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Liam Hendriks cements White Sox as favorites in AL Central

Until the Twins make a move, the division is the Sox’ to lose.

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Division Series - Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros - Game Three Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

When the Oakland A’s opted not to extend Liam Hendriks a qualifying offer, it foreshadowed a frigid offseason even by the standards set by the last few years. Hendriks was clearly the best reliever on the market in a tier of his own, and in past years, the best relievers have received qualifying offers despite falling short of Hendriks’ talent.

Craig Kimbrel got a qualifying offer ahead of the 2019 season and Will Smith received one the following year. If the A’s didn’t extend one to Hendriks, the only logical explanation was that the A’s were afraid he would take it. The A’s watched Hendriks close out their first playoff series victory since 2006 and said, “$18.9 million for a reliever? In this economy?”

Now that Hendriks has signed a four-year, $54 million deal with the White Sox, it’s obvious that the A’s were just being silly. They either could have had an elite reliever for a reasonable amount or an extra second-round draft pick and opted for neither. They were presented with a brand new car or whatever was in the mystery box, and they said no to both because they didn’t want to pay the taxes on their prizes.

Oakland’s financial risk aversion benefited the White Sox and Hendriks himself. Chicago got to sign a world-devouring reliever without giving up a draft pick themselves. Hendriks didn’t have his market impacted by a system of salary depression disguised as a catch-up mechanic for parity.

For the White Sox, this move probably does less for their playoff chances than Cleveland trading Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS calculated a 4.2 percentage point increase in playoff probability for the White Sox after Cleveland jettisoned its face of the franchise. Still, adding Hendriks cements the White Sox as favorites in the AL Central even with Tony La Russa on the one’s and two’s.

Before the Hendriks signing, Steamer projected the White Sox roster for 37 combined WAR, which was still enough to keep them ahead of the Twins at 35.5. Steamer thinks that Hendriks will take a step back this year, but even a modest 1.1 fWAR season furthers the gap.

AL Central

Team Pitchers Batters Hendriks Total
Team Pitchers Batters Hendriks Total
White Sox 13.3 23.7 1.1 38.1
Twins 12.1 23.4 No Hendriks :( 35.5

There’s still plenty of offseason left for the Twins to add to their roster, but the same could be said of the White Sox as well. Just because they’ve added Lance Lynn, Liam Hendriks, and, uh, Adam Eaton doesn’t necessarily mean they are done. Maybe Chicago’s proactivity and Cleveland’s resignation inspires Minnesota to make a move.

By a slight margin, the Twins were the better team last year, but Matt Wisler and Trevor May are already gone. They cut Eddie Rosario and Nelson Cruz is a free agent. They’ll have plenty of competition in re-signing Jake Odorizzi with the starting pitching market as thin as it is.

As things currently stand, the AL Central is the White Sox’ division to lose. According to Rob Manfred, the season is going to start on time. The Twins can’t rely on that extra time to wait things out; they need to find their Hendriks and the White Sox now.

Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.