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Do Phils need this reliever more than J.T.?

November 22, 2020

Liam Hendriks has transformed himself into one of the very best relievers in baseball the past two years, featuring a 1.79 ERA, a 0.90 WHIP, a 13.1 K/9 rate and 39 saves in 99 appearances across 2019-20. Combine that with a six-season run of being relatively durable -- outside of

Liam Hendriks has transformed himself into one of the very best relievers in baseball the past two years, featuring a 1.79 ERA, a 0.90 WHIP, a 13.1 K/9 rate and 39 saves in 99 appearances across 2019-20. Combine that with a six-season run of being relatively durable -- outside of a groin injury in 2018 -- and the hard-throwing closer will be highly sought after as the top relief arm on the open market.

Below is a list of the latest news and rumors surrounding the right-hander, who turns 32 in February.

Do Phillies need Hendriks more than Realmuto?

Nov. 22: The Phillies’ bullpen was a mess in 2020, posting the highest ERA (7.06) in MLB and contributing to the team’s 28-32 record. Philadelphia ended up missing the postseason by a single game and is now in danger of losing star catcher J.T. Realmuto to free agency.

Re-signing Realmuto is believed to be one of the team’s top priorities, but it can be argued that the team should place more emphasis on Hendriks.

Count MLB Network’s Ron Darling among those who think the Phillies should make the closer their No. 1 target this offseason.

“Liam Hendriks I think would really serve them well,” Darling said. “... He’s got a lot of grit and determination to go along with that talent, and I think he’d bring that fieriness to that Philadelphia bullpen. Push everyone down a notch and make them instantly better than they were all last year.”

The Phillies' projected payroll is currently around $130 million, giving the team some wiggle room. It's certainly possible Philadelphia could come away with both players, but it's more likely that it will have to choose one.

The Padres may need a closer -- enter Hendriks?

Nov. 6: The Padres made the postseason for the first time in 14 years in 2020, but with key relievers Trevor Rosenthal and Kirby Yates on the free-agent market, MLB.com's Mark Feinsand writes that San Diego general manager A.J. Preller could make another big splash this offseason by reeling in Hendriks. More >

Can this bullpen-needy team land Hendriks?

Nov. 3: As far as offseason needs go, it doesn’t get much more obvious than the Phillies and their bullpen. Philadelphia narrowly missed the postseason, and the 7.06 ERA posted by its relievers was a clear culprit. In MLB history, only the 1930 Phillies have ever produced a higher bullpen ERA in a single season.

If the Phillies are going to address that issue this winter, Hendriks would be one of the most high-impact solutions. So it’s no surprise that MLB Trade Rumors -- as part of its annual breakdown of the top 50 free agents -- projects Philly to land Hendriks on a three-year, $30 million deal.

Signing relievers to big free-agent contracts is a risky enterprise, but the Phillies might not have much of a choice as they try to snap a playoff drought that has now extended to nine seasons. And Hendriks is as solid a choice as any, having won the 2020 Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award, after finishing second in ‘19. Over those two seasons, the righty posted a 1.79 ERA over 110 1/3 innings, struck out 161 and saved 39 games.

With the A’s not making Hendriks a qualifying offer, the 31-year-old is not tied to Draft-pick compensation, which should make him all the more attractive to interested teams, including the Phillies.

Hendriks, top RP on FA market, doesn’t receive qualifying offer

Nov. 1: Hendriks was among the notable free agents who didn’t receive a one-year, $18.9 million qualifying offer on Sunday. He’s now free to sign with any team with no Draft-pick compensation tied to him.

After being designated for assignment in 2018, Hendriks posted a 1.79 ERA with a 1.70 FIP over the past two seasons and was named the ’20 American League Reliever of the Year.

The 31-year-old is the consensus No. 1 free-agent reliever, and MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince ranked him 13th on his list of the top-25 free agents overall.

Hendriks ranked No. 1 FA reliever

Oct. 29: Hendriks was ranked the top free-agent reliever available by The Athletic's Keith Law (subscription required).

While he only has Hendriks ranked as the No. 21 free agent overall, Law has Hendriks well ahead of the other relievers in his Top 40 -- Shane Greene (No. 29), Alex Colomé (No. 35), Jeremy Jeffress (No. 36) and Blake Treinen (No. 37).

"Hendriks' transition from a control-artist starter with average velocity to a power reliever has been remarkable," Law writes, saying he'd give Hendriks a "high-dollar two-year deal."

Would Hendriks accept qualifying offer?

Oct. 26: MLB Trade Rumors notes that the A's will have an interesting decision on whether to extend Hendriks (and teammate Marcus Semien) a one-year qualifying offer for 2021 -- and that it's also an interesting question whether Hendriks would accept such an offer.

Last year, fellow reliever Will Smith turned down a qualifying offer to enter free agency and ended up signing a three-year, $40 million deal with the Braves. So it could benefit Hendriks, a more elite reliever than Smith was a year ago, to test the open market rather than take a qualifying offer for 2021, which is expected to be for $18.9 million.

Hendriks named AL Reliever of the Year

Oct. 24: Hendriks was named the 2020 Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year, a reflection of his status as the top relief pitcher on the free-agent market.

Hendriks earned the award after finishing second in the Majors with 14 saves, while also posting a 1.78 ERA and 37 strikeouts (13.1 per nine innings), tied for fifth most among AL relievers. The right-hander was the hardest reliever in the league to reach base against, with a 0.671 WHIP that was the lowest among AL relievers.

Hendriks also proved he can perform on the postseason stage this year when he delivered three scoreless innings in the A's 9-7 victory over the Astros in Game 3 of the AL Division Series to keep Oakland’s season alive.