Cubs Nation erupts in joy at the news of Jim Hendry’s firing.

Cubs fans came out in numbers not seen since Opening Day of 1978 to celebrate the firing of controversial GM, Jim Hendry this weekend. With a new sense of hope, 84, 717 revelers—42,343 on Friday and 42,374 (including myself) on Saturday—crammed into Wrigley Field to bask in the glow of the post-Hendry era like it was the falling of the Berlin Wall.  Oh yeah, and the Cubs beat the Cardinals in 5-4 and 3-0 respectively.  Screw the Cardinals!

With a tearful goodbye, Hendry announced he had finally (and mercifully) been dismissed. After compiling a 212-235 record over the last three seasons and saddling the organzation with horrendous backloaded contracts that will hang over the new GM’s head for years to come, it was clear big time changes needed to be made.

It was nice to see Cubs’ owner, Tom Ricketts, finally grow a pair and make a tough decision about the future of the ball club.  He made it clear that the new GM would come from outside the organization—an encouraging sign that he finally recognizes that change cannot come from within such a diseased and decrepit culture of failure.

Another promising sign that Ricketts actually “gets it” are the specific criteria he laid out that his new GM will have to embody: an emphasis in player development, a strong statistical base and experience in a winning culture. Clearly, this is a departure from the Hendry era as all three are qualities he lacked.

So who will that new GM be?

Speculation immediately turned due south to the White Sox current assistant GM, Rick Hann. Hann certainly fulfills most of Ricketts’ criteria and has the full endorsement of his current boss, Kenny Williams:

Rick Hahn is, to me, one of the most qualified men to assume the position moving forward. What Mr. Ricketts does (with the Cubs) is his own business. He’s a guy who has had a lot of success in business and in his world, and his world over there is none of my business. But if he called for a recommendation on Rick Hahn, I absolutely would give him my highest.”

High praise indeed, but Kenny sounds almost desperately eager to be rid of his protegé, nervously looking over his shoulder at his obvious heir apparent on the South Side like a Roman emperor fearing he’s about to be assassinated by his son for the throne.

With the Sox floundering below .500 again and on the hook with Hendry-esque, long-term bad contracts for disappointments Alex Rios, Jake Peavy and Adam Dunn, it’s not inconceivable that Williams’ job is on the line if things don’t turn around this year.  If that’s the case, why would the Sox let their coveted GM-to-be go to their hated rival on the North Side?  I think cagey Sox owner, Jerry Reinsdorf will dangle the Sox GM spot and pay whatever it takes to hold onto Hann and keep him out of the Cubs’ front office.

Baseball’s venerable Dalai Lama, Pat Gillick, is another common name being thrown into the ring for the Cubs’ GM post.  But while his resumé is second to none (three Word Series championships including the 2008 Phillies), the prospect of hiring a man who turns 74 tomorrow for a difficult job with a losing organization that will optimisically take at least three years to turn around seems absurd to me.  Don’t bet on it.

The name that stands out to me as the most plausible and ideal candidate for the Cubs’ GM job is current Tampa Bay Rays Executive Vice President and GM, Andrew Friedman.  The 34-year-old prodigy has already lead the Rays to two AL East championships and a World Series berth despite being handcuffed by a payroll limited to a tiny fraction of those of their division rivals and dueling Colossuses, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.

Friedman must be growing weary of trying to put a winning product on a dilapidated and empty Tropicana Field while fighting a perpetual uphill and unfair battle in the AL East. I think the tantalizing prospect of being able to operate with relatively few monetary restraints in a much weaker division in a market that actually appreciates baseball will be more than enough for Friedman to jump ship to come to Chicago.  The opportunity to become a baseball immortal by guiding the worst franchise in American sports history to it’s first World Championship in over a century will simply be icing on the cake.