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The Boston Red Sox have concluded a season-opening, 10-game road trip ahead of their home opener at Fenway Park on April 9. The team most people picked to finish last in the AL East returns home 7-3, despite losing Trevor Story to injury. Most would call that a success.

It doesn't shock new Red Sox reliever Liam Hendriks

"The Red Sox tend to play above their weight when it comes to what you see on paper compared to what they do on the field," Hendriks told CBS Sports before Opening Day. "I'm hoping that we surprise a lot of people." 

Hendriks, 35, won't be joining the team on the field for a bit. He's still rehabbing after undergoing Tommy John surgery last August, though he says he's ahead of schedule. And he's itching to get back.

"It's going well," the reliever said of his rehab process. "It's monotonous on end, obviously I'd like things to move a little quicker but we're progressing pretty well. We're moving back to 90 feet [throwing]. I'm recovering really well, so the trainers are happy about that.

"My target date is August, so just after the trade deadline. That'll be right around 12 months from surgery. Normally it's a little longer, regardless of position, just because they want to build up a throwing program slower but my goal is to contribute this year and go into a normal offseason next year. Who knows? You never know with baseball how it's gonna go." 

This is the first major surgery of Hendriks' career, though he missed the beginning of the 2023 season while he finished treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He returned to the mound in late May and appeared in just five games before the elbow injury cost him the rest of the season and a bulk of 2024. 

"I've battled through some things in the last couple years so now it's going out there and proving to everybody else that, you know what, I did it before cancer, I did it before TJ and I'm gonna do it afterwards again as well," he said.

Despite the cancer battle and now major reconstructive surgery, Hendriks has no plans to retire any time soon. 

"My goal is to get into my 40s and after that kind of play it by ear," he told CBS Sports. "I still walk around the clubhouse like 'this guy's been around forever, this guy's been around forever' and now I'm like 'oh shit, I'm older than them and I've been around longer than them.'

"You've got guys that are continually doing it, you've got David Robertson, we've got Chris Martin who is up there as well and it's just seeing guys go out there on a day-to-day basis and do the right things, they love the game. Obviously you want to start thinking about post-career stuff when you get up there in age, but in my mind it's like, 'I've got a brand new elbow for the first time and this other one lasted 14, 15 years, so who knows how much longer I got after that." 

Hendriks has already pitched in parts of 13 seasons. He's seen time with the Twins, Blue Jays, Royals, A's and White Sox. He's a three-time All-Star and has finished in the top 10 of Cy Young voting twice. He even got MVP votes in 2020. He's won the Mariano Rivera Reliever of the Year Award twice. He led his league in saves in 2021. 

He still has individual goals, though. 

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't," Hendriks said. "My goal is always as a reliever to get into 81 games. That would be one I'd really like to do, get into half the games for a season. This is the age of analytics, who knows, but I'd like to do that. I'd like to cross the 100-strikeout threshold again, which I've been lucky enough to do a couple times." 

Hendriks struck out 124 in 85 innings in 2019 and 113 in 71 innings in 2021. His career high in games in a season is 75. But like he said, with a new elbow, who knows?

As far as team-level success goes, Hendriks has played on some winners. He was with the Blue Jays during their 2015 run to the ALCS and then appeared in the 2018 and 2019 Wild Card Games with the A's. He closed in the 2020 playoffs for the A's, advancing one round, and in the 2021 playoffs for the White Sox, though they lost the ALDS 3-1. He was also a member of the 2014 Royals, who won the AL pennant, but he was designated for assignment during the World Series. 

Being a major contributor to a team that wins it all is still something that drives him, too, especially now that he's getting up there in age.

"You feel like maybe you're running out time (to get to the World Series), but you have to be a little more strategic with certain choices, organizations and stuff like that," he said. "I look at it more from a team point of view, like, do I enjoy the season? Winning goes hand-in-hand with having a good time. You also want to be around a group of high-quality people, good personalities and all that sorta stuff.

"The end-all goal is to get a ring and to contribute with a team that gets a ring." 

If he has his way, he'll still have several more years with a chance to do just that. 

'Bullshit' in free agency

This past offseason in Major League Baseball saw a $700 million deal to Shohei Ohtani and a $325 million deal to Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Both of those came from the Dodgers. The rest of the top-end free agents seemed to take deals for far less money than they were seeking and a handful of high-profile players were still unsigned heading into spring training. Hendriks agreed to his Red Sox deal, two years and a guaranteed $10 million, in mid-February.

