Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks on uncertain future: ‘I want to be part of this for as long as I can’

A front office that has had no trouble saying goodbye to every other member of the 2016 championship core has to decide if it still loves Hendricks back.

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Baltimore Orioles v Chicago Cubs

Kyle Hendricks pitches Friday against the Orioles, whom he beat at Wrigley Field.

Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Way back when, grizzled veterans Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Arrieta would watch with bemusement as fellow Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, still getting his big-league career off the ground, would pull down the brim of his cap, lower his head and slowly, serenely walk back to the dugout after each inning like a man without a care in the world.

“I thought it was odd,” Arrieta once put it.

Eventually, of course, they would become awed by it. And didn’t we all? A sentient being isn’t supposed to resemble a retiree strolling out for a cup of coffee and a newspaper when in actuality he’s, say, pitching in Game 7 of the World Series.

“Just be you,” were the only managerial words that former Cubs skipper Joe Maddon ever really had for Hendricks as the right-hander became a mainstay.

For a long time, just being Hendricks was plenty good enough. But is it anymore? And for how much longer?

Hendricks, 33, in his 10th year in the majors, may or may not be nearing the end of his usefulness to the Cubs. In the cold business of baseball, that’s what a front office that has had no trouble saying goodbye to every other member of the 2016 championship core has to decide. Hendricks is in the final season of a four-year, $55.5 million deal, with the team holding a $16 million option for 2024.

Pay him for one more go-round after this one? Extend him? Deal him to a contender if things go south again between now and the Aug. 1 trade deadline?

“This team is on the uptick and so close to where it needs to be,” Hendricks said, “and I want to be part of that for as long as I can.”

The last Cub standing from that 2016 squad has looked a lot like his old self since rejoining the rotation May 25 after nearly a yearlong comeback from a capsular tear in his shoulder. His last two starts — a brilliant eight innings in San Francisco, followed by another win Friday against the Giants at Wrigley Field — should have the rest of the National League Central on notice.

And don’t let Hendricks’ ever-placid appearance fool you. The stoic savant known as “The Professor,” the dude with three Opening Day starts and the most postseason starts — 11 — in team history, is going to fight like hell to make the Cubs keep him around.

“I’m only 33,” he said. “Even though it has been nine, 10 years already, it doesn’t feel that way. When this is over, it’s over, but I don’t think I’m there yet.”

If team president Jed Hoyer and the Cubs choose not to remain in the Hendricks business, it will disappoint a player who has some emotional calluses after seeing so many cherished teammates left by the wayside. But Hendricks is too much of a realist to hang all his hopes on the Cubs, and too confident to need their affirmation. Maybe he wondered how much he belonged when he was wearing No. 79 on his back at Cubs spring training in 2014. Maybe he deferred to guys like Lester, Lackey and Arrieta for a while. Grizzled himself now, Hendricks is betting on No. 28’s future.

“I feel like I’ve had a good career,” he said. “I wouldn’t say great, but I would say good. And, no, I’m not satisfied. I’m not done.”

There’s life after the Cubs, if that’s what it comes to.

“You go and play at all these amazing places,” he said, “and there are spots, of course, where I would love an opportunity to play somewhere else if it presented itself. At the end of the day, though, this place is so hard to pass up. The grass is always greener, I guess.”

Hoyer recently called Hendricks the perfect teammate. It was in part a reference to the example Hendricks set while rehabbing his shoulder and then ramping back up in the minors. Head down, one foot in front of the other, solid and steady as always. Playing or not, Hendricks has become one of the most influential players in the Cubs’ sphere. Manager David Ross doesn’t want to lose that.

“Oh, no,” Ross said. “Kyle Hendricks is a good thing for the Chicago Cubs. . . . He just does himself and does what’s right. There’s a lot of power in that, a lot of comfort in that type of personality.”

One assumes if Hendricks keeps winning games, the power and comfort will multiply.

“I still love it here as much as I ever have,” he said.

Hoyer and the Cubs must decide if they truly love him back.

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