While the seats around the Oakland Coliseum are far removed from the field, certain sections are all up in the action of the bullpens. When I crossed that ballpark off my list in June of 2019, I sat near the mounds on the Athletics’ side of the field, where I had an up-close view of the unusually personal relationship the Oakland die-hards had with their relievers.
Liam Hendriks hadn’t yet emerged as Oakland’s closer at that point. I missed it by a night. He didn’t pitch in the game I saw on June 21, but his next appearance in the first of the 39 saves he recorded for the Athletics over his final year and a half in white, green and gold.
Despite the lack of ninth-inning credentials, Hendriks appeared to be the most popular member of the relief corps. He was 3-0 with a 1.49 ERA and 50 strikeouts over 42⅓ innings at the time, which explained part of it. His ease and gregariousness with the rowdy regulars probably had more to do with it.
At least that’s how I see it now, based on Hendriks’ charming introduction to the White Sox beat crew during the Zoom call announcing his signing. Hendriks will of course have to live up to his four-year, $52 million contract in order to earn the same kind of adoration from White Sox fans, but he did what he could to grease the skids with his quotes.
Here’s a sample:
No. 1: “You look at the guys that they’ve got, you look at how long they’ve got them for as well, which is another huge thing. At the end of the season my wife and I sat down and did a list of teams, and on paper, the White Sox were the team that I wanted to go to.”
No. 2: “[Tony La Russa] is more of that old-school manager, where I like to consider myself somewhat of an old-school pitcher. I want to go out there every single day, I want to get to 85-90 innings out of the pen. That was a big thing for me as well, knowing that there’s not going to be limitations on all that. I want to go. If we have a chance to win a game on back-to-back-to-back days or four days in a row or whatever it is, I want to have the ball.”
No. 3: “This makes me seem like an egotistical ass, but I want to make sure no matter what happens, I make that deal a bargain.”
No. 4: “The downtime between hearing from teams and stuff gave me a lot of time to go down rabbit holes online about which way organizations were doing. I may or may not have read all 90something pages of the SoxTalk blog [editor’s note: it’s a forum] that was about me, ’cause it was interesting. I wanted to see the fans’ perspective, and they were largely positive. White Sox fans were by far the most positive in everything that has transpired that I’ve seen online. That was another big thing. You see the fan group, you see the fact at how positive they were, and that was a huge contribution to helping us narrow everything down.”
No. 5: “My wife likes to call it White Line Fever. So I’m a completely different person on the field than I am off the field. Off the field I tend to be a little more joking around and less intense, and on the field I tend to refer to myself as an egotistical narcissist. I’m on the mound, and it doesn’t matter what I’m throwing. Whatever I throw, I’m better than the hitter.”
No. 6: “We’ve been going back and forth on the possibility of monikers. Obviously with my nickname being “Slydah” in Oakland, we figured it meshes well with going with “South Slydah.” Just with the South Side, I think it works well. We’ll see how that goes. Hopefully there’s a Players’ weekend where I can throw it on the back of the jersey this year.”
Hendriks even found a way to positively spin Rick Renteria’s bullpen management in the final game of the wild card series.
“I think Game 3 was a big one for me, even though the White Sox ended up not pulling out the win — my bad. [laughs] You bring in a group of guys in there, you’ve got nine 10 pitchers in that game pitching, and it was down to the wire. You don’t get that through everybody. You don’t get the opportunity for all nine guys to be on that day or have that good stuff.
“I’m sitting in the bullpen where every guy they brought in, we’re like, ‘They have to be running out of guys soon.’ But every guy they brought in had plus stuff, had a good attitude on the mound.
“I’m excited to be a part of it. Obviously you see some of the arms coming up there. I’m excited. Depending on what their plan is with [Garrett] Crochet or some of those guys who throw a little harder, it’s going to be a good little measuring stick. At some point I need to throw harder than him, and that’s a goal to work towards for me.”
You can watch the entirety of Hendriks’ appearance on YouTube. If you don’t have the time, you can read James Fegan’s account of how a bunch of different factors — the decision to hire La Russa, the willingness to commit to a progressive pitching apparatus with Ethan Katz, last year’s signing of Yasmani Grandal — all culminated in Hendriks finding the White Sox to be the most natural landing spot, start to finish.
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The only sticking point in between Hendriks and Chicago was the fourth year, which the White Sox creatively bridged by making the fourth year a team option that cost as much as the buyout. The only difference is whether the Sox pay $15 million to pitch for them in 2024, or whether they pay him $1.5 million over the next 10 years to go away. (Hendriks said he intends to make exercising it a no-brainer, and Hahn said he’s regarding it as a four-year term himself.)
In his portion of the Zoom call, Rick Hahn gave Jerry Reinsdorf credit for the structure.
