As much as fans, players and executives alike try to compartmentalize professional baseball as a business, there's no doubt that emotions run heavy for all involved in a sport of grueling 162-game seasons.
For Cubs fans, emotional attachment is likely synonymous with starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks, the last remaining player from the 2016 World Series-winning roster and the longest-tenured member of the club.
Debuting in July 2014, Hendricks has been a staple of the Cubs' rotation for the past decade, carving out a niche as a soft-tossing command expert, honing in on a changeup that is and has been one of the league's finest pitches when on.
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Hendricks put concerns of a downfall to rest in 2023, following up two seasons of an ERA just under 5 with a 3.74 ERA in 2023, accompanied by 27 walks and 93 strikeouts in 137 innings of work.
2023 marked the final season of a four-year deal worth $55.5 million that went into effect ahead of the 2020 season. The contract included a vesting option for next year, which would pay Hendricks $16 million in his age-34 season if the Cubs pick up the option, which they are expected to do.
In a press conference addressing the end of the season, Cubs' President Jed Hoyer called Hendricks' 2023 season "exceptional," with Cubs' owner Tom Ricketts saying the team would "love to have him back."
While exercising the 2024 option may be a simple decision, uncertainty lies in how the Cubs will handle their ties to Hendricks from there.
In the event the Cubs do exercise his vesting option, Hendricks would become a free agent ahead of his age-35 season in 2025. While his finesse style and ability to induce groundballs fares well for a pitcher entering his mid-30s, his susceptibility to the long ball and small margin of error on his pitches will likely also be considered.
From 2021-22, Hendricks surrendered 46 home runs in 221.1 innings, highlighting a concern for the Cubs' front office if the right-hander is unable to locate his pitches.
Also up in the air is how much longer Hendricks intends to pitch, with whispers of a potential retirement previously floating after a shoulder injury prematurely ended his 2022 season.
Though his pitching style and track record would indicate that a contract of two-to-three years after 2024 would not be ill-advised, it's totally plausible that Hendricks may ponder a retirement before his play would necessitate it.
A World Series champion with 93 career wins and 1,172 strikeouts next to just 321 walks, The Professor has cemented a legacy as one of the franchise's best pitchers, and as one of the era's finest command pitchers.
Regardless of what his future might hold in Chicago, it's hard for fans, executives and teammates alike to not express immense gratitude for the impact Kyle Hendricks has had on the franchise.