So, the market is … fine now? This deal is an eye-popper, man.
Soon after clubs received word that the Commissioner wanted them to plan for an on-time start to the season, the Chicago White Sox finalized a massive deal for closer Liam Hendriks, which will guarantee him $54 million over three years, absolutely obliterating the projections earlier this winter that had him getting a deal for only a bit more than half that amount. Clearly the White Sox really, really want to ball out for 2021, and clearly they foresee the financial side of the game being just fine over the next few years.
One financial caveat to the deal is that it is simultaneously a $54 million guarantee over three years, but also possibly a four-year deal, unless the White Sox extremely want him to go away after three years:
If the White Sox decline the option, they will be able to pay the $15 million buyout over the course of multiple years. But the incentive certainly is there for the team to pick it up. And by going that big, the White Sox get the best closer in baseball the last two seasons.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 12, 2021
Basically, in the fourth year, the White Sox will be choosing between having Hendriks on their team for his age 35 season or getting the benefit of deferring some of that final $15 million payment (plus some luxury tax bookkeeping depending on what happens with their payroll over the next few years and with the next CBA).
I’ve never seen a deal like this, so it’s a little hard to categorize like we normally would. But it remains the case that he got $54 million guaranteed, and primarily for the next couple or few years when he figures to be at his best. So it’s a monster contract for a closer who didn’t even get a qualifying offer from the A’s.
Hendriks was a pretty good reliever for a long time before becoming truly elite the last two years when he figured out something with his four-seamer that gave it two more MPH:
If the White Sox are getting that guy, then they’ll be perfectly happy with this deal, and the combined addition of Lance Lynn to the rotation (plus the return of Michael Kopech) could give the White Sox some of the best pitching overall in the American League.
Oh, also? Their lineup is loaded.
Now they just need the new manager to be acceptable …
As for the timing of this deal relative to the start of the season and the vaccine and the finances and all that stuff, I can’t say for sure there’s a relationship, but when the whole top of the market is at a standstill and then you have an eye-popper like this, it’s hard not to say something changed behind the scenes. If this is a tea leaf on the state of the game and expectations for revenues this year overall, it’s a very good tea leaf. And hey, good on the White Sox for spending aggressively when they’ve got a very, very winnable opportunity.
To put this signing into context, it’s the level of deal we were seeing for closers in this age range back during the boom of a few years ago. Wade Davis, who was coming off a very good (but not super elite) year with the Cubs, got a three-year, $52 million deal with the Rockies a few years ago heading into his age 32 season. This is clearly a comp contract, where Hendriks got a bump for maybe superior performance the year and no qualifying offer attached. Again, seems like a good tea leaf.
Bonus fun fact with which to leave you: Hendriks was actually part of the Cubs organization for 10 days back in December of 2013. The Cubs claimed him off of waivers from the Twins, and then tried to slip him through waivers themselves, only to lose him to the Orioles. He would then split his 2014 season between the Royals and Blue Jays, before his breakout in 2015 with the Blue Jays.