Less than 92 hours before the trade deadline, Kyle Hendricks threw the first pitch of his 21st start of the season Monday night, a 10-game winning streak on the line.
And yet nary a peep has been uttered about Hendricks in hyperactive rumor mills grinding coast to coast this week, despite a desperate seller’s market for starting pitching.
Because, barring a knockout offer nobody in the game anticipates, he’s not going anywhere.
In fact, industry sources expect the Cubs to keep Hendricks and shortstop Javy Báez through Friday’s lone trade deadline of the season, suggesting at least part of what team president Jed Hoyer might have been talking about earlier this month when he pushed back on those who want to call the Cubs’ 2021 transition and upcoming selloff a “rebuild.”
“We are going to have roster turnover. That was inevitable,” Hoyer said on July 8. “This is certainly not a rebuild by any kind of definition that we’d be using from our past.”
Hoyer was talking about the way the Cubs tanked starting in 2012 to overhaul a roster and farm system that eventually produced a 2016 title.
He hasn’t had anything to say publicly since July 8 — unless you count the actions of trading outfielder Joc Pederson to Atlanta a week later and reliever Andrew Chafin to the A’s Monday night.
All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel, who likely pitched his last game as a Cub on Monday night, could be gone by Tuesday or Wednesday. Pitchers such as Zach Davies and Ryan Tepera are on the same clock ticking louder toward 3 p.m. Friday.
And then there’s the likes of former MVP Kris Bryant, whose decorated Cubs career could come down to the final day before the Cubs symbolically pull the plug on the most successful six-year run in franchise history.
But if the sources are right and Hoyer is serious, Hendricks, Báez, Willson Contreras and maybe even Anthony Rizzo could all be part of bridging the transition into whatever the next core looks like.
Sources say no extension talks are happening with Báez or Rizzo — both of whom, along with Bryant — are free agents at the end of the year.
But the expectation is that those talks will be revisited at some point before free agency. Báez came close to getting a deal done last year before the COVID-19 shutdown, and Rizzo turned down an offer this spring.
Hendricks, who’s under contract for two more years, and at least one of the up-the-middle guys in Báez and Contreras almost certainly would have to stick around to ease the uncertainty, if not the pain, of any gap period.
Just ask pitching coach Tommy Hottovy about the value of Hendricks to the Cubs — regardless of their immediate next direction — compared to the value of what somebody might offer for him in trade talks.
“What he does off the field is no secret to other teams, too, and I completely understand why teams would be on him, with what he’s done, the track record,” Hottovy said. “If you just look at the numbers, they speak for themselves, what he’s been able to do with what he has.
“And what he does off the field for me, just for a coach, is a coach’s dream,” Hottovy added, “just being able to lean on him with information and lean on him to mentor young guys.”
What might that return on the trade market be? Probably not as much as it’s worth to the Cubs, considering that power-pitching Cy Young runner-up Yu Darvish with similar club control netted the Cubs a back-of-the-rotation rent-a-pitcher (Davies) and four dice-roll minor-leaguers age 20 and younger.
Meanwhile, consider that example two decades ago of the Twins, who tore their roster down to the studs and kept only one veteran: business-like, competitive, exceptionally prepared command pitcher Brad Radke.
Sound familiar? Radke, a 20-game winner with a last-place club, was a role model for a next-generation of Twins pitchers — right down to simply watching his between-starts bullpen sessions — that included raw left-hander Johan Santana and that eventually led to a run of playoff appearances.
Similarly, Hottovy raves about Hendricks’ behind-the-scenes work, both physically and mentally, including an uncommon ability to integrate scouting reports.
“It’s something that young guys can build off of and really watch,” the coach said. “And he’s got such a good perspective of how to pitch at this level and get outs and understands what the hitter’s thinking.
“He’s definitely a guy you want to mold guys after. Whether you have stuff or don’t have stuff or throw hard or don’t throw hard, there’s a lot of things he does right, does that certain way you want as an organization.”
Building the next-gen, would-be contender around up-the-middle, 20-something All-Stars like Contreras and Báez might be as valuable a start to the lineup end of the process as Hendricks is to the pitching side.
And until the Yankees or somebody else come in and start throwing farm systems at the Cubs, expect that conversation, if not vision, to get to August intact.