White Sox net Kimbrel from crosstown Cubs

La Russa has late-innings plan to pair right-hander with All-Star closer Hendriks

July 31st, 2021

CHICAGO -- The White Sox are in it to win it.

Not win the AL Central, mind you. The division seems to be pretty firmly in their control barring something unexpected, as manager Tony La Russa’s crew held an eight-game lead over the second-place Indians heading into this weekend series at Guaranteed Rate Field. 

The White Sox want to win the 2021 World Series at the outset of this competitive window, and they reinforced that point Friday by acquiring Cubs closer in exchange for second baseman Nick Madrigal and right-handed pitcher Codi Heuer. Madrigal is out for the season after having surgery to repair a right hamstring tear.

White Sox get
: RHP Craig Kimbrel
Cubs get: 2B Nick Madrigal, RHP Codi Heuer

It’s a high talent price for the White Sox to pay, but not unlike when the Cubs sent infielder Gleyber Torres to the Yankees in exchange for closer Aroldis Chapman as an important final component to a 2016 World Series title. The Cubs wouldn't have won that year without Chapman.

And Kimbrel was the top target of both general manager Rick Hahn and executive vice president Ken Williams.

“As I discussed with Craig, a few weeks ago Kenny and I asked each other, ‘Of all the players expected to be moved, let's assume we could only acquire one, who would it be?'” Hahn said during a Friday Zoom call. “He and I had the same answer and that was the player we acquired today.

“We view him as playing a key role here, obviously over the next few months getting us in position for the postseason. But come October, providing Tony and [pitching coach] Ethan [Katz] and Has [assistant pitching coach Curt Hasler] with a variety of weapons at the back end to help shorten games."

Kimbrel and Liam Hendriks, the White Sox All-Star closer, have been the two best at their jobs this season and now they will both work in high-leverage territory for the South Siders. Kimbrel, 33, entered Friday with a 0.49 ERA and 64 strikeouts over 36 2/3 innings (15.71 per 9 IP), to go with 23 saves and a 0.71 WHIP in 39 appearances this season, his third with the Cubs.

Ryan Tepera, who was acquired from the Cubs in a Thursday trade, knows first-hand of Kimbrel’s dominance by working as his setup man for the past two seasons.

“He's been unbelievable. It's been fun to watch,” Tepera said. “I think he's better than he ever has been, possibly. It's been cool to see and his work ethic is unbelievable. It's fun to watch him in the weight room and on the field, and just the way he goes about his business.”

“It’s a heck of a move by the front office,” said La Russa, referring to the Kimbrel trade. “The addition of him and Tepera and [César] Hernández, just a reward to the players for the first half of busting it to be in this position.”

La Russa had the chance to work with Kimbrel in Boston and described the reliever as not only “a legendary, historic kind of closer, but a great teammate, a great person.” He also spoke of a plan as to how to use Kimbrel and Hendriks together late innings, but he decided to keep that plan private until La Russa could share it with Kimbrel upon his Saturday arrival.

Hendriks was set to speak with the media on Saturday but expressed to Hahn his excitement for the additions, including second baseman Hernandez in a trade with Cleveland on Thursday.

“Liam from Day 1 has told us, ‘Get as many good players around us and let’s win a championship. I’ll do whatever you guys need me to do,’” Hahn said. “That hasn’t changed. I saw him a few minutes ago in the clubhouse. He was all smiles. The spirits are very high. Guys are enthusiastic about how this is all going to fit together when the time comes.”

Those trades for Tepera and Kimbrel marked the first crosstown deals since left-handed starter Jose Quintana was sent North and Eloy Jiménez and Dylan Cease were moved to the White Sox in 2017. The roles are reversed this time around, with the Cubs looking like the rebuild and the White Sox trying to win it all.

“My conversation with Craig earlier this afternoon was all about winning championships and playing a role in helping to put us in the strongest position to get him another ring, and to get some of the guys down in that clubhouse their first ring,” Hahn said. “We are better today than we were yesterday. We know that. We are better the end of this week than we were the end of last week.”