It was July 30th, 202,1 and the Chicago White Sox were looking to make a deep playoff run. Apparently, the front office, including trigger man Rick Hahn, were “all in” on trying to win a World Series in 2021. While most White Sox fans were aware Nick Madrigal would not be there to help them in 2021 after suffering a torn right hamstring, they all believed the hole at second base had been filled for the foreseeable future in their first-round draft ( fourth overall ) pick of the 2018 draft. While many thought the White Sox bullpen was formidable the way it was already structured, the Sox felt they needed additional help on the back end. So they pulled the trigger with the Cubs and traded Madrigal and reliever Codi Heuer to the North Siders in exchange for their closer, Craig Kimbrel.
While the Kimbrel trade was initially shocking, many fans warmed up to it pretty quickly. The thought of having Kimbrel and Hendriks at the back end of any bullpen meant taking a lead into the eighth inning and game over. What a nasty back end. The prominent thought was the Sox traded a piece that could not help them in 2021 for what was the best bullpen in baseball on paper. Kimbrel was a beast for the Cubs, posting a nasty 0.49 earned run average and giving up only two earned runs over 36 and 2/3 innings. Craig was and is a Hall of Fame player, so adding him not only brought amazing stuff from the bullpen but plenty of postseason experience as well. This was something the Sox had openly stated they were wanting to add. While the White Sox would not openly commit to a role for Kimbrel once the trade was made, I think everyone knew Hendriks would remain the closer and Kimbrel would be used in more of a set-up role. While Kimbrel was the closer for the Cubs, many failed to give much thought as to how a role change could or would affect him. The bottom line was this bullpen had a bunch of power guys and added another in Kimbrel.
While adding Kimbrel was exciting as a White Sox fan, losing Madrigal hurt. Not immediately on the field but emotionally. Nick Madrigal was beloved, especially for his approach at the plate. Madrigal was one of the best in baseball at simply putting the ball in play. He was everything you wanted and more from the nine-hole in a lineup full of budding stars. He was a tough out. With two strikes he remained disciplined at the plate put the ball in play. Madrigal never really had to change his approach all that much as he was not a swing-and-miss guy.
A bit of a throwback was an understatement to desribe Madrigal’s game. Major League Baseball’s strikeout percentage average sits right around 23 percent and Madrigal posted a 7.9 percent strikeout rate in 2021 before falling victim to the hamstring injury. Nick did post a below-average fielding percentage in 2021 at .973 compared to the league average of .982 in 2021 at the second-base position. The defense surely would not be sorely missed.
Codi Heuer was the other piece sent to the Cubs in the deal for Kimbrel. Heuer was bad in spots for the White Sox in 2021 and good in others. Posting a 5.12 ERA and a 1.422 WHIP in 2021 before the move across town made it easier to let go of him than Madrigal. Heuer was frustrating at times, giving up big hits to not great hitters in some big spots. Heuer has big potential with a 98+ mph fastball and a changeup around ten mph slower sitting around 88-89 mph with plenty of downward movement and a decent slider to go with it. He is the perfect fit for a future setup role. At only 25 years old, Heuer has room and time for growth. It was not Madrigal’s value to the club but Heuer’s youth and team control. Heuer will be arbitration-eligible in 2023 and a free agent in 2026. That is plenty of control and meant Heuer would be under contract for a majority of the White Sox window to win a championship.
The White Sox got a very different player in return than what they thought they were getting, and Kimbrel would never quite be able to adjust to a new role in 2021. Kimbrel seemed off almost every time he would take the mound for the Sox and has pushed the Sox into a corner. Kimbrel posted great numbers already mentioned while on the other end of town and fell apart upon arrival on the Southside. While pitching for the Sox Kimbrel posted a gnarly 5.09 ERA and a 1.217 WHIP in 23.0 innings pitched. Comparatively speaking Heuer himself was better than Kimbrel posting a 3.14 ERA and a 1.151 WHIP in 28.2 innings pitched during his time with the Cubs in 2021. Add Madrigal to the equation and after 2021 played out for both sides, the Cubs won the trade.
What does a bad trade mean for the win now White Sox in 2022?
While many have speculated the White Sox picked up Kimbrel’s team option for 2022 to trade him before camp, the Sox thus far have failed to do so. That does not mean they will not move Kimbrel, but teams now know the White Sox are desperate and that alone can drive the return they can get in return. The White Sox were fooled. Kimbrel was great for the Cubs, but it seems he needs a defined closer role to be that. Maybe it is not the role he is in and he could just never get comfortable for the White Sox? Maybe the Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz tried to tweak something Kimbrel was doing and it turned out to be disastrous?
Whatever happened, it needs to change dramatically for Kimbrel to return to the Hall of Fame form he had at the start of 2021. Unfortunately, this has left the Sox with another hole to fill as now they need to replace Madrigal at second base and many of the options to do so in free agency have already signed elsewhere. They made a trade with the Cleveland Indians for second-baseman Cesar Hernandez. Hernandez won a gold glove in Cleveland in 2020 but fell short of fulfilling the role needed at second base for the White Sox. Hernandez was bad enough for the Sox in the second half of 2021 the Sox declined the option on him for 2022. This pretty much leaves the cupboard of second-baseman in-house options empty for the White Sox in 2022. Leury Garcia and Danny Mendick are not the answer! While they may need to get creative in acquiring a player to fill this role, the team’s biggest asset to do so remains none other than Craig Kimbrel. If the White Sox want to contend in 2022 they need to trade Craig Kimbrel. The problem is, everyone knows it.
While the trade is without a doubt a loss, the Sox need to rebound from it nicely and do it quickly. Tough to do during a lockout but as soon as this is over, Rick Hahn had better be on the phone. Hahn has proven he knows how to win deals during a rebuild with trades like the Jose Quintana trade for Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease on top of 2 more minor league prospects. Cease has Cy Young stuff and Eloy assuming he returns and stays healthy for 2022 should hit 30 or even 40 home runs for the Sox. Can he do it for major league-ready or even proven talent during a window of contention? These trades do tend to be a bit more tricky but can be done. Until the lockout ends we have no choice but to speculate how the trade will affect the Sox for the long haul but for now, it looks really bad.
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