It’s no secret I was adamantly opposed to picking up Kimbrel’s option. My feeling was that Rick Hahn risked getting stuck with his onerous contract, sinking huge money into a relatively well-constructed bullpen when massive roster holes existed at multiple positions. This is before even taking into consideration that, for half of the last three seasons, Kimbrel’s been pretty bad, particularly in his half-season on the South Side.
But here we are, and when life gives you poop, you make poopade. In an attempt to get a winning deal out of The Immovable Object without getting too optimistic about what teams are willing to part with to get him, let’s look at some relief-needy teams who have some expendable pieces that fit with us.
TEXAS RANGERS: ISIAH KINER-FALEFA AND JOSE TREVINO
Not a single White Sox fan who read the above names is probably even remotely excited about them, but I’m trying to trade Kimbrel and his $16 million contract here, so sorry if Jon Gray isn’t highlighting a return package. Texas committed a half a billion dollars to two free agents before the lockout, but its offense will go to waste as their pitching is a mess. While Gray and Dane Dunning provide at least some hope for the starting staff, the bullpen is a trash heap, with nobody projected for more than 0.3 fWAR and the unit collectively projected at 0.4 fWAR. Warts and all, Kimbrel alone would more than double that projection.
On our side, we would be taking on the young but unexceptional Kiner-Falefa, who is a solid defender at second base but a mediocre bat who is projected to make close to $5 million in arbitration. While he doesn’t exactly solve the position, Kiner-Falefa is still a young player with some upside who projects to be a roughly average contributor despite a below-average bat (93 wRC+ projection). At a minimum, Kiner-Falefa is credible depth the team could use.
Trevino is technically the larger prize for the purposes of what the White Sox need. A poor hitter even by catcher standards (projected wRC+ of 68), he rates as a plus defender and framer who can handle the staff and give Yasmani Grandal some occasional rest without turning the strike zone into a thimble. Even better, as a pre-arbitration player Trevino won’t cost any more than Zack Collins, who Trevino would be supplanting in the backup role.
Kiner-Falefa is expendable for Texas due to the signings of Marcus Semien and Kyle Seager, as well as the emergence of Josh Jung. The Rangers are hunting for big names and big solutions to big problems on their roster, and while they are losing depth with this deal, they are gaining a much-needed back-end arm with elite upside. The White Sox, meanwhile, save about $10 million in payroll that ideally can be used on a big signing for RF (or, you know, FiNaNcIaL fLeXiBiLiTy).
COLORADO ROCKIES: RAIMEL TAPIA
I know, I know ... the Rockies suck, they aren’t going to compete in 2022; why would they need a closer? See, what you fail to take into consideration is that the guys running the Rockies are fucking idiots, and basically nothing they’ve done over the last several years really makes any sense in the grand scheme of things, so hey, why not give it a try?
Tapia was a back-end Top 100 prospect who just hasn’t gotten any traction in the big leagues. While he generally hits for good contact and posts acceptable batting averages and OBPs, the power just isn’t there at all. This is basically like putting Nick Madrigal in the outfield, without the superhuman contact.
However, Hahn could exploit Colorado’s disappointment. While Tapia doesn’t seem liable to become a star, his contact rate is such that a decent offensive season at random isn’t out of the realm of possibility (his .321/.369/.402 line in the shortened 2020 season attests to this). Additionally, Tapia can cover all three outfield positions, hits lefty, can steal some bases, and has two years of control left.
Tapia is due to make around $4 million in his penultimate year of arbitration, so this trade would save the White Sox around $12 million, and give them another option to run with for 2023 in the event Yoelqui Céspedes, Oscar Colás, or some other minor league outfielder doesn’t rise to the occasion. If his performance is such that it justifies a significant pay raise, all the better.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: TOMMY LA STELLA AND $$$
Signed to a back-loaded, three-year deal before the 2021 season, the Giants hoped La Stella would solidify second base for them, but the early returns just didn’t materialize. Instead, Tommy struggled with injuries and wound up having surgery on his Achilles tendon after the season. With $16.75 million remaining on his deal ($5.25 million in 2022, a whopping $11.5 million in 2023), his financials match up reasonably with Kimbrel’s.
While an injury risk, La Stella does have a recent track record, and even when he was struggling with injuries he was not a lost cause. Historically, he brings very good on-base skills and passable defense at multiple positions including second base, where he would likely be the starter and probably an upgrade over Leury García. Though the Giants probably are loath to part with him so quickly, they lack high-impact arms in their bullpen projections and have an excess of able bodies at second base, among which La Stella projects to be the most expendable.
I don’t think this trade works straight-up, given the way the Giants back-loaded La Stella’s contract. Though saving $10.75 million in 2022 is good, that 2023 salary is a bit much to stomach, and I’d expect San Fran to kick in a few million to offset La Stella’s salary bomb in 2023. Otherwise, this lines up as a rare potential win-win trade in the immediate term.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: MICKEY MONIAK
Maybe it’s a bit pie-in-the-sky to believe that Philly would part with the former No. 1 overall pick to acquire Kimbrel, but hear me out (lord knows, people have been positing far crazier ideas for a Kimbrel-to-Philly trade). For starters, Moniak was drafted five years before Dave Dombrowski and Sam Fuld were running the show in Philadelphia, so their current front office doesn’t have any real sentimental attachment to Moniak or vested interest in proving themselves right about him. Additionally, Dombrowski has a long history of trading away farm pieces for established veterans, and is heavily rumored to be enamored with Kimbrel. The setting is right for this sort of move.
Obviously, getting a 24-year old outfielder who has been devoured by MLB pitching thus far is not exactly a needle-mover for the White Sox. In some regards, this deal would be adding another Blake Rutherford to their system. The difference, however, is Moniak has more tools that will eventually translate to the big leagues, he’s been a victim of overaggressive promotion by the Phillies due to heightened expectations based on his draft position, and he still has two minor league options remaining, which is critical compared to Moniak’s Triple-A peers like Micker Adolfo and Rutherford.
At most, Moniak projects to be a reasonable fall-back option as he continues his development in Triple-A. If forced into service he has a better chance of contributing than any other outfielders the White Sox currently have in Charlotte (that are likely to still be there during the season, anyhow) and maybe the White Sox can cash in the outside chance that Moniak can establish himself as a second- or third-division starter. Given the low return, the expectation would be that the Phillies take on all of Kimbrel’s money, making this largely a salary dump with a very slight upside for the Sox.
The unspoken truth is that just about any plausible scenario for a Kimbrel trade rests on the White Sox dumping his contract. Eating bad money doesn’t do any good (e.g. Didi Gregorius or Wil Myers), and I just can’t see anything of true value coming to us in return (the La Stella trade being the closest thing I could come up with that would remotely qualify).
That said, the only way to make a Kimbrel trade a worthwhile endeavor would be to then spend the money elsewhere. I cannot emphasize that enough; getting rid of Kimbrel’s contract does nobody any good if that $16 million (or whatever is saved) is not put towards upgrading right field, second base, or getting depth at catcher or for the starting pitching staff, and maybe even grabbing a different reliever at a lower price (Ryan Tepera?).
Keeping Kimbrel isn’t exactly the worst of scenarios, but if his contract is what prevents Hahn from filling in the gaping holes remaining on his roster (again), then picking up Kimbrel’s option will rank as one of the dumbest moves of Hahn’s tenure.
And for a guy that traded for Yonder Alonso, that’s saying something.