11:32 a.m.: Both teams announced the trade.
11:11 a.m.: Dodgers, White Sox agree on trade outfielder AJ Pollock to Chicago in exchange for a reliever Craig Kimbrelreports Mark Feinsand of MLB.com (Twitter link).
It’s a pretty jaw-dropping blockbuster involving two high-profile, highly paid veterans. Pollock is earning $10 million this season and owes at least a $5 million buyout on a $10 million player option for the 2023 season. Kimbrel, meanwhile, is expected to earn $16 million this coming season. after the ChiSox chose a 2022 club option despite a poor performance following the trade that sent him from the Chicago North side to the South side last summer.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan tweets that there’s no money changing hands in the deal, which means the Dodgers are effectively adding another $1 million in financial commitments (assuming Pollock declines his option net worth $5 million player and testing free agency next winter). The Dodgers will also see their luxury register increase a bit as a result of the trade. Pollock’s contract was a four-year, $55 million deal, but was five years and $60 million for luxury tax purposes, as the player’s option at the end of the contract was considered cash guaranteed. Thus, the contract dealt a luxury hit of $12 million. As Matt Gelb of The Athletic recently reported, the new CBA stipulates that the actual dollars remaining from a negotiated contract will count towards the luxury tax. As such, Kimbrel will now represent a $16 million luxury hit for the Dodgers (rather than the $14.5 million he would have represented under previous rules).
Aside from the financial component of the blockbuster swap, the swap fills a need for both teams. The Dodgers’ bullpen lacked a late-game save option, and Kimbrel restored credibility as a dynamic ninth-inning option in the first four months of the 2021 season while closing games for the Cubs. He will now join Blake Trains, Daniel Hudson and young flamethrower Brusdar Graterol in the back of the Los Angeles bullpen.
For much of the 2021 season, Kimbrel returned to his vintage form. In 36 2/3 innings with the Cubs, the 33-year-old right-hander (34 in May) posted a microscopic 0.49 ERA while racking up 23 saves and 46.7 percent of opponents against a 9 walk rate, 4%. Kimbrel deservedly made the All-Star team, and the three-year, $43 million contract he signed in 2019 went from albatross to trading asset within months. The White Sox, looking to push what was already a clear division winner over the hump, traded the injured second baseman Nicholas Madrigal and right-handed Code Heuer to the Cubs in a crosstown blockbuster.
Kimbrel pitched a closed inning in each of his first two appearances with the Sox, and although he was rocked for three runs on his third outing, it looked like a blip on the radar when he rebounded with three. further aimless appearances thereafter. However, the right-hander’s struggles increased in the coming weeks as reports indicated Kimbrel was uncomfortable throwing in a setup ability behind the Sox closer. Liam Hendricks gained importance. In the end, Kimbrel posted an ugly 5.09 ERA in 23 regular-season frames with the Sox before being beaten for three more runs (two earned) in two ALDS innings.
Whether Kimbrel’s struggles actually relate to the role he was playing in or a more narrative explanation, the Dodgers are clearly confident he can return to the high level of performance he displayed with the Cubs last year. If so, a paddock that has recently lost Kenley Jansen to the Braves (for that same $16 million price tag) would prove to be one of the most formidable in the sport.
Pollock’s trade also opens up game time in the outfield for Chris Taylor, who was previously considered the team’s primary second baseman. With Pollock and left hand strike Matt Beaty now gone through the trade – Beaty went to the Padres earlier this week – there’s room for Taylor to take over as lead left fielder and longtime top prospect Gavin Lux to do daily rehearsals at second base. Of course, that’s assuming no more additions are coming for the Dodgers. It should at least be noted that LA just traded their left fielder and have a right-handed heavy roster at a time when the former All-Star outfielder Michel Comfort and his left-handed bat are still looking for a landing spot.
Meanwhile, the White Sox have yet to plug a glaring hole in right field all of the offseason. The closest the Sox have come to bolstering good field position was a recent trade to the Phillies Adam Hasley, but the Sox announced Haseley was optioned to Triple-A minutes before news of today’s trade broke. Pollock will now walk straight into the outfield mix, giving the Sox a quality option to partner with the center back Luis Robert and left fielder Eloy Jimenez. The Sox spent much of the 2021 season with first basemen Andrew Vaughn and Gavin leaves posing as corner outfielders, so bringing Pollock into the fold will give them a real outfielder – and a solid defensive end at that.