
Hendry and Levine talked about a variety of topics from the recent signing of Mark Prior, to the health of the team, Juan Pierre, Jacque Jones, Aramis Ramirez and playing time for Matt Murton and Ronny Cedeno. The hour started out with the talk of Mark Prior and the rest of the Arbitration eligible players on the Cubs. Hendry mentioned “you have to do the best when it comes to Arbitration” and reminded Levine the Cubs have not gone to Arbitration and they always try to give the players what they are worth.
Levine and Hendry talked about the off-season moves the Cubs have made and Hendry said the fans are always looking for the team to make a ‘splash’. The Cubs had holes to fill in the off-season and Hendry feels like they addressed them. The Cubs lost a lot of games in 2005 in the 7th and 8th innings and the addition of Bobby Howry and Scott Eyre to go along with Scott Williamson should improve that area. Ryan Dempster did a good job last season saving 35 out of 37 and Hendry feels he can do that again this season. Hendry takes responsibility for the Cubs not having a lead off hitter for the past two seasons and feels like they have addressed that problem this off-season with Juan Pierre. Hendry feels there is only a hand full of good lead off hitters in the game and now the Cubs have one of them.
The starting rotation was also addressed and Hendry stated the Cubs will go to Spring Training with eight starting pitchers. Angel Guzman and Rich Hill need a little more time and may figure in as the season goes along. At the end of the 2003 season, the Cubs were the envy of Major League Baseball and now they have to prove themselves with all of the injury problems the pitching staff has had over the past two seasons. Hendry stated Mark Prior is completely healthy and will be ready to go when Spring Training starts. Major League Baseball is all about pitching and the Cubs have good starting pitching with Zambrano, Maddux, Prior, Rusch and Williams and hopefully Wade Miller will be able to help this season. Levine brought up the fact the Cubs will not need a 5th starter until April 15th. Hendry stated Glendon Rusch has done a good job the last two seasons and he will have a chance to make the starting rotation. Rusch matches up well against the Reds and Cardinals. The Cubs had a winning record against the Astros and Cardinals in 2005, but a loosing record against the Brewers and Reds and they must improve on that in order to have a successful season in 2006. Levine and Hendry talked about the improvement this off-season of the Pirates and both agreed that the National League Central will be very competitive this season.
Greg Maddux hired a trainer this off-season for the first time in his 20-year career. Maddux feels like he has one more shot at a winner. Hendry reminded everyone how smart Maddux is and everyone in the clubhouse has something to learn from him. Hendry is glad Maddux came back to Chicago and is glad he has had the opportunity to get to know him. Levine reminded Hendry of a troublesome stat, the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation have led the Cubs in innings pitched for the last two seasons. Hendry’s response was that injuries are a part of the game and the club cannot use that as an excuse to not win ballgames. The Cubs have to improve on that stat in order to be successful this season.
A caller asked about Matt Murton’s playing time and I liked Hendry’s response. Matt Murton and Ronny Cedeno will go to camp as starters for the Cubs. The Cubs like Murton and Cedeno and Hendry reminded Levine about Cedeno being named Rookie of the Year in Winter Ball. Hendry said it was a unanimous decision. The Cubs will have a new outfield with Juan Pierre, Jacque Jones and Matt Murton. Hendry said that Matt Murton will surprise a lot of people. Murton is more athletic than people give him credit for and will continue to hit for average and increase his power numbers. The Cubs led the National League in hits in 2005 with over 1500, but ranked last in walks and near the end of the league in OBP. The Cubs were 9th in runs scored but 1st in hitting and had a terrible time knocking in runs. Hendry looks for the Cubs to score a lot more runs in 2006 and will be doing a lot more hit and runs, stealing bases or whatever it takes to be more productive. Ronny Cedeno and Matt Murton could be a 2-hole hitter for the Cubs in 2006 and they will not push them to do so. Hendry feels the Cubs have good candidates to fill the need in the 2-hole.
A caller asked about Jacque Jones and Hendry said he feels like Jones will be better than in 2005. Jones is better defensively than people give him credit for and will be a good fit for the Cubs. Levine and Hendry talked about Felix Pie. Pie had an unfortunate hairline fracture in June of last year and if was not for the injury the Cubs would have called him up with Matt Murton. Pie did not recover as quickly as they expected and because of that he got off to a slow start in Winter Ball. Hendry stated that Pie needs to have a good camp.
Hendry thought he was going to be a broadcaster and out of necessity he became a coach at Columbus High and fell in love with coaching. Hendry stated he does not feel pressure because of the Sox winning the World Series, he feels pressure because the Cubs only won 79 games last year. The Cubs must improve. The bar was raised after the 2003 season; and the 2004 and 2005 seasons were very disappointing. Hendry stated that no one is ‘untouchable’ when it comes to improving the Cubs after a caller asked about Pie. Hendry is scheduled to leave for Mesa on February 12th and will meet with Dusty and the coaching staff on February 14th and 15th, then it is to the field.
A caller brought up team chemistry and great players does not equal championships. It is important to have a good clubhouse. Chemistry and winning go hand in hand. The Cubs always look for chemistry guys and winners, but when things start going wrong you find out the true make-up of a guy and that is when finger pointing can start.
Another caller brought up the health of Aramis Ramirez and they all agreed he is a big key to the team’s success. Hitting has always come naturally to Aramis but he has to work on staying healthy. Mark O’Neal and Tim Buss have gone to the Dominican Republic and they are excited about how he has looked this off-season. The players have to do what they have to do to avoid injuries.
Levine ended the hour asking Hendry if he thinks the Cubs are ready to compete with Houston and St. Louis. Hendry stated the Cubs have to find a way to start better. The Cardinals have gotten off to a good start the past two seasons and the Cardinals have been way ahead from the rest of the division by the middle of May. Hendry thinks the Cubs are better defensively and athletically then they were last year and reminded everyone that he is not afraid to add to the Cubs now, during Spring Training or during the season if he feels like it is a move that would benefit the Cubs.
It was a very informative hour and I am starting the countdown to Mesa….
Various Cubs have been on the radio over the past two weeks and the CCO will run recaps on those interviews in the coming days.