The 2020 Reliever of the Year and former A’s closer is a free-agent. The Seattle Mariners and Jerry Dipoto need bullpen help, is Hendriks a solution?
The former Oakland Athletics closer, Liam Hendriks, did not receive an $18.9 million qualifying offer from the A’s so he becomes one of the best free-agent relievers in the market. Jerry Dipoto has mentioned that improving the bullpen for 2021 is at the top of his wish list. Hendriks is one of several veteran free-agent relievers on the market that Dipoto can go after, but Hendriks might be the most intriguing. The Mariners are well aware of his talent after having to face him the past several years.
Hendriks has been no joke the past two seasons with the A’s. The Australia native recently won the AL Reliever of the Year after saving 14 games, posting a 1.78 ERA, and striking out 37 batters in 25.1 innings. And in 2019, Hendriks posted a 1.80 ERA while saving 25 games. The former Athletics closer made his first All-Star team in 2019 as well.
There are some concerns from my perspective about Hendriks. Similar to Kirby Yates, Hendriks has only proven to be an elite reliever in recent years. Yates turned into an elite closer for the Padres after several bad years in the MLB.
Hendriks was originally a starting pitcher and he struggled a lot. He was converted to a relief pitcher in 2015 when he joined the Toronto Blue Jays and had the best season of his career. As a starting pitcher, Hendriks was in the 5.00-6.00 ERA range. In his first season as a reliever, he posted a 2.92 ERA in 58 games which is great.
After that, he was around the 4.00 ERA mark from 2015 to 2018. And finally, in 2019 he really figured things out and took the closer role for the Athletics. This is my main source of concern for investing in a reliever like Hendriks who becomes 32-years-old next February. Dipoto and the Mariners do have ample spending room after rebuilding the pats five years, but I expect Jerry Dipoto to be extremely cautious.
The Mariners are not in a win-now situation quite yet, although they are close. So spending on players with medium-high risk might not be the safest play. That is why I did not like Kirby Yates, and Hendriks has somewhat of a risk. Hendriks did not have an injury-riddled season as Yates did in 2020 so that is better.
I expect Liam Hendriks to draw a lot of interest from around the league, which would increase his asking price. Spotrac projects Hendriks’ market value to be $15.5 million per year. That is a big projected number already and I think it is a realistic calculation considering how he pitched in 2020. For example, Kenley Jansen is the most expensive relief pitcher and makes $20 million per year. Aroldis Chapman is the second-highest-paid and earns $17.2 million per year.
Hendriks is near the top of the list with these two so it may not be worth an investment for the Seattle Mariners and Jerry Dipoto. It will be interesting to see what players will be asking for especially with the losses in revenue due to the pandemic. The Mariners have plenty of other affordable veteran options in the offseason which might fit better for Dipoto.