The Cubs PR folks deserve a raise. They have been masterful at confusing us all through the use of phrases like "retooling, not rebuilding!!" and "intelligent spending!!" Here is a secret...those phrases don't mean anything, and they can be interpreted however a fan wants to interpret them. They are catchphrases thrown out to placate the public, and don't tell us what the Cubs plan to do.
Which, back to the main point, has left many of us thinking that the team has little or no intention of spending on difference-making players for the 2022 season. Rather, people (like me) who take this view could see the team trying to sign fairly affordable and flippable veterans (guys like Danny Duffy, Michael Pineda, Drew Smyly, James Paxton, J.A. Happ, Martin Perez, maybe someone like Kluber or even Quintana. If they surprise and the team is competitive....well great. And if the team is .500ish or worse around the deadline, trade'em and throw in the towel for prospects like in 2021.
While I can see the team being .500ish in 2022, I personally think it's unrealistic to expect a true contender for the Cubs. I do not happen to believe there are enough difference-making FAs out there, the ones that are out there will have many teams to choose from (meaning the Cubs could surely sign some with a massive overpay, but you don't want a massive overpay of someone, so for example Freddie Freeman is going to resign with the Braves over a team like the Cubs that he has no attachment to).
So let's be optimistic and say 2023 is the next year the team is realistically competing for a championship. That will be Kyle Hendricks' age 33 season. He is a Cub through at least 2023 but with a $16M team option for 2024 as well.
After being consistently good from 2015-2020, Kyle was not good in 2021, with a 4.77 ERA and a 4.89 FIP. It's not unrealistic to expect him to bounce back in 2022, but it's definitely not a certainty (Steamer projects him to have a 4.66 ERA and 4.56 FIP, for example). But what if he is indeed beginning his post-age-30 decline? Even if he bounces back in a non-competitive 2022 for the Cubs, what about 2023 and beyond? His stuff plays just fine when he is throwing 87 mph fastballs and 80 mph changeups. It'll be a bit more frightening when he is throwing 85-86 mph and 78-79 mph changeups.
"But he is such a student of the game! He will find a way!" Maybe. But, even as a highly intelligent student of the game, there comes a point where your body doesn't do what it needs to do to compete anymore. "But look at Greg Maddux! Or, more realistically, look at Jamie Moyer!" Yeah, I get it. They're also unicorns, and they're each legendary in their own ways because there has rarely ever been anyone like them. I will play the odds and not work on the assumption that Kyle will be that rare of a pitcher. "But I love Kyle. He's one of my favorite players!" Yeah, me too, and I'm not saying the Cubs should necessarily trade him, but sentimentality is not a path to success.
So what if the Cubs were to trade him? What could they expect? For opposing teams who think Kyle will bounce back, those three years of control are awfully appealing. If anyone is inclined to comment on this, I'd love to pick brains on what you see as comps, i.e., recent trades for good pitchers with control. I am not particularly good at this, but....
A couple trades from 2017 stand out. The first is one we're all familiar with, as the Cubs obtained Jose Quintana for Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease, Bryant Flete, and Matt Rose. At the time, Quintana had been one of the better pitchers in baseball for several seasons and had three years of control left. Quintana was younger and perhaps better than Hendricks. Eloy was the number 5 prospect in all of baseball, and Cease was in the back half of the top 100. If the Cubs could approach this kind of return (VERY VERY UNLIKELY in the 2021 baseball landscape), I'd drive Kyle to the airport.
That same year, a 27 year old Sonny Gray with three years of control was traded to the Yankees for some international pool money, Dustin Fowler, James Kaprielian, and Jorge Mateo. The outcomes of those specific players are not the important point. But Fowler was a top 100 prospect in all of baseball, as was Mateo. Those two and also Kaprielian were top 5 in the Yankees' system. Again, that is awfully appealing, though not necessarily achievable nowadays.
Obviously some key differences, but at the trade deadline this year, the Twins sent Jose Berrios to the Blue Jays. Berrios was under control for the 2022 season only, at an affordable price. Berrios is significantly younger than Kyle. Frankly, he was much better than Kyle in 2021. So, less years of control but cheaper and younger and arguably better than Kyle. The Twins got a really nice haul. Austin Martin is a SS/CF who is a top 50 prospect in all of baseball. Simeon Woods-Richardson is a high-upside pitcher, albeit one who did not pitch well in Double-A this year.
What if the Cubs could get a package vaguely resembling what the Twins for for Berrios? With the Cubs not likely to compete in 2022 and the jury being out on Hendricks' future prospects....I mean, don't Jed and Carter at least hold a meeting to discuss?
If it was me, my current inclination would be to start the season with Kyle. Sign some other pitchers and hope for a rotation looking something like Rodon, Gray/Wood/Matz, Kyle, Miley, Alzolay/Steele. If the team looks to be .500ish (or worse) at the trade deadline (and depending on how the Cubs' real minor league prospects are showcasing in 2022), I would open up my ears and listen if some team wanted to put together an overpay for Kyle around the deadline.
If anyone is interested, it might be fun in the comments section to throw together some hypothetical trades with teams who could have interest. I'd pick something like a top-3 system prospect, top-8 system prospect, a top-30 system prospect, and a lottery ticket. As I said, I stink at putting together fair deals, but to me, that is about what we'd be looking at for Kyle.