Kyle Hendricks returning to the Cubs isn't as cut-and-dry as you may think

Chicago holds a team option on the veteran right-hander for 2024 - but whether or not they will pick it up remains to be seen.
Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks
Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

After another heartbreaking walk-off loss pushed the Chicago Cubs to the brink of elimination, it’s almost time to turn the page to the offseason when it comes to looming decisions the front office must make. One of the bigger decisions centers around what to do with the longest tenured Cub, and last remaining member of the 2016 World Series team, Kyle Hendricks. 

For his time in Chicago, Hendricks owns a respectable 3.47 ERA, and 93-69 record. After the 2023 campaign concludes, Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins will have to decide what to do with the Professor's $16 million club option for next year. If they don't - and also don't work out a new deal - he could walk in free agency.

This season, Hendricks recorded a 3.66 ERA over 132 2/3 innings of work. Those numbers are sure to have any team interested in his services as a middle-to-late rotation guy - at worst. At $16 million, those numbers are a steal if they can be replicated. However, bringing Hendricks back into the fold given the make-up of the rotation might prove be a disastrous decision for 2024. 

For one, we have already learned that Marcus Stroman is likely to opt in to his player option this winter, in an effort to prove he is healthy, be effective, and ultimately earn a bigger payday as a free agent next winter. Right away, if that comes to fruition, the rotation already starts to take shape for next season. 

With Stroman, Justin Steele and Jameson Taillon already commanding spots in the rotation, along with some combination of Jordan Wicks or Javier Assad, the room for actually improving this rotation for next year begins to slim dramatically. 

The Cubs need another bona fide stud they can insert alongside Steele and be a dependable workhorse. That would mean that without Hendricks, you are already moving one of Wicks or Assad to the bullpen, who have been just fine as starters. Bringing in an ace probably sees Wicks and Assad battle it out for the fifth rotation spot in Spring Training. 

It’s no secret that pitching wins championships. An elite defense up the middle certainly helps, but the fact is that this starting rotation still could use a shutdown arm to pair up with Steele atop the rotation.

Cubs: Bigger picture complicates potential Kyle Hendricks return

It’s not that Hendricks or his contract aren’t good; it's that there aren’t many other ways to improve this roster than further solidify the rotation. The only other way to add Hendricks and another ace is to place two guys that have proven they have high potential into the bullpen to not be used as efficiently as they could be. You don’t want Wicks or Assad piggy-backing for three innings when they’re both capable of giving you quality starts. You also don’t want those two taking up spots when the bullpen itself need a major overhaul this winter anyway, as evidenced by the last few weeks.

As cost-effective as Hendricks’ option is, Wicks and Assad’s team control both come with a price tag of less than $1 million annually, which would open up more funds for free agency. Dramatically improving the roster with both Stroman and Hendricks' salaries back on the books ($35 million) isn't impossible - but it's certainly more complicated.