The Cubs have exercised their $16.5MM club option on the services of veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks, per Jesse Rogers of ESPN. Hendricks, the club’s longest-tenured player, is now set to return in 2024 for his 11th season with the major league team and his 13th season as a member of the Cubs organization as a whole. Rogers also reports that the club has picked up their $6MM club option on veteran catcher Yan Gomes, who will return for his third season in Chicago.
Chicago’s decision to retain Hendricks is hardly a surprise, given comments earlier this fall from both president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer and club chairman Tom Ricketts that indicated Hendricks would return to the Cubs in 2024. The decision was likely made even simpler by veteran right-hander Marcus Stroman’s decision to opt out of the final year of his contract and return to the open market. By keeping Hendricks in the fold, the Cubs have a proven veteran starter to pair with Justin Steele and Jameson Taillon in the club’s rotation next season with youngsters like Jordan Wicks, Javier Assad, Hayden Wesneski, and perhaps even top pitching prospect Cade Horton all also in the mix for starts next season.
Of course, the most important factor in Hendricks’s option being picked up was the veteran righty’s strong bounceback campaign in 2023. The soft-tossing righty was among the most effective starters in all of baseball for the first seven seasons of his career with a sterling 3.12 ERA and 3.53 FIP across 175 games. Among the 68 pitchers who threw at least 700 total innings between 2014 and 2020, Hendricks’s ERA ranks 7th. Unfortunately, Hendricks’s performance took a turn for the worse over the next two seasons; he posted a 4.78 ERA and 4.87 FIP across 48 starts those two seasons before being shut down last summer due to a shoulder capsule injury.
Rehabbing from that shoulder injury left Hendricks unavailable to open the 2023 campaign, but he looked rejuvenated upon his return in late May. In 24 starts for the Cubs this season, Hendricks was able to provide a steady, veteran presence in the middle of the club’s rotation with a 3.74 ERA and 3.81 FIP in 137 innings of work. Though Hendricks struck out just 16.1% of batters faced- a low mark even by his soft-tossing standards- he made up for it by walking a microscopic 4.7% of batters faced while generating groundballs at a 46.3% clip. Altogether, Hendricks’s performance and the rising prices of pitching on the free agent market in recent years seems to have made picking up the 2024 option on his services a fairly easy decision for the Cubs.
As for Gomes, the 36-year-old veteran rebounded in a big way from a down year offensively in 2022. After slashing just .235/.260/.365 in 293 trips to the plate while serving as the club’s primary backup to Willson Contreras behind the plate last year, Gomes stepped into the role of Chicago’s primary catcher after Contreras departed for the Cardinals in free agency. Gomes took to the role quite well, slashing a respectable .267/.315/.408 in 419 trips to the plate, good for a 95 wRC+ that ranked 26th among the 69 catchers who had at least 100 trips to the plate in the majors this year.
In addition to his solid bat for the position, Gomes has generally been well-regarded as a catcher defensively throughout his career. Though his framing marks slipped somewhat in 2023 from where they had been in previous years, Gomes ranked in the 81st percentile for Blocks Above Average behind the plate and the 66th percentile for CS Above Average in 2023. Given his solid performance both at and behind the plate in 2023, it’s hardly a surprise that the Cubs would retain Gomes for a third season behind the plate, though it’s possible he’ll end up in more of a timeshare with youngster Miguel Amaya in 2024 after Amaya showed flashes of being a potential regular behind the plate in 53 games in the majors this year.