"Everybody always wants more left-handed hitting. Sometimes getting quality left-handed hitting isn't as easy as putting it up on a board and saying we'll go get this guy or that guy."
That was a quote from former Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry. Hendry made this statement after his 97-win team was swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2008 National League Division Series (NLDS). The Cubs were swept in the NLDS for two consecutive seasons before the three-year downfall that led to Hendry's termination in 2011.
The 2008 Cubs were managed by Lou Piniella. Piniella was concerned about the lack of a consistent left-handed hitter. Jim Edmonds and Kosuke Fukudome were the only left-handed hitters who received regular playing time. As a team, Cubs' left-handed batters had a .233 batting average with three home runs in 266 at-bats against left-handed pitchers.
Hendry tried to rectify this problem when he signed switch-hitter Milton Bradley during the offseason. Bradley had a .257 batting average with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs in 2009. After one season filled with multiple player outbursts, the Cubs traded Bradley to the Seattle Mariners for Carlos Silva and cash considerations.
The following players are a few of the most-notable left-handed hitters during the Jim Hendry era. This list includes switch hitters. These players were either acquired through trade, free agency, or minor-league promotions from 2002 through 2011. Corey Patterson wasn't included because he debuted before Hendry became the general manager. The former third-overall pick from the 1998 MLB draft was with the organization through 2005.
2011: Carlos Pena (Player Card)
2010-Current: Blake DeWitt (Player Card)
2009: Milton Bradley (Player Card)
2008: Jim Edmonds (Player Card)
2008-11: Kosuke Fukudome (Player Card)
2008-09, 2011-Current: Reed Johnson (Player Card)
2007-08: Daryle Ward (Player Card)
2007-08: Felix Pie (Player Card)
2006-07: Jacque Jones (Player Card)
2006: Juan Pierre (Player Card)
2005, 2007-10: Mike Fontenot (Player Card)
2005: Jeromy Burnitz (Player Card)
2004-06: Todd Walker (Player Card)
2004-05: Todd Hollandsworth (Player Card)
2003: Kenny Lofton (Player Card)
Hendry wasn't lying about how difficult it was for him to find a quality left-handed hitter. He never found anything more than stopgap solutions (Burnitz, Pena) or role players (Johnson). The acquisitions of Pierre and Bradley were some of the biggest gaffes in his nine-year stint as the Cubs' general manager.
How ironic that, in a matter of months, Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer might have found a middle-of-the-order left-handed hitter with Anthony Rizzo? The 22-year-old made his Cubs debut when he went 2-for-4 with a RBI double on June 26. Since then, Rizzo has a .354 batting average with four home runs and nine RBIs. Eight of his 17 hits have been extra-base hits.
The other irony is that LaHair may be the Cubs' best hitter against right-handed pitching. The Cubs signed LaHair in 2010. Despite a strong showing at Triple-A Iowa in 2010, Hendry elected to sign Pena for 2011. LaHair never had a chance to prove himself until Hendry was dismissed. LaHair has capitalized on the opportunity as he was chosen for the 2012 National League All-Star team.
David DeJesus probably won't be more than a stopgap player for a couple of seasons. However, DeJesus has been effective with his .377 on-base percentage (OBP) and .770 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) as a leadoff hitter. Those numbers plummet to a .304 OBP and .601 OPS as the No. 3 hitter. Furthermore, DeJesus is a fine defensive outfielder with enough versatility to play any of the three positions.
The Cubs aren't heading into the All-Star Break with the prettiest record (33-52). However, this new regime has shown signs over the past two weeks that they might know what they're doing.
At the least, they're striking out much less than Hendry's regime did in their final few seasons.
Joshua Huffman grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula as a Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs enthusiast. He immediately gained an admiration for Cubs fans after watching numerous games on WGN during the mid-90s. His favorite Cubs moment was Kerry Wood's(notes) 1-hitter, 20K extravaganza that was only denied of a no-hitter by Kevin Orie's defensive blunder. As a Packers and Cubs fan, he suffered through Steve Bartman and "4th & 26" in a span of three months. He can be found on Twitter HERE.
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