According to Bob Nightengale, the White Sox are likely to pick up Craig Kimbrel‘s option and then attempt to trade him.
Who else will be available?
The last line is interesting because he adds that “There will be plenty of teams looking for closers.” On its face, it’s true. However, not a lot of teams will be looking for 34 year old closers, coming off a bad second half, that cost $16 million. Add to this that there are a number of closer options in free agency including Kenley Jansen coming off a 38 save season with a 2.22 ERA, Raisel Iglesias who had 34 saves and a 2.57 ERA, guys with double digit saves last year like Kendall Graveman, Yimi Garcia, Adam Ottavino, and even old friend Alex Colome, and the mutual option between the Padres and Mark Melancon. With the exception of Jansen, any of those options will likely cost less than Kimbrel in cash alone, not to mention player capital. And some teams, especially those not competing in 2022, will opt for internal options.
What teams could be interested?
I think we can start by removing the entire AL Central. The division is either content with their pieces, not looking to win or not looking to trade with the Sox. Then you have teams that aren’t even trying: Baltimore, Texas, Miami, Pittsburgh, Colorado, and Arizona. Knock the Cubs off the list too, because as hilarious as it’d be, it ain’t happening. Then remove teams with an established closer: Milwaukee, Houston, New York Yankees and Mets, Toronto, San Francisco, Atlanta, and I’d say St Louis. The Dodgers are probably off this list as well because they’ll either re-sign Jansen or stick with Treinen. Same with the Padres who probably end up with Melancon. That leaves Boston, Seattle, Oakland, LA Angeles, Philadelphia, Washington, Cincinnati, and Tampa.
So what could a trade look like?
I took a look around at the remaining teams. I think we’ll either have to dump money or take on an unsavory contract. So let’s take a look at what we have below:
Boston Red Sox
A reunion with the Red Sox could be fun, but I think they’ll stick with Matt Barnes before they trade anything useful for Kimbrel and $16M.
The Nats cleared out almost all the contracts they had, so if you’re looking for major league talent in return, you’re out of luck. The Sox could probably eat Kimbrel’s salary and try to grab a minor leaguer, but I don’t see it happening.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels would love to hand off Justin Upton‘s contract, but good lord, nobody wants that. The Sox are eager to trade, not desperate.
When I looked at the A’s, I thought we might have something where we take on some Elvis Andrus money and possibly play him at 2b or maybe even just get better Danny Mendick. A weak return, but made impossible by his initial trade to the A’s from the Rangers which initiated a clause in his contract to make his 2023 option ($15M) a player option. Well, at least someone has a more unmovable contract on their roster.
OK, now I know we can find a trade with the Rays, there is always a trade with the Rays. And this one seems possible. Kevin Kiermaier is owed $12M this year with a club option for $13.5M in 2023 or $2.5M buy out. So the money lines up pretty well. And the Rays may value a closer for that cash more than a CF. Keirmaier is an above average fielder in CF and a lefty bat. However, there is no power there and his OBP is just OK. One thought here would be making Luis Robert the answer in RF and having Keirmaier be a defense first lefty bat in CF. It’s probably not what you thought going into the off-season, but it could work. I mean, with Keirmaier and Robert out there, maybe they play right center and left center with one of our LF moving to short center to fill out the infield.
This may be the rare case where money comes back to the White Sox. The Reds signed Mike Moustakas for the 2020 season and he hasn’t played a whole lot since. The problem now is that with Eugenio Suarez, Jonathan India, and Joey Votto, I am not sure where Moose is gonna play. If moved to the Sox, there is a perfect match of $16M in 2022, but there is an additional $18M next year and a club option in 2023. The Sox would be adding a lefty bat with power and a sub-par defensive 2b. I am not sure he can do any of these things well anymore, since we haven’t seen him much and his foot is all jacked up.
If there is a GM I never count out, it’s Jerry Dipoto. My first look was at Yusei Kikuchi, but while the money matches up, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the M’s to move a starter. The guy that I could see them moving if they’re uncertain of his health is Ken Giles. Giles is coming back from Tommy John and they signed him injured looking towards this year. However, after a near playoff run for an unexpected roster, Dipoto may want someone who is at least known to be healthy. The White Sox would need to send money in this trade, because the M’s could use the leverage of just sticking with Giles and signing Kendall Graveman back for likely less money than Kimbrel.
Now these other trades are for guys in the back end of their career or coming off serious injury or both. So let’s think a little out of the box. High risk high reward for this one. Last year, the Phils basically gave up on Scott Kingery. They outrighted him and moved him off the 40 man roster after clearing waivers. He then had surgery to repair a torn labrum. Kingery is an interesting character because a player that has that happen to him in his 27 year old season would rarely be owed much money at all. In this case, he’s owed $6M this year and $8M next year. The following three years, there are club options with $1M buy outs. The risk is that Kingery may never get back to the majors. The reward would be if he achieves what the Phils thought he would, when they signed him to an extension before playing a major league game. That would be a power hitting middle infielder. His 2019 season which featured 19 HR is the glimpse we got of that. Again, this would be a very risky move and you probably end up with a super-utility guy or Gordon Beckham clone. But every once in a while, you hit on this type of move. Would you be willing to roll the dice?
Don’t trade him?
While this is an expensive option, it might be your best. It’s a lot of money to tie up into the bullpen, but with the volume of free agents and the list of possible trade partners, the Sox have very little leverage. They’re in a buy high sell low situation. There is likely more value in taking the risk that Kimbrel can turn it around and can pitch well in the 8th. And as BeefLoaf mentioned in his blog, Kimbrel pitched just fine in non-save situations in 2020 after his first few.
I hope Rick Hahn proves me wrong and gets something real nice for Kimbrel, but I simply don’t see it. Who do you think the Sox can get for him?
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The move is a really interesting one for the actual need the White Sox have. The team is desperate for real life outfielders. They basically have 2, Luis Robert who is a superstar in the making and Adam Engel who is basically a 4th outfielder (unless you believe in his two partial seasons of good hitting). Eloy Jimenez is fine in Left Field, he has the speed, but poor instincts, so he’s basically a Designated Hitter. Leury Garcia can fake it, but we all watched him botch a play in Right Field in the playoffs and would like better. Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets are both First Basemen.