On April 1st the White Sox finally found a trade partner for Craig Kimbrel. It had been known virtually since the White Sox picked up Kimbrel’s 16 million dollar option that the Sox would be looking to trade the former Cubs closer who was originally traded to the Sox at the trade deadline last July as the Sox looked to make a push towards the playoffs. Going back to the northside of Chicago were former first round pick Nick Madrigal and reliever Codi Heuer.
Kimbrel Tenure On the southside
There were issues from the beginning of Kimbrel’s short stint on the Southside of Chicago. When the deal was made, the immediate question for the Sox to answer was who was their closer? The incumbent Liam Hendriks had already solidified himself as the club’s closer and was pitching lights out at the time. So where would Kimbrel fit? The idea of Kimbrel and Hendriks to slam the door in the eighth and ninth innings seemed horrific for opposing hitters but it did not work out that way.
White Sox skipper Tony La Russa refrained from naming either Hendriks or Kimbrel the club’s actual closer but based on usage, the team wanted to leave Hendriks as the team’s closer, and have Kimbrel pitch the eighth in most situations. Kimbrel would only get four save opportunities during his time with the Sox. Unfortunately for Kimbrel and the Sox, Kimbrel would blow three of his four chances. Kimbrel stated to media outlets on multiple occasions that his struggles on the southside were mechanical and not based on being uncomfortable with any certain role.
Regardless of role, the fact was Kimbrel was bad for the White Sox posting a 5.09 ERA over 23.0 innings with a dreadful 4.56 FIP (fielding independent pitching) while averaging 7.0 hits per nine innings pitched. Kimbrel just never got comfortable while with the White Sox and the lack of fit was apparent pretty quickly. This made the White Sox picking up his option to most fans, confusing. The only logical explanation was the Sox would trade Kimbrel before the 2022 season. This became a well known directive and could have played a part in what took the Sox so long to move Kimbrel. When teams know you have a need to move a particular player, it drives the return down. While the price the Sox could ask for was already relatively low based on Kimbrel’s performance, the knowledge of the Sox intentions, would drive the return down further.
On April 1st, the Sox finally struck a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers moving Kimbrel to L.A. while getting outfielder A.J. Pollock in return. This deal was player for player involving no other players, prospects, or money. Pollock is making 10 million dollars this season and has a player option for 10 million dollars for 2023 including a five million dollar buyout. Kimbrel is currently making 16 million dollars for 2022 making the money pretty close to even.
The Dodgers lost closer Kenley Jansen to the Atlanta Braves via free agency and needed a closer. Kimbrel, who is a hall of fame caliber closer throughout his career would slide into the role with the Dodgers immediately meaning each team fills an immediate void with the deal.
The White Sox needed an outfielder to fill the void in right field that has been there for years. The Sox attempted to patch this last year with the signing of veteran Adam Eaton. While Pollock was not left-handed as the Sox likely preferred, his splits against right and left-handed pitching are pretty balanced. Pollock’s career slash line vs right-handed pitching is .277/.334/.457 with a .792 OPS while his slash line vs left-handed pitching is .284/.335/.521 with a .856 OPS. This probably made the Sox a bit more comfortable with making the deal even though Pollock hits from the right side of the plate.
How It’s Going
Kimbrel has 11 save opportunities this season with the Dodgers and has converted ten of them. Posting a 4.80 ERA with a 1.400 WHIP and 9.0 hits per 9 innings pitched thus far, Kimbrel has proven to be less than impressive for the Dodgers.
While Kimbrel blew a save for the first time this season last night, he has been giving up hits and runs aplenty as of late. Generally a lockdown closer, Kimbrel has given up runs in his last three appearances and five of his last seven outings. Only three times in Kimbrel’s 16 appearances has he posted a clean 1-2-3 inning. This could be a blip on the radar or a glimpse of things to come for the 34 year-old closer.
Since making the move cross country to Chicago, Pollock has been on somewhat of a roller coaster. While all Sox hitters are struggling minus Tim Anderson, Pollock has posted for the first time in his career a below .300 OBP while providing essentially no power and just a .216 batting average. It is way too early to call the deal a bust for either side and while the Dodgers are cruising in first place in a historically tough division, the Sox are fighting to stay at or just over .500 in a relatively weak AL Central.
The Sox just cannot seem to get or stay healthy. This may be a huge factor in getting into an everyday routine of regularly playing the same position and getting comfortable in the batter’s box. If the Sox do indeed turn things around Pollock could prove to be a huge addition providing solid defense and some power as well. Hitting 87 home runs over five seasons from 2017 through 2021, Pollock does have it in him to hit for power and doing so would provide a huge lift for the Sox.
Overall, Pollock was probably about as good as the Sox could do in return for Kimbrel considering all circumstances. The Sox traded for the 2021 version of Pollock who posted his best season as a pro with a .297/.355/.536 with an .892 OPS. While that would be a bit of an unfair expectation for Pollock, something similar would prove to be huge for the White Sox. If the Sox have any plans of making a run in the 2022 postseason, they will need Pollock to return to some form of his normal self.
If Kimbrel continues to struggle and Pollock never gets going offensively, the deal will hurt the Sox worse than the Dodgers. The Dodgers obtained a closer who is very situationally specific. If the Dodgers are winning or losing a game by 4 plus runs, Kimbrel will almost never see the field. We all know the Dodgers will not struggle to score over the course of 162 game season.
The Sox, on the other hand, got an outfielder who should play every day when healthy. They need Pollock to produce to win. If the Sox offense continues to struggle including Pollock, this deal will be another bust under general manager Rick Hahn. While rebuilding the White Sox beginning in 2016, Hahn and the Sox front office made some great deals but the deal to bring in Kimbrel proved to be unnecessary creating additional lineup issues for the club. The Pollock trade was necessary regardless of what happens to attempt to recover from the original deal bringing in Kimbrel. While we only have a small sample size thus far, it does not look good for the Sox. Let’s all hope the Sox and Pollock can get it going and make this move worthwhile.
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