“Jerry was the one who for years has been raising that concept of an extended spread. My understanding is that it’s similar to something that is done in the NBA, or at least used to be done in the NBA, I don’t know if it still is under the current collective bargaining agreement, but years ago the Bulls, when they got to the point of cutting ties with a player with a guaranteed contract, they had the ability to spread the money over a number of years.
“Jerry has always mentioned that to us as a device that appealed to him in the right situation, and I think, over the weekend, Friday or Saturday of this past week, he again raised, actually to Kenny, the idea that this might be a way to bridge the gap here on Hendriks.”
Hahn’s description of Reinsdorf’s involvement brought to mind the way the White Sox chairman got involved early in the seminal John Helyar book “Lords of the Realm.” Reinsdorf makes an impression as an owner who attempts to discover advantages for management in the player compensation system, and he found a legal success early by offering small raises with team options that suppressed salary trajectories through arbitration. His subsequent attempts to limit player earnings weren’t nearly as legit.
We’ll see if other teams pick up this strategy, and whether players develop any reason to be suspicious. It appears to be mutually beneficial on its face. Hendriks gets the kind of commitment that top closers receive while the White Sox mitigate the annual impact. If the White Sox don’t want to pay him full freight in 2024, Hendriks can pad whatever salaries he gets elsewhere by $1.5 million through each remaining year of his career and beyond.
That was the more interesting way Hahn credited Reinsdorf. I’d already predicted that he was going to praise Reinsdorf for having “the economic wherewithal to pursue premium upgrades to a team we feel is pretty good,” even though his maximum individual commitment and 2021 payroll are still well short of the league medians.
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A couple other Hahn quotes circulated around Twitter, but the context of the Zoom call should be presented with them. If you ran into these tweets with no other knowledge of the call, Hahn would come off as sounding satisfied despite liabilities in the rotation, at backup catcher and DH.
But Hahn said that he’d gone out too far on a limb for his comfort when he used the phrase “stay tuned” on a previous call. What he intended as a brief non-answer instead sounded like promised action when nothing was impending.
This time, Hahn chose to sound as though no additional moves were required, saying, “We’re going to err on the side of managing and minimizing expectations.” Based on the reaction, I’d say he accomplished his goal.
(Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire)
I’m really losing all respect for Hahn as time goes by.
Jerry cuts him off at the knees earlier in the off-season by forcing LaRussa on him and here he is putting his lips firmly on Jerry’s behind for signing a closer.
Furthermore, my stomach turns every time I hear how involved Jerry is in making baseball decisions.
I’ll have what he’s drinking.
Clearly Hendriks is not yet a follower of Sox Machine.
I will catch flack for saying this, but Hendricks (his personality) reminds me of Swisher based on some of the quotes. What kind of welcoming would Hendricks had received from the players in the 2008 clubhouse? Useless hypothetical perhaps, but I guess my point is whether the current clubhouse has the resilience to handle any hiccups performance-wise and otherwise by Hendricks during the 1st year.
You’re right, he should have said the team is garbage and he immediately regretted the contract.
Also Rick Hahn is awful.
I’m not seeing it. Two reasons:
1) Hendriks doesn’t seem to have the artifice that Swisher did. He’s outgoing, but not in the way that makes it seem like he’s hunting for a camera to stare into. Eloy is probably the Swishest guy on the team, so whatever Hendriks does isn’t going to stick out.
2) Hendriks said he prefers direct feedback from the coaching staff, even if that feedback is telling him he sucks.
Also, he’s got an accent he can hide behind.
Ok, I get it now.I know you provided context but I guess I was still reading those quotes out of context. Agree about Eloy.
Not a LaRussa fan or how it came about but I believe Hahn is maximizing the potential of this club within the constraints he is saddled with. I agree with those pundits who believe this club is a solid WS threat. I’d love to see another addition or two (especially catcher), put I have no problem with Leury/Eaton/Engel keeping the DH seat warm until Vaughn arrives (service time). I’m surprised how everyone bought into Eloy before he arrived at the show but there is such pessimism with Vaughn. With the signing of Cespedes & Nora (keeping my fingers crossed on Colas) and our top draft choices we can look forward to another group of young players to keep this club on top for the whole of the decade!!!
No whining here – Play Ball!!
Eloy torched Double-A and Triple-A pitching. Vaughn has faced neither, and his line in Winston-Salem was only decent.
It’s not pessimism or service-time manipulation to want him to prove he can damage upper-level pitching that isn’t wearing the same uniform before saddling him with expectations to hit enough as a major-league DH. If he proves it by May somehow, cool, but I don’t think asking for evidence is unreasonable.
In addition to your thoughts I think people are forgetting he hasn’t even had a full season in the minor leagues. Schaumburg doesn’t simulate a full minor league season.
If the organization wants to be serious about winning go get Brantley or Ozuna. Possibly Cruz as well but he is scary given the organizations inability to scout that type of player profile.
