Here’s what adding right-hander Liam Hendriks, the American League Reliever of the Year in 2020 and by most accounts the best closer in baseball the last two seasons, does for the White Sox: It makes them arguably the best team in the AL.
And they’re not finished adding to the roster, although it’s possible the $54 million deal given to Hendriks might be their most expensive this offseason. In any case, it’s the biggest free-agent deal signed in baseball this winter.
And therein lies the basis for calling the Sox No. 1 in the AL. With uncertainty over how many games will be played in 2021 and with baseball coming off a fan-less year in which it says it lost $3 billion because of the coronavirus, it has been an extremely slow-moving free-agent market. While the Sox have added Hendriks, right-hander Lance Lynn and right fielder Adam Eaton to a talented core, the AL’s other top teams have subtracted rather than added talent.
With less than five weeks before teams are scheduled to report to spring training, the Sox were the talk of the industry and the talk of the town Tuesday.
That’s because Hendriks is a cut above Alex Colome, the effective outgoing closer, with much more swing-and-miss stuff. He joins left-handers Aaron Bummer, Garrett (102 mph) Crochet and Jace Fry and righties Evan Marshall, Codi Heuer and Matt Foster in the late innings, giving the Sox the second-best bullpen in the majors behind the Yankees, according to FanGraphs.
Hendriks (10th), who finished off the Sox for the Athletics in the wild-card series in October, gives the team four pitchers who finished in the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting, joining lefty Dallas Keuchel (fifth), Lynn (sixth) and righty Lucas Giolito (seventh).
Offensively, the Sox ranked first in the AL in home runs and slugging and were second to the Yankees in runs and OPS, even with Yoan Moncada affected by the energy-sapping effects of the coronavirus. Their lineup blends slugging and speed, with youth and experience.
“They easily go into the year as the favorite in the AL Central,” a division scout said.
And the Sox’ willingness to spend is evident as their rebuild enters a World Series contention window. The Hendriks deal, which is pending a physical, is unusual with $13 million guaranteed over each of the first three seasons and a club option that can be picked up at $15 million for 2024. Or the Sox can pay a $15 million buyout over 10 years, according to USA Today.
Hendriks earned it by pitching the most innings of any reliever the last two years (108⅓) with a 1.79 ERA and 161 strikeouts against only 24 walks. He brings 96 mph velocity and an ultimate closer’s mindset to boot.
“I’m an egotistical narcissist on the mound who just believes I am better than everybody,” said Hendriks, an Australian who turns 32 next month, on Rob Friedman’s @PitchingNinja podcast last week.
“I want to win a ring. Everything else comes second. And no matter what financial windfall comes my way, my mindset will be: ‘I want to make sure that deal looks like a bargain.’ The same mindset I took into 2020. You don’t think I’m worth this? Watch me. You don’t think I can repeat this? Watch me.”