Liam Hendriks describes himself as a different cat on and off the field.
Off it, as he came across on a Zoom call Friday, hours after the White Sox officially announced the signing of baseball’s top relief pitcher over the last two seasons to a $54 million contract, Hendriks is engaging, thoughtful and nice.
On it, he’s a self described “egotistical narcissist.”
Hendriks, from Perth, Austraila, said he wants to pitch in 81 games. He’s not afraid of multiple-inning appearances. Self-confidence is plainly evident, and all he wants to do is win.
“On the mound, my wife likes to call it White Line Fever,” Hendriks said Friday. “I’m a totally different person on the field. Off the field I’m going to be more joking around and less intense. … On the mound it doesn’t matter what I’m throwing, whatever I throw I’m better than the hitter.”
In a four-year, $54 million deal which was first reported Monday, Hendriks will receive $11 million in 2021, $13 million in 2022 and $14 million in 2023, with the Sox holding a $15 million option or $15 million buyout for 2024. If the option is declined, the buyout will be paid in 10 equal installments between 2024-33. The unusual deal includes a $1 million signing bonus.
It was a deal, not unlike NBA player contracts, in Sox and Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf suggested structuring in a way to give Hendriks the fourth year he sought.
“The cleanest way to view it is as a four-year contract,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “That’s how we view it. We fully expect Liam to be here for the four years and look forward to exercising that option three years from now. The structure did provide us, though, with some protection.”
It was the largest guaranteed deal given to a free agent thus far this offseason.
“Jerry has always mentioned that to us as a device that appealed to him in the right situation and over the weekend he again raised to [vice president] Kenny [Williams] the idea this might be the way to bridge the gap here on Hendriks,” Hahn said.
Reinsdorf, a source said, was not enamored with the thought of entrusting Alex Colome with more years of closing duty for a team built to playing deep into October, perhaps because of Colome’s style of pitching to contact – as effective as it was. So he will have Hendriks bringing his 40.2 percent strikeout rate to finish games.
“Colome [who is a free agent] was great and had a very strong year for us and also was a positive presence in our clubhouse,” Hahn said. “In the end, moving to Liam was very much about the profile Liam brings to that role. He misses a lot of bats.”
Hendriks hiked his fastball velocity by two mph to 96.5 mph in 2019, posted a 1.80 ERA and struck out an eye-popping 124 batters over 85 innings while walking 21. In the shortened 2020 season, he struck out 37 while issuing only two unintentional walks over 25 1/3 innings while posting a 1.78 ERA. His 39 saves in those two seasons are six more than any other pitcher in baseball.
Hendriks’ addition to a deep bullpen may spell an end to the Sox’ offseason additions for putting a World Series contender on the field, unless Hahn was playing it coy or posturing Friday.
“To quote Hoosiers, our team is on the floor,” said Hahn, who added right-hander Lance Lynn to the rotation with a trade and Hendriks to the bullpen to give the Sox four top-ten finishers in 2020 Cy Young voting, as well as right fielder Adam Eaton, this offseason. “We’re going to continue to explore things, but we feel pretty good about where this group is at right now. If this is the final group come spring, that’s all right.”
The Sox have three proven starters in the rotation and no proven designated hitter or backup catcher, and with plenty of free agents available with only a month left before spring training is scheduled to begin, firming up those areas trying to add depth should be within reach.
Hahn said saying “stay tuned” at the end of his previous Zoom call with media “created these expectations that something more was coming. Obviously we hoped something like Liam was coming, but at that point we didn’t know. So I’m going to err on the other end of the extreme of that comment and say, if this Is our group, we’re very happy with it and we’ll go to camp with these guys and we’ll sort it out there.”
Hendriks, nicknamed “Slydah” on Oakland, said with his Australian accent that “South Slydah” has a nice ring to it. Sox fans who saw Hendriks ring out the Sox season by finishing them off in the Wild Card series, probably agree.
He says he’s glad to be on their side now.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things in the clubhouse, which is a big thing for me, and also they’ve got the best defensive catcher in baseball in Yaz [Yasmani Grandal], which is also huge for a pitcher,” Hendriks said. “Talking to guys on the team, talking to guys who have previously been on the team, it’s a good group of guys. I’m excited about this.”
NOTES: The White Sox avoided arbitration with right-handers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez Friday, signing Giolito to a one-year, $4.15 million contract and Lopez for $2.1 million.
*The Sox signed 23-year-old outfield prospect Yoelqui Cespedes of Cuba, the No. 1 ranked international prospect per MLB Pipeline, on the first day of the international signing period. Cespedes, who received a $2.05 million signing bonus, is the half-brother of Yoenis Cespedes.