When talking about how Jim Hendry is a bad GM, most fans scream "Look at all these NTCs!" or lament how Soriano and Fukudome are wastes of cash, Zambrano isn't worth his contract, and how he backloads seemingly every deal. With the possible exception of the backloading problem, these are NOT the reasons that Hendry is bad GM. Here's what is usually attributed to Hendry as bad moves that aren't necessarily bad moves in a vacuum:
Soriano - Signing him to play CF was simply a moronic idea, and in no way was he ever going to be worth $18+ annually for more than MAYBE a year or two over the course of the contract. However, signing Soriano was a turning point in the history of the franchise. That signing signaled to the baseball world that the Cubs were finally going to being flexing their financial muscle. This contract would make the Cubs a much more appealing destination for free agents. The dollars and years are too much, but you could successfully argue that this contract made future signings possible.
Fukudome - Kosuke is certainly not the player that everyone in the organization was hoping he'd be. He deinitely has value, but that does not equate to $12+ annually for this guy. However if people recall, Hendry's bid wasn't even the highest available to Kosuke. Perhaps Hendry should've been more cautious in signing an uncertain commodity, but there's little doubt that the general consensus amongst baseball scouts was that Fukudome would be a success in MLB. It's somewhat difficult to fault Hendry for this contract given that he got him for cheaper than other GMs offered, and he (Fukudome) had votes of confidence from those around him.
Zambrano - This one is a bit less defensible. But Hendry was given a mission to turn the team into instant contenders so the Tribune could sell, and it would be difficult to contend without a good rotation. I agree that Zambrano isn't the caliber of pitcher that warrants his contract, and the NTC really hurts here, but too a small extent Hendry's hands were tied on this deal.
Lee's NTC - Remember when Lee was good? After 2005 people were scared that he was going to leave and get tons of cash elsewhere. This is actually a fine move by Hendry, but the timing just seems to stink. Had he waited until the offseason to try to sign Derrek the team might be in a much different position than it is now. But Hendry did get a fine deal on the player he thought he was signing, and the NTC was part of that deal. You could argue that Hendry put too much stock into Lee's first (and at that time ONLY) monster year, which he probably did, but the general feeling around baseball was that Lee turned a corner and became elite.
I understand any confusion at this point, since the title of this post is: "Why Jim Hendry is a bad GM" and I've basically been arguing on his behalf. I have no doubt that Hendry is, in fact, a bad GM, but the above moves aren't really indictment of his skills, or lack thereof.
In every business, there are things you simply don't do. As a chef, you don't serve spoiled food. As a Doctor, you don't misdiagnose. If you're an airline, you don't crash. As a GM, Jim Hendry has simply demonstrated that he just doesn't understand the things you don't do as a GM. Everyone, including a GM, is entitled to make mistakes, it'd be foolish to think that every move works out in your favor. But there's a big difference between a good investment not working out, and a bad investment not working out.
The only real palatable mistake that Hendry has made was Nomar. Unless there were reports about Nomar's health that Hendry ignored, that deal was an absolute no-brainer win for the Cubs. They landed a great player at a premium position, and didn't really give up much to acquire him. Now we all know what happened with Nomar, but you can't really fault Hendry for that. THIS is the kind of bad move that is acceptable from a good GM. Every source of information indicated that this was a good move for the Cubs, but in the end it just didn't work out. Hendry made a wise investment and it missed, there's nothing wrong with that.
But the fact that Hendry has consistently made downright awful investments is completely unacceptable. Here's a list of the moves that Hendry has made that an intelligent baseball person, and in some cases just an intelligent person, should never do:
Jason Marquis - I was fine with acquiring Marquis, he was an innings eater how could also hit and make the bench a little deeper; nothing wrong with that. But nobody was lining up for his services after the 2006 season, nobody. So to offer him a 3 year $21 million deal coming off a season where he had a 6+ ERA and was left off the World Series roster is nothing short of moronic. This guy could've been had for a song. Even a 3 year $15 million deal would have been fine. Or how bout a nice incentive laden deal? Hendry shot himself and his team in the foot. Not because he signed Marquis, but because he squandered an opportunity to net his team some value by possibly under spending on an asset. This was as simple as it gets and Hendry blew it.
Juan Pierre - I'd be lying if I said I knew exactly how valuable Pinto, Nolasco and Mitre were that offseason, but I know that they were a highly regarded trio of pitching prospects. If even one of those players becomes something of decent value, because they'd be cost controlled for several years, they would be worth far more to the organization than one year of Juan Pierre. That's not to say that Pierre was a useless player, but Hendry cost his team more than he received. Frankly Juan Pierre is pretty bad, but I recognize that he still had a respectable perceived value. That doesn't excuse Hendry making a move that everybody could see was a horrible one before Pierre ever arrived in Chicago.
John Grabow - It's difficult to summon the words to express how dumb this signing was. Nothing from Grabow's past indicated that he was anything better than league average, and in fact he was sometimes worse. I believe he was described as "a lefthanded Aaron Heilman". To give this guy 2 years $7.5 million is mind boggling. He's worth MAX (and I'm being generous) $2.5 million a year. He's a veteran, and he's left handed, otherwise he's worth $.5 million a year. Maybe Grabow signs elsewhere if Hendry doesn't offer that contract. That'd be good for the Cubs if one of their competitors inked this deal. Don't get me wrong, I thought the Cubs should keep Grabow considering the state of the bullpen, but that contract is indefensible; and it was apparent to just about everyone at the time that it was a waste of money.
