LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Gathered in the long hours hanging around the lobby, talking with baseball types and zoning out at the Disney World resort during baseball's winter meetings this week ...
It was sometime in the early afternoon on Wednesday when the Cubs' Lou Piniella and Jim Hendry walked out of a bank of elevators off the lobby of the aging pair of hotels that served as home for these meetings. Piniella, the team's new manager, looked a little harried. Hendry, one of the friendliest general managers in the game, seemed his usual, gregarious self.
After a short greeting and a handshake with the GM, I was asked by Hendry about the scheduling of a sit-down interview that we had planned. I suggested that if he was too busy -- he really looked like he wanted to get out of there -- we could put it off 'til Thursday morning.
"Let's see," Hendry told me. "Call me tonight."
And then Piniella drove Hendry to a local hospital, where Hendy made a little news.
Of all the signings of all the free agents in the history of baseball, Hendry's agreement with pitcher Ted Lilly has to be one of the strangest. Hendry, who had complained about indigestion-like symptoms earlier in the day, was in a hospital early Wednesday evening undergoing an electrocardiogram when Lilly called him to accept the Cubs' four-year, $40 million contract offer.
Getting Hendry to the hospital was a feat in itself, as Piniella's grim visage suggested. Hendry has been maybe the busiest GM in baseball for the past several weeks, starting with the re-signing of Aramis Ramirez, moving through the slightly smaller signing of infielder Mark DeRosa, spiking with the blockbuster $136 million deal for Alfonso Soriano and, Wednesday, capped by the agreement of Lilly, a highly sought-after lefty who was wrested away from the Yankees and Blue Jays.
Hendry, of course, is under huge pressure in Chicago after the Cubs' miserable 96-loss season in 2006. So he's come out strong this winter, with the backing of the club, and signed just about everyone he has wanted to sign.
After talking with Lilly from the hospital on Wednesday, and later with his agent, Larry O'Brien, Hendry underwent an angioplasty, a surgical procedure designed to open a diseased or otherwise clogged blood vessel. He's expected to be released from the hospital on Friday. I expect him to be back to full throttle in a matter of days.
Still, I'll postpone that sitdown for another day.
The Braves' trade for Seattle's Rafael Soriano on Thursday -- Atlanta gave up lefty starter Horacio Ramirez in return -- marks another step in the rebuilding of the bullpen, the team's major downfall in '06.
The Braves went into '06 without a clear closer and with lots of holes in the bullpen. The short-sightedness caught up with them almost immediately. The team struggled through a terrible summer -- 6-21 in June -- until it finally made a trade for Cleveland closer Bob Wickman in July. The Braves finished the season with a 4.39 bullpen ERA, 11th in the National League.