After putting together a very impressive 35-25 record in 2020, the Chicago White Sox are being aggressive in their efforts to build a legitimate title contender and complement their excellent young talent with proven veterans. In December, the White Sox improved their starting rotation by acquiring Lance Lynn — who has pitched like an ace the last two seasons — from the Texas Rangers. And now the White Sox have substantially improved their bullpen.
On Monday night, the White Sox reportedly agreed to a deal with closer Liam Hendriks on a contract of at least three years that will pay him $54 million. The structure of the contract is interesting, as ESPN’s Jeff Passan explains:
The details on Liam Hendriks' fascinating deal with the Chicago White Sox:
It is a three-year deal that will pay Hendriks $39M in those first three years. But both the buyout and fourth-year option salary are $15M, so Hendriks will receive $54M regardless of what White Sox do.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 12, 2021
Hendriks — who turns 32 in February — has put together a career 4.10 ERA and 3.44 FIP in 516 1/3 innings pitched (with 44 starts), but he really took things to another level in 2019 and 2020 as a closer with the Oakland A’s.
In 2019, Hendriks had a 1.80 ERA and 1.87 FIP, with a 37.3 strikeout percentage, 6.3 walk percentage, and 25 saves over 85 innings pitched. He was worth 3.9 wins above replacement (WAR) according to FanGraphs, the top mark among MLB relievers.
And he proved that season wasn’t a fluke in 2020, putting together even better numbers: a 1.78 ERA, 1.14 FIP, 40.2 strikeout percentage, 3.3 walk percentage, and 14 saves in 25 1/3 innings. His 1.4 WAR was tied for first among MLB relievers.
Over the last two years, the Australian right-hander has been the best reliever in baseball, showing a consistent ability to miss bats and with precise command.
Now, few relievers maintain elite success for long periods of time, and pitchers break frequently in general. So, there’s absolutely a lot of risk that comes with this signing for the White Sox.
But it’s a risk that is absolutely worth taking in Chicago’s position. They spent several years rebuilding, and showed this past season that they’re ready to contend. Now the White Sox see an opportunity to take the next step, as a realistic title contender and potentially the team to beat in the AL Central (especially with Cleveland tanking). Watch out for the White Sox in 2021 and beyond.