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White Sox sign former A’s closer Liam Hendriks

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The Oakland A’s star closer is officially gone

MLB: AUG 15 Athletics at Giants
From white cleats to White Sox
Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It was always inevitable, but now it’s official: Liam Hendriks is not coming back to the Oakland A’s in 2021.

The Chicago White Sox signed the free agent All-Star closer to a multi-year contract, reported Tim Brown of Yahoo on Monday. It’s a three-year deal with an option for a fourth, with a unique structure in which he’s guaranteed $54 million regardless of whether the option is picked up, per Jeff Passan of ESPN.

More details on that unusual option, via Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic: “He is guaranteed $54M. Buyout worth same as option. So, he gets $39M for first three years, then an additional $15M over a period of time [10-year deferral] if White Sox decline option. If White Sox pick up option, it’s four years, $54M.”

The loss of Hendriks is a major blow to the A’s, as he was arguably their MVP last season and indeed was their only player to receive AL MVP votes. After spending a few years in middle relief and even being DFA’d in 2018, he re-emerged as the team’s closer in 2019 and made the All-Star team. In 2020 he was even better, winning AL Reliever of the Year with a nearly spotless late-inning record and historically great stats. He also added a legendary performance in the playoffs.

Without Hendriks in the 9th inning, Oakland will need to form a new plan for saving games. His former setup men Joakim Soria and Yusmeiro Petit are also free agents, so unless they’re re-signed we could see quite a lot of turnover in the late innings. Among the remaining names are Jake Diekman, whose breakout performance in 2020 earned him a finalist nod for the All-MLB Team; and J.B. Wendelken, who has been excellent in middle relief and has long been considered a late-inning candidate by Athletics Nation.

As an interesting extra twist, Hendriks’ new team is the very White Sox club he beat last October in the Wild Card Round of the postseason. His save in the deciding Game 3 of the series, striking out the side after throwing 49 pitches the day before, immediately jumped to the top of his already impressive career highlight reel. Now Chicago has employed one of the smartest philosophies in sports — if you can’t beat him, sign him.

The addition of Hendriks is just the latest win-now move by a White Sox team that is making a full investment in its new window of contention. They previously picked up ace starter Lance Lynn in a trade with the Texas Rangers, and signed outfielder Adam Eaton. Their 2020 closer, Alex Colome, is also a free agent so they had a vacancy to fill in that role. With each splashy move, on top of their budding young core of stars, they further establish themselves as serious contenders in the AL.

And so Hendriks becomes the latest in a long list of All-Stars to leave Oakland. It’s always a bummer, but it’s a sting that A’s fans are used to. In the spirit of positive attitude, allow me to offer a bright side.

The A’s have an incredible track record of creating closers out of thin air, with Hendriks himself only the latest example. For the last three decades, dating back to the days of Dennis Eckersley, they have almost always had a star closer, and almost never by spending on an established one. After every heartbreaking departure or trade or untimely injury, they find someone else to keep the line moving at a bargain price, over and over again for 30+ years and counting.

That’s not to downplay the effect any of them had as individuals, nor to suggest we wouldn’t all love to have Hendriks back — he’s currently the best reliever in the sport and also a massive fan favorite. But this is one specific area where the A’s always figure something out, and cheaply so they can use their limited money at other positions. It’s not even difficult to imagine, between Diekman’s breakout, Wendelken’s potential, and eleventy other power prospects whom they’ll get to audition this spring.

Can they do it again, and find a new 9th-inning hero in 2021 to replace HercuLiam? I wouldn’t bet against them.