Monday, October 20, 2008

Dancing With The Devil You Know

Two years ago, the Tribune Company was headed for collapse. Eighteen months ago, Sam Zell rode in to save the day with a debt laden bailout of the Trib (a strategy our government seems to love). In order to pay for such a strategy, Zell placed the Trib’s prized asset, the Chicago Cubs, up for sale.

Now, two full baseball seasons later, the Cubs are probably no closer to completing the sale than they were on day 1 of the 2007 season. And, given Zell’s desire to minimize the taxation of the sale, the need for debt to make such a structure workable, and banks skittishness to lend these days, it’s gonna be a while before the sale closes.

But, they remain for sale. And that means that many of the team’s functions have to continue under the existing leadership. One part of the operations were locked in today:

Jim Hendry, architect of the Cubs' back-to-back Central Division champions, isn't going anywhere, at least not soon. Club Chairman Crane Kenney worked around the stalled sale of the franchise to give Hendry a contract extension that runs through 2012, the team announced Monday.

Hendry, who was looking at being a lame-duck general manager if he exercised his one-year option for 2009, is expected to get a significant raise as a reward for helping the Cubs become a consistent contender. He is certain to continue his tireless, and thus far frustrating, efforts to win the franchise's first championship since 1908.

Hendry's situation had seemed uncertain with Tribune Co. seeking new ownership, but Kenney committed the organization to retaining its general manager last week by declining the Seattle Mariners' request to interview Hendry for their GM vacancy.

This page holds no brief for Jim Hendry and continues to believe the Cubs would be better served with a different general manager. But, the Cubs had no choice but to keep him. With all the uncertainty over the team’s future, if Hendry left, the probability of getting a decent candidate for the GM job was nil. They had no choice but to bring him back.

At least he’s now stuck with problems of his own creation to work out. How he puts together a team given Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome’s 8-figure salaries and insufficient contributions will be very interesting. How he handles Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood will also be interesting. And if-and-how he goes after prime free agents given all the backloaded contracts Hendry has handed out, contract's that were going to be the responsibility of a new owner, will be most interesting of all.

You almost wonder why Hendry took the extension.

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