MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs needed to know more about Kyle Hendricks, because the fastball velocity and physical attributes did not paint the picture of a high-end prospect. They had their scouts look into his background, talking to former coaches and teammates about his personality, work ethic and character.
"They all said he will get the absolute most out of his ability," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "Someone who will set a great example. Someone you want to bet on. And here we are."
Seven years after acquiring Hendricks as a Minor Leaguer from the Rangers, Epstein sat to the pitcher's right in an interview room at the Cubs' Spring Training complex. On the final day of Spring Training, Epstein announced that Chicago had signed Hendricks to a four-year contract extension, one that includes a club option that could keep the righty on the North Side through the 2024 campaign.
The deal is worth $55.5 million guaranteed from 2020-23, during which Hendricks will earn $12 million in '20 and $14 million annually from '21-23. The '24 season can be picked up by the Cubs for $16 million or the option can vest with a top-three National League Cy Young Award finish in '20. Otherwise, Chicago has a $1.5 million buyout for that season.
The kid with the economics degree from Dartmouth grew into the Game 7 starter in the 2016 World Series for the Cubs. He evolved into one of the game's best strike-throwers, using precision to overcome his lack of power. In his five seasons in the Majors, Hendricks has exceeded all the expectations that came with him when he packed his bags as a Rangers farmhand.
"I want to exceed what they've given me and provide even more to the Cubs and this organization," Hendricks said. "The work will never end. I just want to be the best pitcher I can always be, and at the end of the day, when my career is said and done, to have no regrets. The hard work continues. And really, nothing changes for me."
Prior to Tuesday's spring finale against the Red Sox, Epstein announced the extension to the rest of the players in a morning meeting. Within that room, there are a handful of other key core pieces (Javier Baez and Kris Bryant atop the list) who are in the middle of the extension-talk phase of their stardom and service time.
Hendricks said he hopes his pact will lead to other deals around the room.
"Hopefully this starts a trend where this group can stay together," said Hendricks.
Epstein danced around questions on that topic.
"I'm glad Kyle said that, because it's inappropriate for me to," Epstein said with a smile. "Look, I think you guys know how much we believe in this group. We have some special people in there. We'd love to keep it intact as long as we can. Hopefully this builds some momentum in that direction. We'll continue to quietly try to get things done."
Epstein noted that the Cubs had been in talks with Hendricks for more than a year, even admitting that negotiations seemed dead in the water at multiple turns. The two sides picked things up again this spring, and things picked up steam in the past few days. Hendricks said the offer he finally agreed to sign achieved a middle ground and he felt compelled to take the deal.
Hendricks underwent a physical on Monday as the final step in the process.
"It got to that point, where I knew 100 percent they were sticking their neck out for me," Hendricks said. "They wanted me to be here. And I felt like I needed to reciprocate that and accept, because I love it so much. I want to be a Cub."
Dating back to the 2015 season, the 29-year-old Hendricks ranks 14th in ERA (3.14) and 21st in WAR (15.0 per Fangraphs) among qualified pitchers. The right-hander won an ERA title in 2016 (2.13). His 3.07 career ERA ranks fifth among active pitchers with at least 100 career starts, trailing only Clayton Kershaw, Jacob deGrom, Chris Sale and Madison Bumgarner.
Not bad for an unheralded Minor Leaguer included in the Ryan Dempster trade with Texas.
"He has far exceeded that ceiling that was put on him, even by [us]," Epstein said. "Look, if you look at the numbers since he's been up here, he's one of the most effective half-dozen starting pitchers in the game since he's come up. The names on that list are guys on Hall of Fame trajectories, so Kyle's in rare air for what he's done.
"But, more importantly, we love the process that he uses to get there and we think it bodes well for the future."