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The future remains uncertain for Kyle Hendricks a week ahead of the trade deadline.
While it’s less likely the Cubs actually trade the 33-year-old — especially as they continue to stack badly needed wins, most recently a 7-3 ‘W’ over the White Sox on Tuesday — considering his contract situation and with the Cubs’ own deadline decision still up for debate, that scenario is possible. And even if he makes it past the deadline with the Cubs, there’s no guarantee the Cubs pick up his club option for 2024 ($16 million with a $1.5 million buyout, per Spotrac).
Regardless of what the future holds for Hendricks, there’s no denying that he’s been an important part of this organization for the better part of 10 seasons. Fans love “The Professor,” especially when it comes to how emotionless he can seem to be on the field.
But if anyone most understands what Hendricks means to them, it’s the guys he shares a clubhouse with.
“I think he doesn’t get enough credit for how good he’s been throughout his career. He’s one of the most underrated pitchers in the last 5-10 years,” Ian Happ. “It’s meant a lot to the organization, just the stability that he’s brought. He goes out there every day, he makes his starts, he’s available. He’s prepared all the time.”
Happ is the second-longest tenured Cub at the moment behind Hendricks. He debuted on May 13, 2017, on the Cubs team that went on to make it to their third straight National League Championship Series. He didn’t win the World Series the year prior, but he broke into the league while most of those players were still around.
While Happ certainly learned things from just about everyone he’s called a teammate, Hendricks had a way about him that resonated with a young player getting his feet wet in the big leagues.
“Just an unbelievable person. Always been a great teammate and a great friend,” Happ said. “The thing that sticks out is the consistency. He doesn’t waver from what makes him really good, and he prepares the same way between every start. He has a great routine and work ethic. And he competes. He competes his ass off. He might not be yelling at umpires out there like [John] Lackey and [Jon] Lester were, but he competes and he has just a ferocious nature to his preparation.”
That’s a takeaway seemingly everyone who gets to watch him on a daily basis has.
Nico Hoerner, who became Hendricks’ teammate 15 months after being drafted due to his emergency call-up at the end of 2019, said Hendricks isn’t “a guy who leads by any big speeches or anything like that.” Instead, he leads with his professional approach to the game.
“His consistency is pretty remarkable,” Hoerner said. “Anytime a day, you can pretty much know where you can find him based on his routine. He’s doing the same stuff and sticking to it. But I think he’s a pretty fierce competitor. People display that in different ways, and he doesn’t really show that too much as far as emotions on the field and things like that, but the guy is locked in and takes a ton of pride in what he does.”
It’s one thing for position players like Happ and Hoerner to understand what Hendricks means to the team. It’s another thing for the guys that get to work more closely with him every day.
Adbert Alzolay and Justin Steele, at different points in their career, have shared rotation spots with Hendricks. The Cubs didn’t produce many arms through the system in the years prior to those two starting their big leagues careers, but these were two players the Cubs hoped would be part of that first wave of pitching prospects.
That duo is now finding a ton of success in the big leagues — Steele as a first-time All-Star starting pitcher, and Alzolay as an emerging closer — and getting to see how Hendricks works over the last few seasons has been very beneficial for the young arms.
“One, it confirms the hard work that I put in, even guys like him, he’s putting in the same amount of work,” Steele said. “And two, it kind of shows me, in order to stay the path and get to where I want to go, you’ve got to continue to do it, you’ve got to continue to evolve your routine and always continue to get better — like he’s always done. The list is endless on the amount of stuff I’ve gotten to learn from him.”
“It’s just the way he carries himself,” Alzolay said. “It doesn’t matter what the day looks like. It doesn’t matter what the outing looks like. He’s always the same guy, and I feel like in baseball, that’s one of the most important things. You got to be able to turn the page quickly, day by day. He’s that kind of guy, you know? You see him on the mound, and no matter what is going on, you’ll see that presence never change.”
There’s just something about Hendricks that resonates with those around him. He’s a 33-year-old veteran in his 10th major league season (and probably in the latter stages of his career) who, as his teammates continue to tell it, is always willing to teach and learn.
He may know well what makes him most successful, but that doesn’t stop him from having the mindset that there’s always something he can do to be better.
“I just appreciate that he’s always still open to learning,” Hoerner said. “I feel like we’ve had some cool talks. He’s someone who has accomplished a ton in this game but is still always looking for an edge and something that he can do better. I think that’s how you not only stay relevant but stay at the top of your game, and in a sport that’s constantly evolving, too.”
There’s also the fact that Hendricks is the last remaining link (unless you count Cubs manager David Ross) to that 2016 World Series title team. While the rest of his championship teammates have gone their separate ways, Hendricks is the only player left who understands how to reach the top of the mountain while playing for a ballclub literally nicknamed “the lovable losers.”
That’s valuable information the veteran can pass along. He started two of the biggest games in franchise history (’16 NLCS Game 6, ’16 World Series Game 7). When it comes to winning at this level in a Cubs uniform, nobody in the clubhouse knows what it takes better than he does.
“That’s something this group is definitely still figuring out,” Hoerner said. “You can talk about it, but until you experience those big moments and are in the middle of it, you’re kind of still learning on the fly. So, to have someone who’s been there before, I think it definitely gives a sense of calm in some bigger moments like that.”
Since coming back two months ago following an 11-month rehab process from a capsular tear in his right shoulder, Hendricks has looked much more like his old self.
In 12 starts, he’s got a 3.45 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP. His 3.9 percent walk rate is the second-lowest mark of his career. His 31.1 percent hard-hit rate is his lowest since 2018.
Hendricks has helped stabilize the rotation and has put together consecutive quality starts when the Cubs sorely needed them. As Ross put it Tuesday, “it’s a really good version of him that you’re watching pretty consistently.”
Yes, Hendricks’ Cubs future is unclear past this year — and even past next week, in theory — but no matter what happens, he’s undoubtedly been an integral part of the team for the last 10 seasons.
“I feel like you can go around the whole locker room and ask every single guy about this guy, and all you’re going to get is just positive things about Kyle,” Alzolay said. “He’s one of those rocks on the team, man.”
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