A few weeks before the Blue Jays hired Ross Atkins, they made the mistake of trading away Liam Hendriks. They could fix that when he becomes a free agent this winter.
It was late October of 2015 when we learned that Alex Anthopoulos would not be returning to his post as the General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. With Mark Shapiro taking over as the President and CEO, the circumstances changed enough that the successful young GM decided to pursue another opportunity elsewhere rather than sign an extension to stay. It wasn’t until Dec 3rd that the Blue Jays officially hired Ross Atkins as his replacement.
However, that didn’t stop the front office from making a few decisions in the month or so without a new GM, and one of them was an ill-advised trade with the Oakland A’s. The Blue Jays received Jesse Chavez, who certainly had his usefulness in Toronto, however, there’s no denying that the A’s won the trade by getting Liam Hendriks back in return.
Since that swap Hendriks has transformed into one of the best closers in all of baseball. He didn’t start in that role until 2019, but the change resulted in an All-Star appearance, and 25 saves to go with a 1.80 ERA and a 0.965 WHIP last season. He followed that up with another stellar performance this year, saving 14 games and posting a 1.78 ERA and a 0.671 over 25.1 innings, and that was before his post-season heroics.
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Add it all up and the 31-year-old hitting free agency at the best possible time based on his recent production, and if history is any indication he’s likely priced himself out of a return to the A’s. It’s not impossible of course, but they’ve typically shied away from big money contracts in Oakland, and I’d be surprised to see them spend big on a closer. With that in mind, the Blue Jays could have a chance to bring back a talented arm, and it’s something they should seriously consider.
Unfortunately Ken Giles has been lost to free agency at the conclusion of the 2020 season, but he won’t be available next year anyway after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Anthony Bass is also headed for free agency, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be back. On the plus side, the Jays will retain Rafael Dolis for another season, and Jordan Romano should be healthy and maybe even ready to take over the closer’s role. Regardless, Hendricks would make an excellent fit in Toronto, and they should have the budget to make him a very competitive offer.
With a position player core that’s largely playing on pre-arbitration eligible contracts, there’s a really good argument for the front office to spend money on the pitching staff. Some of those resources will no doubt be directed toward the rotation, but a lockdown reliever could be almost as important, especially if they hope to compete in the playoffs again next year.
After making just 5.3 million in 2020 (before pro-rating came into play), Hendriks is going to find himself with a big raise from his salary last season. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if his agent sought somewhere in the neighbourhood of four years and 60 million. I don’t know that I’d bank on him getting quite that much though, especially after teams missed out on ticket revenue in 2020, but he’ll still be paid handsomely.
While I’m not sure I’d like to see the Blue Jays give any reliever a 60 million dollar deal, if the price comes down, even just a bit, then I think Hendriks could be a more than worthwhile free agent to pursue. It would help shore up an area of need as the club looks to become annual contenders, and on a far less important note, the Blue Jays could get a chance to bring back a player they never should have let get away in the first place.