Hendriks ready for Sox role on 'road to ring'

January 15th, 2021

CHICAGO -- just might have won over the White Sox fan base during his first Zoom on Friday afternoon after the free-agent closer officially agreed to a four-year, $54 million contract with the team.

At the very least, Hendriks heightened the high level of excitement already building behind manager Tony La Russa’s crew.

The 31-year-old native of Perth, Australia, used the phrase “road to a ring” to describe the White Sox pursuit of a World Series title in 2021. He changed his nickname from Slydah to South Slydah in a nod to the club’s roots in the South Side of Chicago, and he spoke of how he might have read all 90 pages of comments on him on a popular message board/blog named SoxTalk as he waited for this free-agent process to unfurl.

“I wanted to see the fans’ perspective. They were largely positive,” Hendriks said. “The White Sox fans were by far the most positive in everything that has transpired that I've seen online. That was a huge contribution to helping us kind of narrow everything down.”

White Sox fans might like Hendriks’ upbeat and fiery nature, but the right-hander ultimately will be judged by what he does on the field. Remember, the club had a 32-0 record in 2020 when leading after eight innings and had an outstanding closer in , who featured a 1.13 ERA and a .138 opponents’ batting average at home over his two years with the team.

But in adding Hendriks, the White Sox were chasing more than the Twins at the top of the American League Central. They were polishing off a deep and talented bullpen with a dominant ninth-inning force in their quest to win it all.

“Colomé was great and had a very strong year for us and also was a positive presence in our clubhouse,” said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn on Friday. “In the end, moving to Liam was very much about the profile Liam brings to that role.

“He misses a lot of bats. His pitch mix is one that complements a lot of what we are able to do in terms of mixing and matching in the back end of our ‘pen. His ability to go multiple innings as we unfortunately witnessed firsthand last October will provide Tony and [pitching coach Ethan Katz] a premium weapon at the end of games. We felt it was important to make that move.”

Since taking over as the A’s closer on June 21, 2019, Hendriks has recorded a 1.99 ERA over 68 innings pitched, with 39 saves, 111 strikeouts and a 0.79 WHIP in 65 appearances. As Hahn mentioned, the White Sox faced Hendriks in the 2020 AL Wild Card Series, and the righty struck out five over 1 2/3 innings and 49 pitches in Oakland’s Game 2 victory, only to come back and strike out the side after yielding a James McCann leadoff single to close out the series in Game 3.

There was plenty of praise from Hendriks for the White Sox after that victory, and he mentioned Friday how the South Siders were at the top of an offseason wish list he made with his wife, Kristi. Hahn added that the White Sox have been trying to acquire Hendriks since last season, but a trade never materialized.

Along with a $1 million signing bonus, Hendriks will receive $11 million in 2021, $13 million in ‘22 and $14 million in ‘23. Both sides got creative with a $15 million club option for ‘24, which includes a $15 million buyout. If the White Sox decline the option, the buyout will be paid in 10 equal installments between ‘24-33.

“We fully expect Liam to be here for the four years and look forward to exercising that option three years from now, but the structure did provide us with some protection,” said Hahn, who gave White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf credit for pushing the extended spread idea over the weekend. “It helped bridge the gap between their aspirations for four guaranteed years and our desire to keep it at three.”

In 2020, Hendriks finished with a 3-1 record, a 1.78 ERA, a 0.67 WHIP, 14 saves, 37 strikeouts and three walks over 24 appearances and 25 1/3 innings. He ranked ninth in the AL Cy Young Award voting, joining Dallas Keuchel (fifth), Lance Lynn (sixth) and Lucas Giolito (seventh) as top 10 finishers for that award who are now part of the White Sox staff.

As the second Australian-born player in White Sox history, joining right-handed pitcher Shane Lindsay in 2011, Hendriks wants to contribute to deeper team-oriented success in ’21 and beyond. And he wants to contribute frequently.

“I want to pitch every day. I want to pitch in 81 games a year,” Hendriks said. “It's part and parcel to one, being healthy and being effective, and two, having the confidence of being on a winning team. And we're able to do that. I'm ready for whatever.

“Whether it be multiple innings, whether it be solo innings, just a lot of solo innings. Whatever it needs to be, I'm capable of going out there and giving the team whatever they need.”