The reliever who should top Phillies' offseason wish list originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The Phillies spent over $700 million on free agents the last three offseasons. Spending all over baseball could be impacted this winter by revenues lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that's not going to stop us from taking a daily look these next few weeks at some free agents who would fill needs and help the Phillies get better.
First up: Closer Liam Hendriks
Career to date
Hendriks is no overnight success. He spent eight major-league seasons with four different teams from 2011 through 2018 before morphing into an elite, All-Star closer with the Athletics the last two years.
Hendriks owned a 4.72 career ERA entering 2019. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent in 2007 by the Twins, was waived and picked up by the Cubs, was waived and picked up by the Orioles, was waived and picked up by the Blue Jays, was traded to Kansas City, was traded back to Toronto, then was traded to Oakland, where things finally fell into place last season.
Hendriks' slider and curveball have been major weapons the last two years. His opponents have gone 15 for 140 (.107) against those two pitches with one home run and 86 strikeouts.
His 96 mph fastball isn't too shabby either. Since 2019, he's used it on the first pitch to four out of five hitters he's faced.
Hendriks was somehow even more dominant in 2020 than he was during his breakout 2019.
He went 14 for 15 in saves, and in 24 appearances he posted a 1.78 ERA, 0.68 WHIP, 37 strikeouts and three walks.
Over the last two seasons, he has a 1.79 ERA in 99 appearances with a 0.90 WHIP and 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings. He's also allowed only six home runs in 110⅓ innings as balls are flying out of yards more than ever.
Hendriks could not have positioned himself better in free agency.
How he’d impact the Phillies
The Phillies have arguably as big an overall hole in their bullpen as they have behind the plate with J.T. Realmuto unsigned. The 2020 Phillies were obviously doomed by their bullpen. They need much more than just one reliever, but the improvements have to start somewhere.
We all know how fickle relievers' performance and health can be. Who would have predicted that David Robertson, after averaging 65 appearances for a decade and not falling below 60, would pitch in seven games over two seasons for the Phillies?
Hendriks, though, is probably the biggest difference-making reliever on the market and the team that signs him should not have to sit back and hope he pitches well. His fastball is often good enough to beat a hitter even when it's not located perfectly. And his breaking balls are nightmarish.
If the Phillies wind up with him, he could appear in the highest-leverage situation whether it's the eighth or ninth inning. He's made 24 appearances of longer than one inning since the start of 2019.
Hendriks made $2.15 million in 2019. His excellent season earned him a raise to $5.3 million in 2020.
He's in line for significantly more this offseason.
Even with the shaky financial circumstances around the league, Hendriks is the top right-handed reliever on the market. (Brad Hand is the top lefty, and the two are pretty close overall.)
In a normal offseason, Hendriks would be looking to beat the three-year, $40 million contract Will Smith signed last offseason with the Braves. That was the richest deal a reliever received a year ago. Smith had a longer track record but Hendriks has been an even better pitcher recently.
Hendriks could have been looking at something like three years, $45-48 million if not for the pandemic. He should still find at least a three-year deal but it could be closer to $36-$40 million.
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