Cubs must avoid the mistake of trading Kyle Hendricks
Eighteen months ago, Jed Hoyer began the rebuild when he traded Yu Darvish, then put the pedal to the floor when he cleaned out the clubhouse seven months late. So far, and the jury hasn’t even been selected yet, these moves may work out in the long run. Naturally, with the team struggling and this year’s trade deadline just a month away, more speculation on some longtime Cubs and their future at the Friendly Confines is alive and well.
Kyle Hendricks is the longest tenured Cub, joining the team July 19, 2014. He is not flashy, nor does he show emotion. Whereas Joe Maddon described Willson Contreras as playing with his ‘hair on fire,’ Hendricks remind me of former tennis great Bjorn Borg in that he has a poker face. Mr. Spock would admire this. Most importantly, he is quietly productive.
I broke out my nerd and spent some time doing a deep dive on Baseball Reference. Although Hendricks is currently 4-6, he is yet to have a losing season in his big league career. He’s in the top twenty among active MLB pitchers in several career leaderboards including ERA, winning percentage, WAR, strikeouts/walks and more. He has proven to be a quietly efficient presence for the Cubs.
Cubs: Kyle Hendricks has been finding his groove over the last month
Numbers don’t lie, and despite his struggles last season, he still went 14-7 and Chicago won 18 of his 32 starts. This year, he’s struggled here in the first half but his last two starts have been vintage Hendricks, and he’s only had one bad outing (against the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves), in his last six starts after a rare thirteen days off between starts. His WAR was only 0.9 last season is and already 1.0 this year.
Which brings us back to our initial query: should he stay or should he go? I think it would be ridiculous to move him unless the player(s) in return are absurd. The stats are there, let’s consider intangibles. When Caleb Killian came up for three starts, I remember telling my wife Kim, have him sit next to Hendricks in the dugout. I would presume he was, and would be an excellent mentor for the young pitchers that are both here and on the way.
Secondly, the man is smart. He has a degree in economics from Dartmouth, so he has the distinction of being familiar with both the Ivy League and ivy-covered walls. His nickname is the ‘Professor’, which may be due to an unusual amount of education for an MLB player. There is some comparison to the great Greg Maddux, who also bears that nickname. That is a compliment, the only other man I know with that moniker is Springsteen piano player Roy Bittan.
Hendricks doesn’t light up the radar gun, which means a few things. He throws ‘differently’ than all the flamethrowers. His technique is to ‘change up’ his approach to getting outs, so after seeing guys in the nineties, here comes pinpoint control. Tommy John surgery? He may be the last teacher to never experience it, because he is a pitcher and not a thrower.
At the end of the day, this guy is a bargain. I know your lifetime W-2 may not come near this, mine certainly won’t, but the Cubs have him under contract for this year and next at just $14 million per year. In baseball today, that is practically a steal, especially for a team that had losses of ‘biblical proportions’ in the not-too-distant past.
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Hoyer’ plan is to have talented minor leaguers come to Wrigley regularly, not nearly all at once like ‘the core.’ Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, Scott Effross and Christopher Morel have all been very effective this year, with other young players contributing. More should be on the way soon. I would like to see Kyle Hendricks be the link between the success of the Cubs last postseason runs and the next era on the North Side.
This is old school thinking, but I’d like to see him retire in blue pinstripes.