A man with a plan: Hendriks has a return date in mind

December 12th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Scott Merkin's White Sox Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CHICAGO --  currently is a closer without a team after the White Sox declined their $15 million option for the 2024 season, choosing instead to pay $1.5 million in each of the next 10 years as part of his buyout.

That decision was based primarily on Hendriks’ ongoing recovery from Tommy John surgery, which took place on Aug. 2 and could keep the right-hander sidelined for much of the upcoming season. But Hendriks is a man with a mound plan for the present and future, and at this point he’s looking at right around the ’24 Trade Deadline, which represents a quicker return than the projected 12 to 14 months.

“I’m giving them a target date,” said Hendriks with a laugh when I talked to him by phone on Monday.

“On a big league mound, in a big league game,” his wife, Kristi, added on the same call. “That’s something everybody knows about Liam. He is not here to dilly-dally around.”

Doing the work post-surgery isn’t as much challenging as it is exciting for the three-time All-Star, who recorded 75 saves over the 2021-22 seasons for the White Sox. He threw 98 mph to 100 mph with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, so who knows what’s possible with it fully repaired?

But the recovery remains secondary to Hendriks winning his battle against Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma last season. The insidious illness went into remission on April 20, as announced on his Instagram, and Hendriks made his triumphant return on May 29 at home. 

This inspiring battle led Hendriks to win a pair of American League Comeback Player of the Year Awards, despite throwing just five innings in five games – five innings that were bigger than returning from an injury or a couple of strikeouts with the bases loaded.

“As my wife and people around me have been reminding me, it’s bigger than just missing two months,” Hendriks said. “This is something that’s not just baseball related. … ‘You literally were battling for your life, and now you are not only doing what you are able to get back onto a big league field but what you are doing off the field.’ That was cool. That was really special to me.”

Hendriks had a clear six-month cancer scan in October, and he’s moving forward with the elbow recovery. He no longer can work at the White Sox facility after the option was declined, a decision he termed a “coin flip” with the return possibility guided by Hendriks being a good clubhouse influence for a young team and a young bullpen vs. the White Sox paying him $15 million for not pitching during much of ’24.

Other teams have had conversations with Hendriks after general manager Chris Getz delivered the news prior to the White Sox organizational meetings at Camelback Ranch in late October. One of those teams was the Cubs, according to Hendriks.

“So, there’s always that,” Hendriks said. “There’s been nothing substantial about any of the conversations we’ve had, but they were one of the teams that reached out pretty early on.

“Obviously, we are in no rush. My timeline hasn’t changed. I’m not going to be ready in April. Teams are making sure they really get their main part of 2024 set up. We’ve had some clubs call and be like, ‘Once it heats up, let us know.’”

Hendriks is not too far away from adding weight into his hand when doing dry throwing, and he hopes to start throwing a ball shortly. He’ll have a better idea of his schedule once that process begins.

“There’s not too much to write home about right now. You go to PT, you come back. You relax and sit on the couch and then get yelled at by your wife for sitting on the couch too long,” Hendriks said. “It sucks, and it’s a negative I’m missing time. But as far as career goes, who knows.

“I’ll be going into my [35-year-old] season next year, and I finally have a new arm that can do what it’s supposed to be doing. I’m going to be able to recover better and I’m excited for prospects of the future and seeing where it goes, especially in my mindset mixed with a brand-new elbow.”