The White Sox have discussed star closer Liam Hendriks in talks with other teams this winter, reports Mark Feinsand of MLB.com (Twitter link). There’s no indication a deal is especially likely, although it stands to reason a number of clubs would have interest in installing the three-time All-Star into their late-inning mix if Chicago’s amenable to making a trade. Feinsand notes Hendriks’ contract contains a limited no-trade provision that allows him to block a move to five unknown teams.
Hendriks just wrapped a fourth consecutive excellent season. A journeyman depth arm for the first eight seasons of his MLB career, he broke out with a 1.80 ERA in 85 stellar innings for the A’s in 2019. The Australian earned his first All-Star selection that year, and he performed at a similarly excellent level during the abbreviated 2020 campaign. His final two seasons in Oakland saw him put up a 1.79 ERA while holding opponents to a .192/.240/.289 line through 99 games.
Over the 2020-21 offseason, the White Sox signed Hendriks to a $54MM free agent contract. It was technically a three-year guarantee, with Hendriks making $12MM in ’21, $13MM in ’22 and $14MM next season. The 2024 campaign is technically covered by a club option, but both the option price and the buyout are valued at $15MM. It’s a no-brianer to exercise the option then; the only reason for the Sox to opt for the buyout would be if they simply didn’t want Hendriks on the roster, which would probably only happen in the unfortunate event he suffers a serious injury that’d cost him the whole season. If the Sox do trade Hendriks, that option would become guaranteed — although again, that’s largely immaterial.
Hendriks has picked up right where he’d left off on the South Side of Chicago. He’s been selected to the Midsummer Classic in both seasons as a White Sox, and he earned some down-ballot Cy Young support with a 2.54 ERA over 71 frames in 2021. His 2022 campaign was technically his worst in four years, though that’s only a testament to the incredible bar he’d set. The right-hander worked to a 2.81 ERA over 57 2/3 innings, striking out an elite 36.2% of opponents. Hendriks lost a few weeks midseason with an alarming-sounding forearm strain, but he returned without any signs of ill effect. He fanned 35.4% of opponents after the All-Star Break, working to a 3.33 ERA while averaging north of 97 MPH on his fastball.
While he turns 34 in February, he’s shown no signs of tailing off thus far. Hendriks is due $29MM over the final two seasons of his current contract. As one of the best relievers in the sport, he’d have plenty of appeal on the trade market at that price. The free agent market for late-game arms has both been strong and moved quickly, and the only reliever of Hendriks’ caliber who’d have been available (Edwin Díaz) re-signed with the Mets just before the signing period opened.
That highlights the potential for Hendriks to be a key player on the offseason trade market, but that’d require the White Sox showing an openness to moving him. That his name has surfaced in trade discussions is far from an indication the Sox are actively shopping him, as it’s possible general manager Rick Hahn and his group are simply taking calls from interested clubs out of due diligence.
The White Sox are set on bouncing back from an average 2022 campaign to try to reclaim their spot atop the AL Central. Subtracting Hendriks from the ninth inning would make that more difficult, and it stands to reason they’d only move him for a deal that netted them MLB-ready help elsewhere on the roster. Chicago does have an excellent bullpen that’d still be a strength even without Hendriks, as Kendall Graveman, Aaron Bummer and Reynaldo López are all strong late-inning arms. Joe Kelly has the potential to assume high-leverage innings himself, as does young southpaw Garrett Crochet, who’s working back from April 2022 Tommy John surgery.
Chicago has more pressing needs elsewhere on the roster. They signed Mike Clevinger to a $12MM free agent deal to fortify the rotation behind Dylan Cease, Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech, but they could look for another depth arm. Second base is a major question mark, and they could look to add a bat to factor into the corner outfield/designated hitter mix. The Sox didn’t get especially good production from catcher or third base this past season either. Both Yasmani Grandal and Yoán Moncada are under contract and expected to get opportunities to right the ship, but Chicago could theoretically look into either position if the chance presents itself.
Hahn told reporters at last month’s GM Meetings the club was more likely to accomplish any roster reshuffling via trade than free agency. Chicago’s 2023 payroll projection, per Roster Resource, is around $179MM. That’s about $14MM shy of this year’s Opening Day figure, so the Sox should have a bit of financial breathing room, but they may have to look towards the lower tiers of free agency for any pickups. Hahn told reporters this evening the club has to be more open-minded than they were last winter to make any major roster changes after their disappointing 2022 campaign (via Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times).