The Los Angeles Dodgers don’t know when enough is enough, huh? No matter how much fire power they have, they can always have more. Earlier today, the Boys in Blue traded for Chicago White Sox All-Star reliever Craig Kimbrel, giving up outfielder A.J. Pollock in the process.
Obviously, this is a great trade for the Dodgers. Ever since Kenley Jansen signed a one-year, $16 million deal with Atlanta two weeks ago, the Dodgers have been looking for a new closer. Although the team already had several capable relievers such as Tony Gonsolin, Alex Vesia, and Blake Treinen — who not only has experience as a closer, but actually had 38 saves and a 0.78 ERA with Oakland in 2018 — the Dodgers wanted someone with more recent success as a closer and Kimbrel is definitely someone who fits the bill.
Kimbrel did struggle during his short time with the White Sox last season. After a resurgent start to the 2021 campaign with the Chicago Cubs that earned Kimbrel his eighth All-Star appearance, Kimbrel fell off after heading to the other side of the Windy City. In 24 appearances, Kimbrel posted a 5.09 ERA and only one save across 23 innings pitched. However, Kimbrel’s struggles may have been due to his role with the Sox. Used primarily as the setup man for closer Liam Hendriks, Kimbrel was unable to get accustomed to his new role. He’s always struggled when forced into a role other than closing. The only two seasons Kimbrel has recorded less than 15 saves — 2019 and 2020 — are the only seasons where Kimbrel has recorded an ERA over 3.50. Obviously, Kimbrel struggles are a reason he lost his closing role those seasons, but Kimbrel isn’t the type of pitcher who can bounce back if thrust into a different, less vital role in the bullpen.
Kimbrel should slide in nicely with the Dodgers’ bullpen, but there are some concerns. While Dodger Stadium is known for being pitcher-friendly, it isn’t the most spacious park across MLB. A lot of home runs are hit in Chavez Ravine, and with Kimbrel’s insanely high career groundball-to-fly ball ratio of 0.63 — the 15th-lowest rate of any qualified pitcher reliever since 2010 — Kimbrel could have issues with home runs. After all, Guaranteed Rate Field had a home run factor of 124 in 2021, the same factor as Dodger Stadium, while Wrigley had a factor of just 98.
As for the White Sox, Pollock should add some pop to their lineup which ranked 19th in home runs in 2021. Pollock put up arguably the best season of his career in 2021, racking up 21 dingers with a .297 batting average and 137 OPS+ (career-high). The problem with Pollock has never been production, rather health. Pollock has played in at least 130 games only twice in his career and was sent to the 10-day IL twice last year. If healthy, he’s a stellar addition to any lineup, but that’s a big if.
Given Kimbrel’s lack of success with the White Sox and the fact that Hendriks is already slotted into the team’s closer role, this move makes sense for Chicago. The Dodgers have the depth at outfield to replace Pollock and wanted a genuine closer to fill the hole that Jansen left when he signed with Atlanta. All in all, a fair deal for both sides that should help both claim their division titles in 2022.