There’s no doubt that signing a reliever to a big-money deal is a risky move, given the volatile nature of the position. But that doesn’t mean some relievers aren’t worth the risk.
Take Liam Hendriks, for instance. The 31-year-old is a free agent at a time when he's arguably the best reliever in the game, coming off a two-year stretch in which he posted a 1.79 ERA with 161 strikeouts and 24 walks over 110 1/3 innings for the A’s.
Although Hendriks had a 4.72 ERA in eight seasons before that, he’s a much different pitcher now, throwing his four-seam fastball at higher velocities with a much higher average spin rate and combining it with elite breaking stuff. Further boosting Hendriks’ free-agent value is the fact that the A’s opted not to extend him the $18.9 million qualifying offer, which means he isn’t tied to Draft compensation.
While every club could benefit from acquiring him, these are the playoff hopefuls that need Hendriks the most, ranked in order based on the urgency of each club’s need.
The Phillies had the highest bullpen ERA in the Majors (7.06) and tied for the MLB lead in blown saves (14) this past season, when they missed the postseason by a single game. The team’s relief corps will have a different look next season, with Brandon Workman, Tommy Hunter, David Phelps, Blake Parker, José Álvarez, Adam Morgan and Heath Hembree free agents, and Héctor Neris a candidate to be non-tendered before the Dec. 2 deadline. While Philadelphia needs to add more than one reliever, Hendriks would be a good place to start. He won’t come cheap, but he could fit into the Phillies’ budget if they aren’t able to re-sign catcher J.T. Realmuto.
The Angels’ failure to build a reliable rotation is assigned much of the blame for the fact that Mike Trout has reached the postseason only once in his career, but the club hasn’t exactly done well with bullpen construction, either. Hansel Robles, the team’s saves leader in 2019, had a 10.26 ERA in ’20. The Halos tied Philadelphia for the most blown saves in the Majors with 14, and their 4.63 bullpen ERA was the game’s 10th highest. Improving the starting staff remains the priority, but the Angels should take a long look at Hendriks to help solidify the late innings.