The Cubs’ Offseason Dilemma
As the Chicago Cubs stand on the precipice of the offseason, they find themselves at a pivotal crossroads, one that could significantly impact the trajectory of their franchise. The central issue at hand is the fate of their longest-tenured player, the seasoned right-handed pitcher, Kyle Hendricks. With the Cubs holding a $16 million option for Hendricks, complemented by a $1.5 million buyout, this financial decision looms large, making it a critical juncture in the team’s history. In this in-depth article, we delve into the ongoing discussions between the Cubs’ astute front office and the skilled negotiators representing Kyle Hendricks, as they explore the possibility of a multi-year contract extension.
The Possibility of Retaining Hendricks
While the Cubs do have the option to exercise the $16 million deal, it seems that the winds of favor are gently blowing in the direction of retaining the incredibly talented right-hander. However, the exact nature and extent of this commitment remain shrouded in a degree of uncertainty, making it a topic of keen interest for Cubs’ fans and baseball aficionados alike.
Hendricks’ Strong 2023 Campaign
The 2023 season witnessed a remarkable resurgence for Kyle Hendricks, a journey marked by resilience and a burning desire to return to peak performance. After enduring two seasons in 2021 and 2022 where he struggled, Hendricks bounced back with aplomb. He masterfully crafted a 3.74 ERA over the span of 137 innings, thus showcasing his innate pitching prowess. Furthermore, he showcased his signature sinkerball technique, keeping the ball on the ground at an impressive rate of 46.3%, a statistic that harkened back to his 2020 form. This resurgence in his performance was also evident in his ability to reduce his walk rate, slicing away a few percentage points in comparison to the preceding two seasons, all while inducing a more substantial amount of soft contact.
Overcoming Injury Challenges
Hendricks’ path to redemption was not without its share of obstacles. During the 2022 season, he grappled with persistent shoulder discomfort, a situation that reached a critical juncture with the diagnosis of a capsular tear. While the dire need for surgery was avoided, he was compelled to stay away from the game until late May, a trying period of rehabilitation and recovery. However, upon his triumphant return, Hendricks displayed not just his pitching prowess but his resilience as well, proving his mettle as he took the mound every fifth day. This steady mid-rotation production was a welcome respite for the Cubs, especially considering the challenges they faced, including the injury-induced absence of Marcus Stroman around the trade deadline and the mixed performances of Jameson Taillon and Drew Smyly. Aside from the remarkable Justin Steele, who emerged as a Cy Young candidate, Hendricks was undoubtedly a frontrunner for the title of the team’s best starter.
A Turning Point at Age 35
Notably, as the calendar inches closer to December, Hendricks himself prepares to mark his 34th year. The prospect of an extension would usher in a new chapter in his career, beginning with his age-35 season. This juncture bears similarities to the path taken by Miles Mikolas, who found himself in a spring extension agreement with the St. Louis Cardinals at the same age. Both Hendricks and Mikolas share the reputation of being innings-eating right-handed pitchers with an exceptional knack for precision and control. While Mikolas boasts a slightly higher velocity, it’s important to note that this has not translated into a significantly higher whiff rate. In his most recent campaign, Mikolas, who secured a deal from the Cardinals, posted an impressive 3.29 ERA over 202 1/3 innings in 2022, a noteworthy achievement that places him in a comparable bracket to Hendricks’ 2023 figure. Although Mikolas commanded an average annual value of $20 million, it represents a potential reference point for Hendricks’ camp in the ongoing negotiations.
In a quest to gauge the potential contract value for Kyle Hendricks, it’s worthwhile to examine the case of José Quintana, a former teammate of both Hendricks and Mikolas. Quintana embarked on a journey that ultimately led to a two-year, $26 million free agent deal, covering his age 34-35 seasons. His achievement stemmed from a splendid platform season, where he delivered a dazzling 2.93 ERA across 165 2/3 innings, a remarkable improvement from his dismal 6.43 ERA in 2021. Even without the dynamics of an open-market bidding process, Hendricks certainly appears poised to eclipse Quintana’s financial terms, given Quintana’s erratic performances from 2019 to 2021.
The Cubs’ Financial Situation
Taking a broader view of the Cubs’ financial landscape, it’s clear that they have strategically allocated just over $100 million for the 2025 season. This budgetary allocation primarily revolves around their position players, with only Jameson Taillon currently under a guaranteed deal beyond the upcoming year. Justin Steele, a burgeoning talent, remains eligible for arbitration through 2027, while Jordan Wicks and Javier Assad are in the nascent stages of their pre-arbitration careers. Marcus Stroman, a pivotal part of the team, faces a $21 million player option for the next season, a decision that lingers as a pivotal crossroads. In the event of his opt-in, he would become a free agent after the 2024 season. Drew Smyly is virtually certain to exercise an $8.5 million player option for the next season, an act that would also trigger a $2.5 million buyout, reflecting the intricate financial web that the Cubs navigate.