Well, the time has come. The Chicago White Sox have officially traded away right-handed pitcher/disappointment Craig Kimbrel for outfielder AJ Pollock from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Finally, the passionate Kimbrel discourse of Chicago can rest.
The White Sox acquired Kimbrel from the Chicago Cubs on July 30, 2021. The trade saw them send away both second baseman Nick Madrigal and pitcher Codi Heuer, so Kimbrel came in with high expectations resting on his shoulders. Unfortunately, the trade did not end up paying off for the White Sox, and Kimbrel quickly became dead weight in the bullpen. Although he pitched a shutdown inning in each of his first two appearances with the team, Kimbrel ended the season with a disappointing 5.09 ERA before being annihilated for another three runs (two earned) in two ALDS innings. Between these numbers and the fact that the loss of Madrigal resulted in a gaping hole at second base, it wasn’t long before fans were muttering that the trade for Kimbrel was just one big mistake.
Despite Kimbrel’s mediocre performance during the 2021 season, the White Sox took the $16 million club option on his contract on November 6, doubling down on a pretty controversial investment and immediately sparking rumors that they would be looking to trade him away during the offseason. With Kimbrel’s trade value sitting a long way from where it was when the White Sox acquired him, questions were raised regarding who the White Sox would be able to get in exchange for the aging reliever, and which teams might want him. His less-than-impressive performance in this year’s delayed spring training sealed the deal in many minds that the White Sox were going to end up with him on Opening Day, whether they liked it or not.
ENTER: the Dodgers. It was announced on Friday that Kimbrel had been sent over the Camelback Ranch moat in exchange for Pollock, a right-handed outfielder and All-Star caliber player.
Pollock was originally selected in the first round of the 2009 MLB draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks and was invited to spring training in 2010, where he broke his right elbow while attempting to make a diving catch and ended up missing the entire season due to injury. He was called up to the majors on April 18, 2012 and in the 2012 season, he played 31 games for the Diamondbacks, batting .247 with two home runs and eight RBIs.
Pollock was named a National League All-Star in 2015, but his career has been plagued with injuries. He missed the second half of the 2014 season due to injury, broke his right elbow again at spring training in 2016 (six years to the day before his trade to the White Sox) and missed almost all of the subsequent season, and was placed on the 10-day injured list due to a right groin strain in May 2017. In 2018, his last season playing with the Diamondbacks, Pollock hit .257 with 21 home runs and 65 RBIs over 113 games, and was 13-for-15 in stolen base opportunities.
Pollock was signed by the Dodgers on Jan. 26, 2019 to a four-year, $55 million contract with a player option for another year, but it wasn’t long before health hindered his performance. On April 30, Pollock went on the injured list due to right elbow inflammation and did not return until July 12, worrying fans that his bad luck with injuries would continue to be an issue in LA.
However, in the shortened 2020 season, Pollock played in 55 of 60 games, batting .276/.314/.566 with 16 home runs and 34 RBIs, and the 2021 season saw him come back with a vengeance, clocking a .297 batting average with 21 home runs and 69 RBIs. Pollock was the NL Player of the Week for July 5–11, 2021, after a four-game hitting streak while batting .391/.462/1.043 with three doubles, four home runs and four RBIs. It definitely appears his ongoing injury issues have been resolved, at least for now, and with a comeback like the 2021 season, his trade value was presumably quite good coming into 2022.
It could be comfortably argued that this is GM Rick Hahn’s best trade to date. We’ve seen him pull off impressive moves in the past, but the acquisitions of Yoán Moncada, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito and multiple others saw him auctioning off valuable assets. After Kimbrel’s performance last season, this is essentially trading debt for gold. The deal doesn’t require the White Sox to commit future money — Pollock is only owed a $5 million buyout on a $10 million player option for the 2023 season — and considering they aren’t paying the Dodgers a cent to take Kimbrel’s $16 million contract, this trade is very low-risk and high-reward from Chicago’s perspective.
Pollock fills an enormous hole on the White Sox roster and complements the existing team. Right field has been a well-documented and desperate issue for the team, and although it arguably takes depth away from the bullpen, Kimbrel really wasn’t adding anything other than warm body to Chicago, anyway. Admittedly, with left-handed Garrett Crochet injuring his arm this week, requiring Tommy John surgery and ending his season, things are a bit more dire, but the bullpen isn’t bare. Aaron Bummer, Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly are in the bullpen, and Liam Hendriks is closing — and those short arms are backed by some promising youth in Charlotte, including Bennett Sousa, Anderson Severino, Caleb Freeman and others.
None of this is to say that Kimbrel can’t thrive in LA. If you look at the trade from the Dodgers’ perspective, Kimbrel could fill a hole in their bullpen where they were lacking a shutdown option late in the game — that is, assuming he is able to restore at least some of his credibility in the season ahead. Kimbrel will join Blake Treinen, Daniel Hudson and Brusdar Graterol at the back of the L.A. bullpen, and if he manages to return to the form he enjoyed prior to 2021, his brief White Sox era could just become a blip in an otherwise generally successful MLB career.
Overall, Pollock is an extremely good get for the White Sox. There will be debate and concern regarding our bullpen, with the dual loss of Kimbrel via trade and Crochet due to injury, but this fills a huge need in Chicago and removes a player who was never going to be at his best on the South Side.
Big props to Hahn on this one.