(Over the next week, we will be examining each of the A's arbitration-eligible players to determine whether they will return in 2019.)
It was a roller coaster season for Liam Hendriks in 2018. After being designated for assignment in June, the right-hander returned to the A's for a stellar September and ended up starting the American League Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium.
Hendriks, 29, finished the season 0-1 with a 4.13 ERA, but in September he allowed just two runs in 13 innings for an ERA of 1.38. By the end of the year, he had raised his fastball velocity to 96 mph on a consistent basis and was a completely different pitcher.
Hendriks earned $1.9 million for the season and is projected to get $2.1 million in arbitration, according to MLB Trade Rumors.
Why he might be a bargain
If Hendriks can maintain the stuff he displayed in September, he can be a valuable member of the A's bullpen moving forward. With Jeurys Familia, Fernando Rodney, Shawn Kelley, and Cory Gearrin all unlikely to return, Hendriks should have an opportunity to pitch significant innings. It remains to be seen whether Oakland utilizes an opener in any games next season, but Hendriks has proven capable of filling that role as well. That type of versatility could make him worth a $2.1 million salary.
Why he might be too pricey
You could certainly argue that $2.1 million is too much for a journeyman reliever like Hendriks. While he pitched well in September, that's a pretty small sample size for a fairly significant price tag, and Hendriks did struggle early in the season. The A's have a strong bullpen even if they do lose some of their veteran relievers, including Hendriks. Blake Treinen, Lou Trivino, J.B. Wendelken, Yusmeiro Petit, and Ryan Buchter should all return, so Hendriks may not be not absolutely essential.
This one could go either way. We'll say that Hendriks showed enough in September to earn another season with the A's. Between his improved velocity and versatility as a pitcher, he can be a valuable member of the Oakland bullpen. If the A's do continue to experiment with using an opener, Hendriks was their best pitcher in that role and should continue to be a good option. They can also use him later in the game as a setup man for Treinen. Most importantly, you can never have too much pitching depth.