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Liam Hendriks changes nothing in Chicago

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Wild Card Round - Chicago White Sox v Oakland Athletics - Game Three Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Chicago White Sox just gave the best reliever on the market, former Twin Liam Hendriks, a boatload of money but it doesn’t really worry me too much. In fact, I don’t think Hendriks is much of a barrier at all to the Twins running through the Central Division.

Chicago is a threat to Minnesota, and really the only one left, but its not because of the guy pitching in the ninth inning with a close lead. And don’t think Hendriks will be used in any other way—Tony La Russa is as old-school as it comes when we discuss bullpen management.

The $54 million guaranteed that the Sox are giving Hendricks is starting to look a little better in the light of day, as much of the contract is kinda-sorta-deferred, but its still a ton of money. Lets ask Rockies fans how overpaying for a “elite closer” works out. Oh—and its a lot of money even if Hendriks stays dominant for four years, but we all know relievers are volatile. Look at the difference in 2019 and 2020 for Taylor Rogers, and imagine being strapped to that for four more years at “add a decent slugger” levels of money. And then add in a manager I have zero faith in being creative about usage. Yeah, I have no worries at all about how this works out, if I’m a modern-minded Sox fan.

But lets say Hendriks manages to be the dominant, shut-down, proven closer™ the Sox are paying for, it doesn’t do them a ton of good. Last season, their closer was Alex Colome—who will be a lot cheaper to sign than Hendriks, by the way—and Colome did a pretty decent job. Last season Colome closed out 18 of his 21 appearances, and saved 12 games. He also had an infinitesimal 0.81 ERA and a FIP slightly below three, although he did it without a ton of strikeouts. Hendriks, meanwhile, closed out 20 of his 24 appearances and collected 14 saves. His ERA was twice that of Colome, at 1.78, although his FIP was much, smaller (1.14) and he struck out almost twice as many batters as Colome did. Hendriks was worth 1.4 bWAR while Colome was worth 1.0, over a full season that’s just over one win difference. Comparing the two, Hendriks might get you three outs with less drama, but both guys are going to get you the three outs you need.

The rest of the suspect cast-of-characters in the bullpen remain largely the same, as do some of the question marks in the rotation. There isn’t much point in having an elite closer if you can’t get him a lead to work with. Evan Marshall is probably pretty okay, but they are also relying on the likes of Codi Heuer, Aaron Bummer, and Matt Foster to all not fall off a cliff. The rotation does have unproven reinforcements built in, but Michael Kopech hasn’t pitched in two years. Lance Lynn was dominant in Texas, but has a rocky history and is getting up in age. Dane Dunning left in that trade, and Dylan Cease is probably due some regression. Most importantly, Reynoldo Lopez is still around for hitters to feast upon.

This is the kind of move that works for say, the 2015 Royals or 2017 Yankees. A team that already has the pieces, and adds the last piece to create a superbullpen. The White Sox aren’t there. Hendriks might become a bit of a nuisance, but he isn’t enough of a difference maker to change anything on his own.

Of course, Sox Twitter will probably drag this article up every time he shuts us down this summer—but I got the last laugh in 2020, didn’t I?