The Cubs have already traded Joc Pederson and are expected to make several more deals before Friday’s 4pm ET trade deadline, but MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports (via Twitter) that top starter Kyle Hendricks is “definitely not being shopped” and that the team would only move him if approached with a strong offer.
Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer effectively confirmed earlier this month that an 11-game losing streak had pushed his club into seller territory. At the time, Hoyer spoke generally about keeping an open mind to moves “that can help build the next great Cubs team.” So while the Cubs may not be calling all 29 other teams and actively trying to find a taker for Hendricks, it stands to reason that a team could put together an offer that makes Hoyer & Co. consider parting with its longest-tenured pitcher.
Hendricks, 31, signed a four-year, $55MM contract extension with a fifth-year option a couple springs ago and is still not halfway through that deal. He’s owed $14MM both in 2022 and 2023, and the contract contains a $16MM option with a $1.5MM buyout. As of this writing, he’s owed $5.19MM through the end of the 2021 season, bringing the total sum he’s still guaranteed on the contract to $36.19MM (including the option buyout).
It’s a more-than-reasonable price to pay for a starter of Hendricks’ caliber. The right-hander ranks 16th in the Majors with 117 1/3 innings pitched this season and ranked third among all MLB pitchers in total innings during last year’s shortened season (81 1/3 frames). He’s worked to a solid 3.61 ERA so far in 2021 and continued to demonstrate some of the game’s best command. Hendricks has walked 4.5 percent of his opponents, and while his 17.5 percent strikeout rate is below both the league average and his career average, he’s had success for his entire career in spite of below-average strikeout numbers.
Hendricks has been one of the game’s most durable starters since breaking in with the Cubs back in 2014. He’s only had two trips to the injured list in his big league career: a 16-day absence for shoulder inflammation back in 2019 and a six-week absence due to tendinitis in his hand back in 2017. He made 12 starts during last year’s 60-game schedule, averaged 30 per year from 2015-19 and is on pace for another full slate of games in 2021, having already taken the hill on 20 occasions.
An oddity in today’s game, Hendricks averages just 87.4 mph on his fastball and hasn’t cracked even an 89 mph average since the 2014 season. He relies on that aforementioned command, strong ground-ball tendencies and gobs of weak contact to find his success. There are few pitchers like that in 2021, but he’s made it work for several years now. He probably won’t ever repeat 2016’s 2.13 ERA and third-place Cy Young finish, but Hendricks carries a 3.33 ERA through 714 1/3 innings in the five seasons since that third-place finish.
If the Cubs aren’t presented with a sufficient offer for Hendricks over the next four days, it seems likely that he’ll again see his name kicked about the rumor circuit over the winter. Hoyer has pushed back in the past on the notion that the Cubs are going to engineer a full-scale rebuild, but between the offseason Yu Darvish deal and Hoyer’s acknowledgment of change on the horizon this summer, it’s clear that Chicago is taking at least something of a step back. Hendricks would have even wider appeal this winter than he does at the deadline, when more clubs are viewing themselves as contenders and when many have reset the luxury-tax concerns that are currently hamstringing their front offices’ ability to acquire players on notable salaries (e.g. Hendricks).