Chicago White Sox, MLB, MLB Free Agency, MLB Hot Stove

Inside the Clubhouse: Liam Hendriks, Brad Hand and the free-agent pitching market

Inside the Clubhouse looks at Liam Hendriks’ new deal, the suitors for Brad Hand, the state of the MLB free-agent pitching market and more.

When asked for his thoughts on Liam Hendriks’ contract with the Chicago White Sox, one high-ranking American League executive said: “This may be the first deal where the player is actually rewarded if he sucks.”

The deal, negotiated by Matt Hannaford of ALIGND Sports, guarantees Hendriks $54 million, with $39 million coming in the first three years. The White Sox can exercise the $15 million club option for a fourth season or decline it and instead pay Hendriks $1.5 million annually for 10 years.

The option, as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported, becomes guaranteed if Hendriks is traded. The deal includes full no-trade protection in the first year, a 10-team no-trade list in the second and a five-team no-trade list in the third.

It is a unique structure, but the deal has drawn widespread praise throughout the industry. Another executive called it “impressive for the player.” A rival agent, meanwhile, called it a “win for Hendriks because no matter what, he gets that bread — and a lot of it.”

The market has been stagnant this winter, with few teams actively looking to spend as owners claim losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But while handing out large contracts to veteran closers comes with significant risks, the White Sox believe that Hendriks, 31, is the piece that puts them in prime position to compete for a World Series.

Evaluating the Brad Hand market

Free-agent reliever Brad Hand remains in talks with the New York Mets, according to league sources, with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays among the other teams interested.

The Mets have a decent chance of signing Hand, though a deal is not close at this time. Mets president Sandy Alderson has indicated that, had Steve Cohen’s purchase of the team gone through sooner, they may have claimed Hand on outright waivers. But Hand remains on the Mets’ radar and would give the team a high-end left-handed arm in a right-handed heavy bullpen.

The Astros are interested in Hand, 30, even after signing Pedro Baez and Ryne Stanek. Houston lacks a clear candidate for the ninth inning and there are signs the team covets such a bullpen piece, with general manager James Click telling reporters: “It’s something that I think all of us would like to have, and it can certainly make you feel better about your bullpen than if you don’t have someone who maybe has done it in the past.”

The Dodgers are looking for another reliever after adding Blake Treinen and Corey Knebel, though they are on the periphery in the Hand sweepstakes. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are looking to upgrade their bullpen, but could turn their focus to George Springer after missing on LeMahieu and with J.T. Realmuto increasingly likely to return to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Hand is reportedly seeking a multi-year deal, with Rosenthal adding he has had two-year discussions with the Mets. While nothing is imminent, it would not be a surprise if he was the next top free-agent reliever to come off the board.

Team’s Plan B if they miss on Hand

There are indications that the teams that miss on Hand will turn their attention to Justin Wilson, widely considered the second-best left-handed reliever on the market.

Wilson, 33, pitched the last two seasons with the Mets, finishing with a 2.91 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 58.2 innings. He is not close to signing, but once Hand goes off the board, his market is expected to quickly develop.

Position player market heating up?

With D.J. LeMahieu returning to the New York Yankees, and J.T. Realmuto reportedly considering a $100 million-plus offer, there is optimism that a stagnant free-agent market for position players is about to heat up.

There had been growing frustration from players and agents, with free-agent infielder Travis Shaw recently saying, “It would be nice if the position player market could pick up some steam” while calling the current landscape “ice cold.”

Before LeMahieu signed, the largest contract signed by a position player was the four-year, $40.6 million deal that James McCann inked with the Mets. But with LeMahieu off the board, sources familiar with the second base market expect it to become more active, with Kolten Wong and Kiké Hernandez being among the names to watch.

Wong, 30, is drawing interest from the St. Louis Cardinals after the team declined his $12.5 million club option, sources said, though the Boston Red Sox are among the other teams that have checked in on the veteran second baseman. Hernandez, 29, was a key member of the Dodgers roster the last six seasons and is capable of playing most positions defensively, which has piqued the interest of teams around the league.

When Realmuto signs, and the Phillies’ nine-figure offer indicates talks are moving in the right direction, the markets for Yadier Molina and Wilson Ramos will come into focus. When Springer signs (there are no signs that a deal is close despite strong interest from the Mets and Blue Jays), the markets for Jackie Bradley Jr. and Michael Brantley, among others, are expected to quickly develop.

The LeMahieu deal kickstarted the market, and it’s likely there is a domino effect from that. But once Realmuto and/or Springer signs, the floodgates are expected to open.

Around the Horn:

  • Tommy Pham signing for $8.9 million to avoid arbitration drew praise throughout the industry. It was a $1 million raise from his 2020 salary, exceeding the $900,000 raise that the Cubs gave Kris Bryant in his final year of arbitration after the two had similar statistical seasons.
  • Jordan Hicks opted out of the 2020 season, and his $862,500 settlement made him the highest-paid first-time arbitration-eligible pitcher in history not to pitch in his platform year, per Jon Heyman.
  • The Dodgers continue to pursue bullpen help and in addition to Brad Hand, the club has strong interest in free-agent reliever Kirby Yates. He is getting closer to signing, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, with a few other teams still in the mix for the veteran right-hander.
  • There are reports from the Dominican Republic that it is “practically a fact that (Reds pitcher) Luis Castillo will become a Yankee.” Two sources with direct knowledge adamantly denied those reports, with one saying it is “100 percent false.” Reds general manager Nick Krall later went on the record and confirmed the reports were not true.
  • The free-agent market for right-handed starting pitchers has yet to develop, and two agents believe that it will stay that way until Trevor Bauer signs.
  • White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson is now represented by Reynolds Sports. He was previously with the agency before switching to Klutch Sports but only lasted a few months at Klutch before moving back.

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