I don’t think people forget I just don’t think they much care (at least I don’t). The pandemic just changed things and the Sox are adapting. I’m glad, for instance, they brought up Crochet even though pitching in the MLB after 3 CBB IP and 0 MiLB IP is pretty unprecedented.
I don’t think the pandemic changed the major league learning curve for a hitter. Vaughn would be facing the same major league learning curve now as he would of before the pandemic.
I’m glad they brought up Crochet as well. Obviously when one throws 100 they can get away with more mistakes.
I agree with you that the learning curve is the same, but I don’t agree that Vaughn’s professional development (and therefore where he fits on that curve) should be evaluated like other players. So saying, “he hasn’t played above A+ yet” doesn’t seem adequate to me because the conditions under which that is true are entirely different than the conditions under which that is normally true.
I grant that Schaumburg isn’t as good for his development as a AA or AAA season, but he still developed. In addition to facing advanced pitching, he also surely received more personalized instruction than he otherwise would have. Whatever that’s worth (and I admit I don’t know), his professional experience is now different that someone who, under normal circumstances, only played a few months in the low minors.
I have been struck by the difference in comments — not necessarily here but across various sites — regarding Vaughn and Crochet.
Vaughn was a consensus top 5 draft pick with significant college playing time who was billed by some as the most advanced hitter in his draft class, performed reasonably well in his time in the minors in 2019, and has glowing reports from Schaumburg last year. Yet I hear comments that the Sox aren’t serious about winning if they think Vaughn can play a big role in 2021 and if the front office may not want to sign a veteran free agent who might block him, especially on a multi-year deal.
Crochet was a mid-first round draft pick who came off the board sooner than many expected, had limited college experience especially since his performance/results improved, with absolutely no minor league development, a grand total of 6.2 innings pitched in professional baseball, and concerning “forearm tightness” after/during those first few innings. But for some people, the Hendriks signing was unnecessary because the team already had a closer in Crochet.
I don’t get the disparity. Both have a lot of potential. Both are young and inexperienced. Is it just that hitting is hard and throwing 100+ is all you need for pitching success?
I haven’t seen anyone advocating for Crochet like that (though, as you say, perhaps it was another site), but I do think Crochet is a good example of being willing to throw out the traditional playbook for prospects in light of the extenuating circumstances.
And, in general, I’m for just giving prospects a go and, if it doesn’t work, you can always send them back down.
Their cases are so different I just don’t think Eloy is a good comparison for Vaughn. Eloy mashed but, as I recall, there were concerns about batting eye and swing mechanics (plus, defense).
Vaughn didn’t light up W-S, but he did have a 122 wRC+ in SSS. By April, that will have been a year and eight months ago. The pandemic makes it unprecedented. He didn’t develop in Schaumburg as much as he otherwise would have, but he surely *did* develop.
I agree with you that asking for evidence from Vaughn is not unreasonable. But neither is it unreasonable to prefer Vaughn to internal options or hoping Hahn can hit on a cheap veteran stop gap.
As the grandkids would say “My Bad” for starting this! I’m with you HalloFrank. I’m in favor of bringing up Vaughn after 100 or so at bats in AAA even if he struggles a bit. He is an advanced bat unless all the scouts are wrong. He’ll grow into DH and get Abreu off his feet from time to time. Another young exciting player chomping (or is it champing) at the bit to win is what the White Sox need. His struggles (if he has them) will be met with encouragement. It was painful to look in the dugout last year as EE struggled mightily! You could see the affect on the other players. Anyway, like I said, I do feel very strongly that by year’s end after 600 or so at bats in AAA and in the show we will be very pleased that an old on the decline DH was never procured.
Good interview. Really seems likable. I think he’ll fit in well.
In response to a lot of comments about Vaughn and speculation about his readiness. Lost in the discussion and overlooked is Mercedes. He HAS upper level minor league experience and success. His numbers in 2019 were better than Luis Robert at AAA in every category but steals. Homers, rbi’s, slugging, average. The man can hit, and frankly should have been the DH the last month of the season (or before that) rather than wasting plate appearances with Encarnacion. It sure would have been nice to see what Mercedes could do, I suspect he would have been much better than Edwin. Also of note, his 2019 splits showed he hit righties and lefties the same… a .310 average vs both, 12 homers vs righties. He had 17 homers and 62 rbis in only 53 games at triple A. Those numbers are spectacular. I think the man deserves a shot, and based on his success and superior numbers to Robert at AAA, it’s not baseless wishful thinking to be optimistic that he would be a significant improvement over Encarnacion.
I’d love to see them go out and get Brantley or Rosario for DH and OF depth. But if they don’t, I wouldn’t want to see them sign some scrub who is pretty weak and keep Mercedes on the bench. Either get Rosario or Brantly, or give Yermin a shot… with Vaughn waiting in the wings if he is ready. The Yerminator might be a great answer without needing to add anybody else.