"(Free agency) was slower than normal," he told CBS Sports. "Some of the bigger signings, the Shoheis, the Yamamotos, kind of depressed the market, a certain tier of guys, but other than that, it was -- I know they are always looking for a way to pay guys less. It's like, you're always looking for a deal, you're always looking for a bargain. Players are always looking for more than anyone expects and that's just how it goes.

"Any offseason it's always something. It could be the littlest thing like when I was with the White Sox it was 'oh, we're recovering from the COVID pandemic, so we just don't have any money coming in.' We all know that was somewhat true but also bullshit at the same time. Some teams are willing to pay. It's just others are looking for an excuse to scare guys into taking less than they're worth and that's all it is."

That said, Hendriks did acknowledge that most negotiations are kept private, allowing narratives to spin publicly without much evidence.

"I don't know what those guys are asking for, I don't know what the teams were offering. It could've been one little bit away and neither side was willing to budge," he told CBS Sports.

"For the next CBA, there are certain points that we as a union need to bring up, there are certain points we need to focus on. We did a good job in certain areas: we got the younger guys paid earlier, we got the little service-time manipulation things thrown out because it was where a lot of the younger guys were getting screwed." 

Hendriks didn't sign with the Red Sox until almost a week after pitchers and catchers reported, but he knew his venture into free agency wasn't typical due to his Tommy John surgery. 

"I had a bunch of calls but no movement for a long time, but I was injured so my experience is a little different than the average offseason," he said. "I put a hard deadline on mine which I was able to do because I'm hurt. My deadline was pretty much the only reason I ended up signing. I was like I'm comfortable rehabbing myself, I would like to be with the team, but I'm also comfortable doing it myself and luckily enough the Red Sox came around."

The pitch clock and a proposed rule change

The pitch clock was implemented for the 2023 season and while many fans loved it, there were naysayers. Some of those critics were current or former pitchers, to the point that many have pointed to pitcher injuries with the thesis that the pitch clock causes more. The MLBPA, in fact, did so just this weekend as injuries to top pitchers like Spencer Strider and Shane Bieber piled up.

Hendriks doesn't blame his injury on the pitch clock.

"My elbow was already gone and I have no issue with the clock because I work pretty quick anyway," he said. "It didn't really affect me too much."

He does have a request though: "OK, the batter can call time, why can't the pitcher? That would be my adjustment to that. Equal is equal, they get a timeout, I get a timeout. Sometimes I've thrown a pitch and I'm hanging a little bit, so it's like, gimme a little bit of a breather. That's really my only gripe with the pitch clock." 

The pitch clock was successful in its true goal of picking up the pace, Hendriks said. But there has to be a balance.

"I was neither here nor there on the pitch clock but if you look at it from the point of view that it got games below three hours and a young crowd being able to come to games -- players adapt. We might bitch and complain and not be on board with some of the rule changes but at the end of the day we're still gonna go out there and do it no matter what," he told CBS Sports. "Now, I think you gotta somewhat rethink the benefits as far as the pitch clock goes, as far as all the arm injuries this spring training and the lack of recovery time between pitches and I think there just needs to be a little more leeway as far as recovery time.

"Like, I get it there needs to be a speed up to the game, guys went out there and take one minute, two minutes, and it was just like this at-bat is dragging on for absolute ever and we've got to get through. So I think the pitch clock has helped a lot, but I'm a pitcher and I'm a little biased and they keep giving hitters the opportunities to get all the positive attributes to any rule changes with the bigger bases and the sliding plays and nothing is done for defense." 

The state of Major League Baseball

"As far as the overall game goes, we're moving in the right direction," Hendriks said. "We're a younger crowd where the league is getting out the personalities of guys, which is huge because for a long time it was always 'well, I'm a Yankees fan,' 'I'm a Red Sox fan,' 'I'm a so-and-so fan.' Now they're starting to get into 'I'm a Shohei [Ohtani] fan,' 'I'm a Mike Trout fan,' 'I'm a Rafael Devers fan,' and it's getting to a little bit more of that player-centric thing which, you're able to show off your personalities, you're able to do that and it builds a stronger network as far as the league goes."