The White Sox announced this evening that star closer Liam Hendriks has undergone Tommy John surgery. According to the club, he’ll require a 12-14 month recovery timeline.
Hendriks has been on the injured list since the second week of June with what the team initially called elbow inflammation. There’d been no prior indication surgery was under consideration. As of a couple weeks ago, the righty had been throwing simulated games. He apparently suffered a setback during that rehab work and will now miss the majority or all of next season.
It’s a disheartening blow. Hendriks’ quick return from an offseason non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis has been one of the best stories of the 2023 season. He announced his diagnosis in early January. Within roughly three and a half months, he’d completed chemotherapy and been declared cancer-free. He was remarkably back on a major league mound by May 29.
Certainly, the revelation he’d require elbow surgery pales in comparison to the life-threatening news he’d gotten (and overcome) just months before. Yet it’s an obviously tough development for his playing career. Hendriks turns 35 next February. There’s a good chance he’s unable to return to pitching until his age-36 campaign.
Between the late start to the season and the subsequent elbow injury, the three-time All-Star only made five MLB appearances this year. He was one of the top handful of relievers in the sport between 2019-22. Hendriks broke out late in his career with Oakland and maintained that elite performance for his first two seasons with the Sox. Over that four-year stretch, he posted a 2.26 ERA with an elite 38.8% strikeout rate across 239 innings.
With this revelation, it’s possible Hendriks has thrown his last pitch for Chicago. His three-year, $54MM free agent contract contained a $15MM club option for 2024. The deal came with a matching buyout figure — it was built in largely as an accounting measure to frontload the contract’s competitive balance tax hit — that’ll now come into play. If the Sox buy Hendriks out, they’ll be able to defer that payment over the next 10 years.
That’s the course of action they’ll almost certainly take. With Hendriks unlikely to pitch in 2024 regardless, there’s little reason for the Sox not to pay the $15MM in installments. Hendriks figures to return to free agency next winter, where he could field two-year offers from teams with an eye towards the 2025 campaign.