MESA, Ariz. — It took until the last day of spring training, but the Cubs and right-hander Kyle Hendricks got in on the biggest trend in the game Tuesday, announcing a four-year, $55.5 million contract extension through 2023.
The deal, which includes a $16 million club option for 2024, buys out Hendricks’ final year of arbitration and at least three potential years of free-agent eligibility.
Hendricks, the 2016 major-league ERA champ, ranks fifth among active pitchers with at least 100 starts with a 3.07 career ERA — behind Clayton Kershaw, Jacob deGrom, Chris Sale and Madison Bumgarner.
Sale (five years, $145 million) and deGrom (five years, $137.5 million) also signed extensions since Saturday.
“He’s one of the most effective half-dozen starting pitchers in the game since he’s come up,” said team president Theo Epstein, who concluded a yearlong process he said was “dead” twice in that time, including at one point in the last week.
“The names on that list are guys on Hall of Fame trajectories. So Kyle’s in rare air for what he’s done. But more importantly, we love the process that he uses to get there, and we think it bodes well for the future.”
Hendricks, a command pitcher who in 2016 beat Kershaw to clinch the Cubs’ first World Series berth since 1945, then started the Game 7 victory for the team’s first championship in 108 years, said it wasn’t until recent days that the sides reached a “middle space [number] where it felt right deep down to me.”
But, he added, “This was a life decision, not just a money decision. Everything [the Cubs] bring, the way the families are taken care of, my wife, bringing in [yoga instructor Christine Schwan], just the support staff in general. If anything is ever needed, starting with Theo, I know he will try to make it happen. It’s a special circumstance to have in an organization.”
Hendricks introduced Schwan to the organization after he incorporated yoga into his training and preparation. After working part-time with the team, she was hired full-time this year.
“I hear a lot of chatter [about] other teams,” said Hendricks, 29, who was acquired in a trade with the Rangers as a Class A pitcher in 2012. “Obviously, I haven’t been anywhere else [in the majors], but I know what I have here, and I’m comfortable here, and there’s nothing I’m missing. So why would I want anything else at the end of the day?
“The money’s a big part of it, but overall, it’s a life decision, and there are a lot more people involved in it than me, including my family.”
Hendricks’ deal comes during an unprecedented two-week flurry of extensions, for the number of them in such a short stretch of March and for their size. Nolan Arenado agreed to a $260 million deal with the Rockies, and Mike Trout agreed to a $430 million deal with the Angels.
Hendricks and Epstein said the trend didn’t influence getting the deal done.
“Obviously, the landscape matters and you have to be strategic about everything, but this is really a negotiation that’s existed in a vacuum in the last 14 months or so,” Epstein said.
Hendricks, who had a $7.405 million contract for this season, will make $12 million in 2020 and $14 million each year from 2021 to ’23. The 2024 option vests with a top-three finish in Cy Young voting in 2020 and includes a $1.5 million buyout.
He can make as much as $2 million more in 2020 and up to $3 million more in any of the other years of the contract based on escalators for Cy Young finishes. He was third in 2016.
Top career ERAs among active pitchers (minimum 100 starts):
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: 2.36
Jacob deGrom, Mets: 2.67
Chris Sale, Red Sox: 2.89
Madison Bumgarner, Giants: 3.03
Kyle Hendricks, CUBS: 3.07
Corey Kluber, Indians: 3.09
Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: 3.14
Max Scherzer, Nationals: 3.22