Aaron Miles - The only thing that Aaron Miles offers to a team is the ability to be below average at multiple positions, and from both sides of the plate. How that equates to a 2 year $4.9 million dollar deal is beyond me, and should be beyond anybody. Aaron Miles is a fine 25th guy to have on a roster, but he doesn't really have a place on a team with a large enough payroll to afford someone better than him (which isn't hard). This is a move that just defies logic and hurts if you think about it too much. Everybody should be able to identify this as a bad investment, even before he ever wore a Cubs uniform.
Milton Bradley - This is one that I don't overall hate. Hendry finally invested in a player that got on base and played good defense. The problem that I have with it is that Hendry was either ignorant to Bradley's issues, or was arrogant enough to think he could be the GM to solve Bradley. Whichever of those two Hendry is guilty of indicates that he has no business being in a position to make those decisions. Furthermore, the incentive for the 3rd year of that deal to kick in was insulting. It should have been 100 games started, not 75 games appeared in. That clause might as well not even have been in the contract if all he had to do was pinch hit 75 times.
Mark DeRosa (the trade) - I understand that this is, and was, controversial. I also placed this trade after the Miles and Bradley signings on purpose. I believe that this marks one of the dumbest trio of moves I've ever seen in terms of strategy. Moving DeRosa was a fine idea, and actually something that Hendry never seems to do: trading a player while they have value. I disagreed, wholeheartedly, with handing 2B over to Fontenot, but trading DeRosa was a good idea at the time. But trading that valuable of a commodity for 3 minor leaguers, only one of which has any real upside seems like a very poor return to me, especially considering that Archer still might not ever see MLB.
But what really stings about this move was that Hendry demonstrated that he lacked vision of what his team was going to be like. The options for RF that year were: Bradley, Dunn, Ibanez, Abreu. All four of which could be expected (or wanted) to miss time in the field to injury, misconduct, or bad defense. The reasoning escapes me why you would diminish your teams depth at RF when all of your options were going to need quality depth behind them. And then to replace your quality depth (DeRosa) with poor depth (Miles) while handing over a starting role to an unproven commodity (Fontenot), has to be one of the poorest thought out moves I could possibly imagine.
Felix Pie - I don't think that Pie is going to develop into a star, and I never really did. But he still has a good chance to become a solid starting CF. To jettison Pie after hardly giving him a chance to play was really shortsighted. Perhaps Hendry gave the reins of the roster to Piniella, but I don't know why you'd spend years protecting Pie from trades and grooming him, only to trade him after a couple cups of coffee. What's worse is that Hendry essentially flipped him for a coveted reliever: Aaron Heilman.
Aaron Heilman - This is really summed up above, but why would you trade actual assets to obtain a player that nobody else really wants? That's not to say that getting Heilman was a bad idea. League average relievers still have value. But to actively pursue these types of players, and spending team assets to get them, is only hurting the team.
Joey Gathright - In tandem with the Pie trade, Hendry threw away $1 million on Gathright to do what Pie could've done for half the price. Even if the organization was giving up on Pie becoming a regular player (which it was too early to do), there's no reason he can't stay on as the 5th OF / Pinch Runner if Piniella decides he wants one of those guys. Just a waste of a prospect and cash.
Calling up Castro - I think Castro is ready for the big leagues. But to call him up as a panic move cost his team a full year of cheap production out of Castro. Hendry appears to have been trying to save the season because the roster just wasn't very good. Replacing one player on the roster was never going to take a bad team and turn it into a good one. If Hendry really thought this would make a difference any larger than a game or two he doesn't deserve to be in baseball at all.
Hendry has made some very good moves. We all know about Ramirez and Lofton, Karros and Grudz, Lee, Lilly, and even Byrd. These were great signings and trades. But the notion that Hendry's good moves outweigh his bad moves is laughable. And really this is a terrible argument to begin with. The team shouldn't strive to have a GM that "helps more than he hurts" they should have a GM that consistently makes good moves and demonstrates that he (or she) knows what they're doing.
People like to point to 3 playoff berths and a 97 win team. Sure, Hendry deserves some credit for those. But I'd hardly consider an 85 or 88 win team something to be proud of. The 97 wins is certainly impressive, but people don't seem to address the fact that all but 4 players on that 2008 team had good to phenomenal years. (Lee, Ward, Fukudome and Howry were the only players with bad years in 2008) Plus of course they were very fortunate that other than some Soriano leg issues they stayed incredibly healthy all season. Not to mention the fact that Hendry has been able to outspend his competition by a healthy amount over the recent years.
I would also like to note that the argument of: "Name somebody who you would like to replace him with" is very childish and attempts to draw attention away from the debate and gives a Piniellaesque: "What do you want me to do?". But I will name someone who'd be better than Hendry: Me. I guarantee that given his resources and respect among the baseball community that I could build a better team than Jim Hendry. The man just isn't very good, he doesn't seem to understand the simple concept of return on investment.
The team is better off than it was before Hendry took over as GM, but it has everything to do with the increased payroll, and little do with the decisions made by Hendry himself. I hope somebody could present a logical argument in defense of Hendry so that this might be a debate, but in all honesty I believe that to be impossible, because Hendry really is a bad GM.