Like White Sox, closer Liam Hendriks endures season to forget

Hendriks returned from cancer, only to have his 2023 season end with Tommy John surgery.

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The White Sox could buy out the final year of Liam Hendriks’ contract, allowing them to spread the $15 million he’s owed over the next 10 years.

The White Sox could buy out the final year of Liam Hendriks’ contract, allowing them to spread the $15 million he’s owed over the next 10 years.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Has Liam Hendriks thrown his last pitch for the White Sox? The 34-year-old closer has considered the possibility.

Speaking with his right arm in an elaborate brace after undergoing Tommy John surgery this month, Hendriks made it clear Friday he intends to pitch for several more years. He hopes that will be next season, even if an expected 12- to 15-month rehab process makes anything sooner than September action borderline miraculous.

And Hendriks hopes it will be with the Sox, even if the team buying out the final year of his four-year contract means it could spread the $15 million owed to him over the next 10 years through annual installments.

‘‘The ball is in their court,’’ Hendriks said. ‘‘I have put it in their ears that I’d like to stay. I think I have unfinished business here.’’

Having pitched through a partial tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow for the last 15 years, Hendriks views a surgery brought on by a new tear higher on his UCL — which he says originated last season — as a long-awaited cleanup that will set him up well for the long term. He joked that he eventually will be able to brush his teeth pain-free for the first time in a decade and was quite serious about wanting to pitch until he’s 40.

But Hendriks is realistic enough about the potential of the Sox shaving his salary off the 2024 payroll to try to savor this season. He had pitching coach Ethan Katz record the final pitch of his last, pain-riddled simulated game because he thought it might be the last image of him throwing in a Sox uniform. He will rehab with the team and be present for nearly all the road trips in the final two months, so he can fill a mentoring role for a suddenly fresh-faced bullpen.

As the Sox’ clubhouse culture became a target of leaguewide ridicule and criticism this week, Hendriks lamented that recovering from cancer and injury boxed him out from filling such a role for most of this season.

‘‘We had some butting of heads that no one was willing to back down,’’ Hendriks said, putting the responsibility of a stable clubhouse on Sox players. ‘‘No one was willing to concede. No one was willing to do that. That there really causes a rift. But now, hopefully, we can take the egos aside and get to a point where now we’re pushing for next year.’’

‘‘Liam’s been teaching and educating players over the years,’’ manager Pedro Grifol said. ‘‘He’s out there with [reliever Gregory] Santos and all these young kids that are out there. I know he’s not just sitting there; I know he’s talking to those guys about the game, about preparation.’’

Hendriks was determined not to let lymphoma take this baseball season away from him and to return as soon as possible. Catcher Yasmani Grandal’s claim this week that the woebegone Sox would be in first place if not for the loss of Hendriks reads as hyperbole, but their bullpen is third in baseball in blown saves and was a significant culprit in a 7-20 April that effectively sank the season.

But even amid those factors and his long-stated desire to deliver on his $54 million contract, Hendriks insists he wasn’t rushed back this season, nor does he believe it was a factor in his injury. He believes it to be another misfortune that has led him to sum up his 2023 with a wry smile.

‘‘Not ideal,’’ he said.

Despite a rotten 2023 for himself and the Sox as a whole, he still is banking on an ideal rehab process that would have him pitching by this time next season.

‘‘Depending on what happens contract-wise,’’ Hendriks said. ‘‘Who knows if I’m going to need that little showcase at the end of the season to be able to get a job.’’

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