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ST. LOUIS — When Kyle Hendricks signed his four-year, $55.5 million contract extension in March 2019, few if any could have envisioned how drastically different the Chicago Cubs roster would look halfway through the deal.
At the time he inked the extension through 2023, Hendricks — who turns 32 in December — wasn’t focused on whether others among the Cubs’ 2016 World Series championship core would be alongside him through the duration of the deal. He hoped if those cornerstone players wanted to remain in Chicago they would.
Sometimes, though, what is best for one player might not be applicable to another player or even the team.
“I love those guys so much and they’re such close friends — I want them to do whatever’s best for them, and that’s kind of what I did with myself,” Hendricks said Sunday. “I love it in Chicago, love the organization, all the people around it, the coaching staff, and I know things change every year but with the city I couldn’t be any happier.”
A roller-coaster Cubs season defined by the organization-changing trades of three franchise icons and a second half dotted with unexpected performances ended with a rain-shortened 3-2 win in seven innings against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs (71-91) finished with their worst record since 2013, when they lost 96 games, and they will have the No. 7 pick in next year’s draft.
As they embark on a pivotal offseason, beginning with the hiring of a general manager, Hendricks lauded why the Cubs should be a free-agent destination, starting with Wrigley Field and the fans.
“There’s no better place,” he said. “The division we play in, the competition, there is a chance to win the division every year, so, yeah, there’s a lot of positives. I know a lot of guys who love to play in Chicago … as visiting players. You hear it all the time, guys love coming here.
“It’s going to be really interesting. I’m going to be a fan like anybody else, sitting back and just watching what happens with free agency and really curious to see where we go.”
Despite a career-worst season that included a 4.77 ERA and 1.348 WHIP, Hendricks remains the Cubs’ best pitcher and is the type of starter who would pair well with another top-of-the-rotation arm.
Whether the Cubs want to commit the money and years it would take to acquire that caliber of starting pitching is a separate question. But the opportunity will exist in free agency to restore what they lost with last offseason’s Yu Darvish trade. Robbie Ray, Max Scherzer, Marcus Stroman, Kevin Gausman, Zack Greinke and Jon Gray are among the notable impending free-agent starters.
Hendricks acknowledged the importance of seeing Cubs President Jed Hoyer and the front office bring in impactful talent in the offseason, regardless of position.
“Obviously I want to win at the end of the day and that’s it,” Hendricks said. “That’s where I’ve been my whole life. They know that, but I have full faith and trust in them.
“From (Chairman) Tom (Ricketts) at the top and Jed all the way down, these guys are pros. They know what they’re doing. They know how to construct a team. They’ve been around the game so long and they know how to evaluate talent. So I’m really excited to just have my trust in them and really excited for them to have this opportunity and see what they go out and do and how they construct this team.”
Hendricks is the longest-tenured Cub on the roster and one of only three players with a guaranteed contract beyond 2022. If Hendricks has his way, catcher Willson Contreras, a free agent after next season, “absolutely” would be part of the Cubs long term.
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Contreras reiterated to reporters Friday in St. Louis that he remains open to contract extension talks and, like Hendricks, wants to see how the team approaches upgrading the roster in the offseason.
Hendricks spoke highly of Contreras and their relationship, referring to him as “my guy.” Contreras has been behind the plate for 97 of Hendricks’ 207 big-league games, teaming up for a 3.19 ERA.
Admittedly, after what happened at the trade deadline, Hendricks knows it can be dangerous to get too close to too many teammates. However, his admiration of Contreras is impossible to downplay.
“I love having him out there,” Hendricks said. “He’s a huge leader on this team, big part of this team, and I know he loves it in Chicago and he would love to be there and I feel the same. I would love to play with him as long as I can.
“The things he brings out there on the field, you just can’t replace. And then of course his work ethic and who he is off the field, we’ve become super close.”
The Hendricks-Contreras tandem is a good place to start for an organization with financial flexibility and a roster with a lot of spots that can be reconfigured.