Kyle Hendricks, 33 next month, is under contract with the Chicago Cubs through the 2023 season, and I still think that’s a good thing, despite the last couple seasons.
Hendricks managed just 84.1 innings in 2022 because of shoulder issues, and his 4.80 ERA (20% higher than league average) was the worst of his career. It came on the heels of a 4.77 ERA in 2021, when we saw enough of a downturn in his command that Hendricks started having those starts where he just got really knocked around. The peripherals have generally not been kind.
It’s possible the performance decline, and the shoulder issue, mark the start of a downward trend from which Hendricks will not recover. But given the possibility that a healthy Hendricks could stabilize into at least a quality depth starter, I’m perfectly happy that the Cubs have him under contract for one more season.
As an option.
Hendricks (shoulder capsule tear) is still recovering – not throwing yet – and Gordon Wittenmyer updates that a normal Spring Training remains possible: “The Cubs say Hendricks continues to progress, feels ‘better’ and that he remains on schedule for a potential on-time, healthy start to the spring. But they can’t count on a reliable timeline until he starts throwing. And capsular injuries can be tricky, even those that don’t require surgery.”
From where I sit, I think it is safe to assume Hendricks will make some starts for the Cubs in 2023 … but that is the outer limit of anything I think you can safely assume. Some starts. Can’t say they’ll be effective. Can’t say it’ll be more than some. Because of Hendricks’ position in the organization, and because of his previous ability to pitch well without premium velocity, he’s going to get a chance to make starts next year if he’s healthy. That’s just a fact. And since there is, at present, no reason to believe he won’t at least be healthy enough to make some starts next year, he will almost certainly make them.
THAT SAID, the Cubs cannot structure their offseason as though they have Hendricks “in the rotation for 2023.” I think, at most, you could group Hendricks in with the depth options who MIGHT contribute significant innings next year. But who might not. MULTIPLE starting pitching additions are needed this offseason wholly regardless of Hendricks’ status.
A benefit the Cubs will have on Hendricks is that, because he’s recovering from a fairly serious shoulder injury, they will be able to use the Injured List for him next season to coordinate arms a bit (as opposed to other struggling veterans who do not have minor league options left, and for whom there are no explicit injury issues). If Hendricks is struggling early in the year, perhaps it is still related to the shoulder, and the Cubs can buy some time that way, spreading the innings around, and not having to punt Hendricks from the organization just yet.
Hopefully he does come to Spring Training healthy and refreshed, and then pitches as a useful – if no longer impactful – starting pitcher in 2023. It’s not as if that doesn’t happen, and it’s not as if Hendricks is THAT old just yet. I’m not ready to throw in the towel on him being a contributor for a good Cubs team. I just don’t want to see the Cubs CONFIDENTLY block out a rotation spot for him this offseason as they make additions.