Dodgers land Kimbrel from White Sox for Pollock

April 1st, 2022

GLENDALE, Ariz. – With Kenley Jansen off to Atlanta, the Dodgers, for the first time in a decade, were preparing to enter a regular season without a set closer. That all changed on Friday.

L.A. acquired right-hander Craig Kimbrel from the White Sox in exchange for outfielder AJ Pollock. Kimbrel, an eight-time All-Star and one of the most accomplished closers of his generation, will now slide into the ninth inning role for the Dodgers.

“The expectation is that Craig is gonna come in and take the ninth,” said Dodgers general manager Brandon Gomes. “And the group that we currently have will be moved around as we’ve done in the past.”

After years of dominance in Atlanta and Boston, Kimbrel had his struggles in his first two seasons with the Cubs, posting a 6.00 ERA in 2019 and '20. But in '21, Kimbrel once again became one of the best closers in baseball, recording 23 saves with a 0.49 ERA in 39 appearances with Chicago.

Kimbrel, however, had his struggles once he was traded to the White Sox at the Deadline. The right-hander was utilized in a setup role for closer Liam Hendriks and posted a 5.09 ERA in 24 appearances. The Dodgers believe keeping Kimbrel as the closer, a role he has recorded 372 career saves in, will help the right-hander approach his first-half dominance of '21.

“I showed up to [White Sox] camp to do whatever job I was going to be asked to do,” Kimbrel said. “I knew the situation I was in and that’s been my mindset. I think coming over here, my mindset is gonna be a little different. I’m going to be able to put some shoes on that I know that fit. Hopefully it turns into good results.”

Los Angeles had been in the market for Kimbrel multiple times over the last 12 months. The Dodgers checked in on Kimbrel’s availability before last year’s Trade Deadline, but with Jansen on the roster, Los Angeles decided to stand pat.

Earlier this spring, the two sides talked again, according to sources, but they weren’t able to come to an agreement. After a few weeks of Spring Training, both teams assessed their strengths and weaknesses. The Dodgers had a surplus of position player depth, while the White Sox carried plenty of depth in the bullpen.

“I knew there was going to be a possibility there. But I have no control over that,” Kimbrel said, when asked if he thought the Dodgers would be a good trade fit. “This isn’t a bad place to be, I can tell you that.”

Money added up, as well. Pollock will make $10 million this season and has a $10 million player option for 2023. Kimbrel will make $16 million this season and will be a free agent at the end of the season, helping the Dodgers maintain their financial flexibility this offseason. The deal between the two sides gained traction over the last few days.

Replacing Pollock’s production won’t be easy to do. The 34-year-old hit .297 with 21 homers last season and, at times, was the team’s most consistent hitter. But with a Chris Taylor and Gavin Lux platoon in left, the Dodgers believe they should have enough to make up for Pollock’s production over the last few seasons.

It also clears up some of the congestion for playing time on the roster, particularly at the designated hitter spot, which is expected to be a rotating door among Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Will Smith and anyone dealing with a small ailment. Pollock was scheduled to be part of the rotation.

“Looking at the totality of the roster, and trying to make sure we feel like we’re at a good balance,” Gomes said, explaining the deal. “As much as the players, clubhouse, manager, staff, [and] the front office love AJ, we felt like it was a way to balance up the roster, add to our pitching depth, and thought it was the right thing for the team in totality.”

The move also opens up more potential playing time for the likes of Edwin Rios and Jake Lamb, who have had strong Spring Training showings. Rios, who missed most of last season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum on his left shoulder, is 7-for-16 with three homers in Cactus League play. Lamb, who is one of the team’s non-roster invitees, is 9-for-24 with two homers. Lamb was an All-Star with the D-backs in '17.

“I think that’s certainly a piece of it,” Gomes said. “Some of the depth that is behind our group right now, with Rios and Lamb, our Triple-A group and some of the younger guys coming up, we felt it was something that we could do and feel OK about.”

Most importantly, adding Kimbrel gives the Dodgers, on paper, one of the most feared bullpens in the Majors. Blake Treinen, who is one of the best one-inning relievers in baseball, will continue in his “fireman” role, taking down most of the high-leverage situations. The Dodgers will also count on Brusdar Graterol and Daniel Hudson. At some point this season, they hope to get Tommy Kahnle and Danny Duffy back.

Not having a closer appeared to be the Dodgers’ only real weakness this season. They believe Kimbrel could be the last piece to a championship puzzle.

“Any kind of arsenal there is, it seems like it’s over here,” Kimbrel said. “It’s going to be fun to watch.”