The Mets are among the clubs that have contacted the White Sox regarding Liam Hendriks, reports Michael Mayer of Metsmerized (Twitter link). Reports emerged a couple weeks ago that Chicago had been discussing their star closer with other teams, though the identity of those clubs wasn’t clear.
Certainly, the Mets aren’t the only team that’d be interested in prying Hendriks from Chicago. The 33-year-old is one of the sport’s top late-game weapons. Hendriks broke out with the A’s in 2019, tossing 85 frames with a 1.80 ERA to secure his first All-Star selection. He’d surely have earned another had there been a Midsummer Classic in 2020, as he finished ninth in AL Cy Young balloting during the abbreviated season thanks to a 1.78 mark through 25 1/3 frames.
After that season, the right-hander made the move to Chicago. Hendriks inked a $54MM guarantee with the White Sox, with Chicago gambling he’d maintain his late-career breakout form. He’s done just that, posting a 2.66 ERA over 127 frames with the Sox. After posting a 2.54 ERA in year one, he followed up with a 2.81 mark through 57 2/3 innings this past season. Hendriks earned All-Star selections in both seasons and struck out an excellent 36.2% of batters faced in 2022. He missed a few weeks in the middle of the year with a forearm strain — an alarming-sounding diagnosis for a pitcher — but he returned seemingly no worse for wear, striking out 35.4% of opponents while sitting north of 97 MPH on his heater in the second half.
Any contender looking for bullpen help could check in with Chicago general manager Rick Hahn. Hendriks would be an impact addition to the late innings for any club, and the Mets are no exception. New York has one of the handful of relievers who might be better than Hendriks to pitch the ninth inning after re-signing Edwin Díaz to a five-year free agent contract. They agreed to terms with Adam Ottavino on a two-year deal this afternoon, and they’ve also brought in David Robertson from outside the organization. The Mets don’t necessarily need more bullpen help, but they’ve shown no qualms about going after high-end talent no matter the cost.
That’s reflected in their astronomical spending, the likes of which MLB has never seen before. New York has a 2023 player payroll projected by Roster Resource around $351MM. Their luxury tax number sits around $363MM, a staggering $130MM higher than next year’s base tax threshold. That lines them up for a projected tax bill of $92.4MM, which would put their total player spending around $443.4MM.
Additional pickups would obviously add to that figure. Hendriks is guaranteed $14MM in 2023, and his contract contains a $15MM club option for the ’24 season. That comes with a matching $15MM buyout, which would be distributed in $1.5MM installments through 2033. That’d be a small benefit, but the only incentive for the White Sox not to exercise the option would be if Hendriks suffers an injury that takes him out of action for most or all of the 2024 campaign or has such a dramatic drop in performance his spot on the roster would be in jeopardy.
If Hendriks is traded, that option vests. Hendriks would then be guaranteed $29MM over the next two seasons. Matt Gelb of the Athletic has previously reported that under the new CBA, for luxury tax purposes, traded players on multi-year contracts see the average annual value of their deal recalculated at the time of the trade. In Hendriks’ case, he’d be pegged at $29MM over two years — a $14.5MM AAV for an acquiring team. If not traded, his deal counts for $18MM against the White Sox’s tax ledger in 2023, as it was technically a three-year, $54MM guarantee at signing.
For the Mets, taking on a $14.5MM AAV would come with an additional $13.05MM in taxes, as they’re taxed at a 90% clip on all future spending. Topping $27MM in actual money annually for a reliever is something virtually no other team would do, but New York seemingly can’t be counted out of any move at this point.
Of course, there’s no indication the Mets and White Sox have made much or any progress. To this point, the exercise is mostly theoretical. New York would face plenty of competition if the Sox commit to moving Hendriks, who’s better than any available free agent reliever. Chicago could certainly elect to hang onto him entirely, since they’re working to rebound from an 81-81 showing to compete in the AL Central. The White Sox agreed to terms with Andrew Benintendi on a five-year, $75MM deal last week. If his salaries are evenly distributed, that’d push their projected payroll to $193MM, which would be right in line with this past season’s franchise-record mark.