There will be no return to Toronto for Liam Hendriks. On Monday night, according to Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports, the former Jays reliever inked a deal with the Chicago White Sox, later reported to be worth $54 million over three years with an option for the fourth. B.J. Ryan money, in other words. Though Hendriks’ new contract structure is very much not like the five-year, $47 million pact J.P. Ricciardi handed out to the big man from Bossier City in December 2005.
While for most Blue Jays free agent misses — and lately there sure has been a lot of them — it’s fait to wonder if the team’s pursuit was undone by an unwillingness to play in Canada, uncertainty about where the team will play in 2021, or the front office’s insistence on standing so hard by their valuations as to not be able to seal the deal, this one feels a little bit different to me.
Hendriks is a great story of perseverance, having been designated for assignment multiple times in his career before turning himself into a bullpen force and earning this payday. It’s great to see him get paid. But in a baseball world where just a couple months ago teams didn’t claim Brad Hand’s $10 million option when Cleveland put him on waivers, that sure feels like the kind of contract no other team was going to offer. The fourth year option, in particular, is a risk (though Passan notes in a subsequent tweet that if the White Sox choose to buy him out they’ll be able to pay out the remaining $15 million over multiple years). And it’s worth noting that teams like the Astros, Mets, and Dodgers — all rumoured to be in on Hendriks as well — also chose not to go in this hard on the best closer in baseball.
But that doesn’t mean this doesn’t sting.
Hendriks was a natural fit for the Jays at a position of need. He lives close enough to Dunedin still to have made a trip the other week to visit the Jays’ fancy new training and development complex. He’s familiar with the city and, more importantly, he’s one of the few players in the league who knows what absolute fun it is to be a member of the Blue Jays when the Dome is rocking and the team is successful. If the money was about equal, you’d think the Blue Jays might have had a good chance of getting him to take theirs. The money just probably wasn’t so equal.
That’s entirely fine if the Jays are still able to nab a big fish or two this winter, as they seem very intent on doing. Yet, slowly but surely, the lake’s stock is being depleted. And yet again we’re reminded of the line that, in a great piece for Blue Jays Nation last week, Gideon Turk describes (to paraphrase him) as Shi Davidi’s favourite Andrew Friedman quote: “If you're always rational about every free agent, you will finish third on every free agent.”
The insistence on rationality with Hendriks is, well, downright rational. But for a Jays team that has failed to improved itself thus far, it’s representative of yet another off-season of death by 1,000 cuts. (Though, yes, that’s a little bit melodramatic when only 14 of MLB Trade Rumors’ top 50 free agents have been signed so far, and just five of their top 27.)
Last year they salvaged things by going beyond their comfort zone for Hyun Jin Ryu. They’ll need even bigger, bolder moves to make fans feel good about this one.
Of course, plenty of big moves are still out there to be made, so we need not froth at the mouth just yet. But removing Hendriks from the relief market is pretty significant for a team that’s looking at Rafael Dolis and Jordan Romano as its key late inning relievers. Luring in Hand would be a good next move, because beyond that they’re looking at the likes of Shane Greene, Alex Colomé, Trevor Rosenthal, or Kirby Yates. Those are good relievers. Cheaper relievers than Hendriks, to be sure. But not necessarily game-changers at the back of a bullpen.
It must be said that the Jays have done a very good job of finding cheap relief talent in recent years. It should also be said that if giving that much money to Hendriks was going to impact the club’s pursuit of George Springer, D.J. LeMahieu, or any other more significant upgrade they appear to be considering, there isn’t a whole lot to rue about this one.
But it’s certainly not going to do anything to soothe the understandably frustrated “do something!” crowd. And that’s a crowd that, among Jays fans, is growing by the week.
Failure is not an option for the Blue Jays this winter, and yet we’ve seen a whole lot of failure so far. It’s easy to get why we need to remain patient here. But it’s just as easy to understand why we’re getting nervous.
Top image: Screengrab via MLB.com/MLB Network