Prayers Up for Liam Hendriks
Liam Hendriks is one of the most dominant right-handed hurlers in all of baseball and is unquestionably considered to be one of the elite closers in the game. Over the last four seasons, he has racked up 114 saves while compiling a minuscule 2.26 ERA and 0.88 WHIP while registering a staggering 359/47 K/BB ratio across 239 innings.
He was poised to put up similar numbers again during the 2023 season, but now baseball is merely a secondary concern for the 33-year-old hurler. Hendriks announced on his Instagram on Sunday that he has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and will begin treatment immediately.
In his statement, Hendriks elaborated, “Hearing the word 'cancer' came as a shock to my wife and I, as it does to millions of families each year. However, I am resolved to embrace the fight and overcome this new challenge with the same determination I have used when facing other obstacles in my life,” Hendriks wrote. “My treatment begins tomorrow, and I am confident that I will make a full recovery and be back on the mound as soon as possible. I know with the support of my wife, my family, my teammates, and the Chicago White Sox organization, along with the treatment and care from my doctors, I will get through this.”
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn also released a statement on Sunday, explaining that "We are optimistic he will pitch again for the White Sox as soon as viable" and that "We do not expect to have any updates on Liam's playing status prior to Opening Day at the very earliest."
We should all send all of our support and prayers to one of the best and brightest players in the league – and certainly one of the biggest personalities. The game of baseball – and especially the ninth inning – will not be the same while Hendriks is away.
It's impossible to speculate on how much time Hendriks will ultimately miss, but expect it to be substantial. The White Sox have assembled a tremendous late-inning setup corps to get the ball to Hendriks and now it looks as though Kendall Graveman will be thrust into the closer's role on an interim basis.
The 32-year-old right-hander does have some experience in the role – as he has recorded 16 saves over the past two seasons between the Mariners, Astros and White Sox. In doing so, he compiled a stellar 2.53 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and a 127/46 K/BB ratio across 121 innings. He certainly has the skills to succeed in that role and should be given plenty of save chances. He'll be a tremendous option in all mixed leagues until Hendriks is ready to return – which we all hope is sooner rather than later.
Phillies Acquire Gregory Soto
Speaking of closers, Tigers left-hander Gregory Soto is on the move after being dealt to the Phillies as part of a five-player deal on Saturday afternoon.
The flame-throwing southpaw had functioned as the Tigers' primary closer for the last two seasons – locking down 50 saves while posting a 3.34 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and a 136/74 K/BB ratio over 124 innings. He struggles with his command at times – which is evident in the high walk rate and the elevated WHIP – which makes him probably better suited to a role in the seventh or eighth inning as opposed to being the Phillies' new closer.
Fortunately for the Phillies, they have plenty of options when it comes to who ultimately gets the ball at the end of the game. Soto joins Craig Kimbrel, Seranthony Domínguez and José Alvarado to form a fearsome quartet in the late innings. Whether Phillies' manager Rob Thomson ultimately settles on one of those options or rolls with a committee approach for the duration of the season remains to be seen. Fantasy managers should tread lightly until there is more clarity.
As for the Tigers, Alex Lange is expected to step in and fill the void in the ninth inning. The 27-year-old hurler appeared in 71 games for the Tigers during the 2022 campaign – registering a 3.41 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and an 82/31 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings. The high strikeout totals are certainly intriguing and he doesn't face much competition for save chances – at least as of now – which should make Lange a popular target in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts.
In addition, the Tigers acquired Matt Vierling, Nick Maton and Donny Sands in the deal, while also shipping Kody Clemens off to the Phillies. Vierling and Maton are interesting, as they should step into regular roles with their new club. Both have the ability to play all over the diamond – and that versatility was one of the reasons that new team president Scott Harris sought to include them in the deal.
Vierling specifically is very intriguing from a fantasy perspective. He's primarily known as a lefty-masher – which should pair well with the Tigers' current outfield mix which features left-handed hitters Austin Meadows and Akil Baddoo in the corners. Vierling's baseball savant page is awfully interesting though, as he possesses 97th percentile sprint speed, 86th percentile average exit velocity and 85th percentile hard-hit rate. If he's able to secure full-time at-bats – which could happen since Harris mentioned using him in the infield as well – he could be a sneaky 20 HR / 20 SB candidate that can be had in the later rounds of mixed league drafts.
Maton, 25, is interesting as well and should function in a bit of a super utility role. He has held his own whenever given an opportunity at the big league level – slashing .254/.330/.434 with seven home runs, 31 RBI and a pair of stolen bases in his first 216 plate appearances.
MLB Quick Hits: The Mariners signed outfielder A.J. Pollock to a one-year, $7 million contract… The Mariners acquired right-hander Justin Topa from the Brewers for minor league right-hander Joseph Hernandez… The Athletics announced that A.J. Puk will be stretched out as a starter during spring training… Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty is not expected to have any sort of limitations heading into the 2023 season… Miguel Vargas has been working out at second base and third base during the offseason and is expected to play a major role for the Dodgers in 2023… The Braves brought in Ryder Jones on a minor league deal… The Dodgers added Tayler Scott on a minor league pact with an invitation to big league camp… Yoenis Cespedes suffered a leg injury and will miss the remainder of his Dominican Winter League season. His days in the big leagues are most likely finished… The Rays signed righty Braden Bristo to a minor league contract… The Tigers added bullpen depth by signing Aneurys Zabala to a minor league contract… The Diamondbacks added Raffi Vizcaino on a minor league deal… Veteran right-hander Masahiro Tanaka has re-signed with the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball – a one-year deal worth $3.6 million… Nick Senzel continues to deal with complications from surgery to repair a broken toe on his left foot… The Reds brought in right-hander Tayron Guerrero on a minor league deal… According to Chris Kirschner of The Athletic, Michael King (elbow) may not be ready in time for Opening Day… Kyle Hendriks (shoulder) has started his offseason throwing program… The White Sox signed Jake Marisnick to a minor league contract with an invite to big league camp… The Blue Jays reunited with Drew Hutchison on a minor league pact… The Jays also signed Rob Brantly, Paul Fry and Julian Fernandez to minor league deals… The Dodgers officially designated right-hander Trevor Bauer for assignment. They remain on the hook for the final $22.5 million left on his contract, while any team that signs him would only need to put up the major league minimum… The Padres signed outfielder Adam Engel and right-hander Brent Honeywell Jr. to minor league contracts… The Braves added Yacksel Rios on a minor league accord… The Phillies gave a minor league contract to Jon Duplantier.