Hendricks relives the highest highs of 'really special day'

January 22nd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CHICAGO -- The future was certainly on ’ mind, but he was not worrying too much about the coming baseball season. As the Cubs were preparing to make the final call on picking up the pitcher’s option for the 2024 season, he was welcoming his newborn son into his family.

Luca Hendricks arrived in the early morning on Nov. 5, and then the call from Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins came later in the afternoon. For at least one more year, Hendricks would remain in the only uniform he has worn in the big leagues.

“It was quite a day,” Hendricks said at Cubs Convention earlier this month. “Carter called me and he made it pretty quick. He said, ‘Try to go get a nap, if you can.’ But it was a really special day. Just to realize that I get to come back to Chicago, for my family, everything, it's just so special all around.”

Hendricks admitted feeling some uncertainty about his future with the Cubs, even after team chairman Tom Ricketts and president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer hinted at the possibility of a contract extension after last season. Given Hendricks’ strong comeback last year and his stature with the team, exercising his $16.5 million option for '24 always felt like a no-brainer.

The Cubs added to the rotation this winter by signing Japanese lefty Shōta Imanaga to a four-year deal, putting him on a staff that features lefty Justin Steele, veteran Jameson Taillon and Hendricks. There is a group of younger arms behind that cast, making Hendricks’ leadership an important part of the staff’s dynamic.

“He's the kind of player that brings so much,” said former Cubs infielder Ben Zobrist. “He even brought it back as a younger guy to our clubhouse. He brings so much to the field beyond just being on the mound. The value that he brings just goes way beyond him ever holding a baseball.”

That said, Hendricks showed in '23 that he is still pretty good with the ball in his hand.

After a capsular tear in his right shoulder limited him to 16 outings in 2022, Hendricks returned in late May last season and posted a 3.74 ERA in 24 outings. While the righty has relied more on craftiness than velocity in his career, his fastball did tick up last summer. He topped 90 mph at times, which is something he had not done since 2020.

During the buildup to his return, Hendricks altered his arm slot for a more efficient delivery and built up his strength with a tweaked program behind the scenes. He has stayed on that same path this offseason and is heading into Spring Training after a return to a regular winter routine.

“I’m fully healthy again, having a fully normal offseason,” said Hendricks, who is the longest-tenured Cubs player and the last remaining member of the 2016 World Series team. “I was able to just roll with everything I'd been working on through the end of the year.”

Hendricks also quipped that he is adding “dad strength” from carrying Luca around.

As for his future beyond the '24 season, Hendricks is not worrying too much about it at this point in time. He wants to help the Cubs turn the page on narrowly missing the playoffs last year with a return to October this time around. There will be ample time to think about everything else later on.

“Our focus is on the team and what we want to accomplish and where we want to go,” Hendricks said. “That's my sole goal always, is just to go and win. Again, I'm just so glad I'm back for another year right now. I have no worries about any of that. Whatever happens will happen. We've had so much mutual respect back and forth that it'll all be an easy process and work out for the best.”