Reviews following the season reliever Craig Kimbrel put together for the Chicago White Sox were not very good and that is an understatement. However, that could actually turn out to be a good omen for both parties in 2022. The White Sox exercised a $16 million team option in the offseason, which led to speculation the team would look to move him and see what they could get via trade.
Patience is a virtue and if the White Sox practice that with Kimbrel, his history says a nice payoff will be forthcoming. Kimbrel’s success following a trade came in his second year with his new team which could make General Manager Rick Hahn’s move to pick him up from the Cubs a smart one.
From 2011 to 2014, Kimbrel led the National League in saves, including a Major League-best 50 saves in 2013. In early 2015, the Braves shipped him to San Diego (which also involved former Sox outfielder Carlos Quentin going to Atlanta) where Kimbrel did pitch well but saw his ERA jump from 1.16 the year before to 2.58. His saves dropped from 47 to 39 and his stay in southern California lasted one season as he was shipped to Boston.
Kimbrel’s first season with the Red Sox saw him put up 31 saves to go with a relatively high 3.40 ERA. He was named to the All-Star team that year but he became much more comfortable in his surroundings in 2017 and finished the year with 35 saves, 126 strikeouts in 69 innings, a strikeout/walk rate of 9.0, and a 1.43 ERA which helped him repeat as an All-Star and finish sixth in Cy Young balloting.
After posting a 5-0 record that year, he backed that up by going 5-1 in 2018, with a more Kimbrel-like save total of 42. That year, he posted his 300th career save and was the youngest player to ever do so at 29 years old. He also accomplished the feat in fewer games (494) and fewer opportunities (330) than any pitcher in history.
Craig Kimbrel’s history might be a reason for the Chicago White Sox to keep him.
The Cubs landed Kimbrel in June of 2019 after he decided to opt for free agency and it was disastrous. Between 2019 and COVID shortened 2020, he had a combined 0-5 record and 6.00 ERA with only 15 saves.
His 11 homers in 36 innings were troublesome and calls to move on from him were loud. But, the Cubs stayed with him and Kimbrel looked like the dominant closer he was before with a minuscule .49 ERA with only two blown saves in 25 chances. Kimbrel’s 64 K’s in 36.2 innings showed he still had plenty in the tank to shut down opposing hitters.
With the Cubs going nowhere, General Manager Rick Hahn pulled the trigger on a deal that brought Kimbrel to the Southside but the transition from closer to more of a set-up guy for Liam Hendriks didn’t go as hoped. Thus, the system is in place for him to have a bounce-back season.
While the last line was more for comedic effect, there is truth to it when looking at his record. Kimbrel’s career is on a Hall-of-Fame path. What he has done following changes in address is pretty impressive and does give hope to those looking for him to return to form.
The possibility of him getting a chance to show White Sox fans that he still has it might not happen if he is moved this offseason. That situation is in play but so too is his being back on the southside. With Carlos Rodon and Ryan Tepera set for free agency, and Michael Kopech slated for a role in the starting rotation, the White Sox will be in need of pitching-just like every other team in the majors.
Therein lies the rub regarding Kimbrel. While his initial time with the White Sox was not stellar, teams looking for pitching may be willing to part with some good assets to get him. What constitutes “good assets” will be up to Hahn to figure out.
If a deal is too good to pass up it will be incumbent on him to pull the trigger on it. Should Kimbrel return, the White Sox have to hope he stays true to his history and reverts back to the form that made him one of the top relievers in baseball.