The verdict is in.
We, the people (a.k.a. Me) find manager Lou Piniella and GM Jim Hendry to be responsible for all shortcomings for the two-time defending National League Central Division champion Chicago Cubs.
If this was Law & Order, the show would end with Hendry and Piniella holding their heads in their hands and Jerry Orbach (R.I.P.) saying that the Cubs are in a better place right now.
And fade to black.
The Case Against Hendry
With a payroll hovering around the $130 million mark, Hendry has fielded a team with little depth, a shaky bullpen and without an everyday second baseman. And yet, the man is still employed by the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs downgraded at several positions this offseason, which is part of the reason the team struggled early before fighting its way back into the race. And while most of the venom spewed by Cubs fans is directed toward Milton Bradley in lieu of the Mark DeRosa trade, it should have been steered toward Aaron Miles (.195/.236/.263 ), Mike Fontenot (.231/.300/.390 ) and Hendry -- who engineered the trade.
Again, I have no problem with the trade. I do have a problem with Hendry not properly replacing the production (.825 OPS as a second baseman in 2008) left behind.
Despite DeRosa's 21 home runs and 63 runs batted in, his batting average, on-base percentage and OPS have taken a major hit since leaving the ivy covered walls of Wrigley Field. Joining St. Louis hasn't helped DeRo's cause as he is hitting .229 with a .291 OBP and a .786 OPS. Not exactly setting the world on fire since putting on Cardinal red.
Hendry also allowed the team to open camp without a proven lefty reliever. If not for the emergence of Sean Marshall and the recent acquisition of John Grabow, the Cubs would have a grand total of zero lefty specialists. And other than Randy Wells, the Cubs' inability to develop home grown talent is evident once again.
Things such as throwing money hoping to cure problem areas and calling up players from the team's AAAA Pittsburgh club is what Hendry has excelled at. But this franchise's struggle at the minor league level is beyond puzzling.
The Case Against Lou Piniella
It seems to me that Sweet Uncle Lou is toeing the same line that Dusty Baker walked in his tenure in Chicago. Just like Dusty, he "changed the culture" that had surrounded the ballclub. Under Piniella's watch, the Cubs have done everything from manning up to the shortcomings to drawing walks -- all in the name of winning a pair of division titles.
However, things have changed this year. And while it is easy (and relevant) to point out that Hendry handed Piniella a craptastic bullpen, it didn't mean Piniella had to abuse and misuse it. Not having Grabow ready, then bringing him in when it was too little, too late, was the tip of the iceberg.
Piniella has leaned too much on Carlos Marmol, who despite 64 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings, has found a way to lead the league in hit batsmen. He has also had to lean a lot on Kevin Gregg, who has allowed 11 home runs, the most by any NL reliever. The combo that was supposed to be the rock at the back end of the bullpen, has gone soft.
It only took the Cubs until July to figure out that putting guys with high OBPs in front of the middle of the line-up thumpers would lead to a more efficient offense. It's like Piniella went to baseball-reference.com, lined up the players from highest OBP down and then wrote a line up card.
And despite all this crap, the Cubs are still only three games out of first place with about a month and a half of baseball remaining, which features 37 (!) games against teams under .500.