© 2023 BSN LIVE, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
PHOENIX – Are the White Sox going to trade Craig Kimbrel?
Oh, who the hell knows?
Even Kimbrel himself figured he’d be wearing a different uniform by now. Maybe in a normal offseason – one without a three-month transaction freeze that was lifted just hours before the start of spring training – a deal would have been long complete.
But here we are on St. Patrick’s Day, the White Sox kicking off Cactus League play in their stylish green hats, and Kimbrel hasn’t gone anywhere, throwing a bullpen session next to Michael Kopech on Thursday morning at Camelback Ranch.
Until further notice, he’s a member of a suddenly loaded South Side relief corps, something that seemed like a long shot when Rick Hahn talked openly about Kimbrel as a trade candidate during the GM meetings.
Until further notice, the guy who flopped in somewhat spectacular fashion following a splashy deadline deal is back for another go-round with these White Sox.
Until further notice, he’s down for whatever.
“I think we had discussions toward the end of last year, and it kind of looked like that’s where it might have been going,” Kimbrel said of an expected trade. “But here we are, for multiple reasons.
“I’m here to get ready for the season and do whatever I need to do. If it’s close out a game, I’ll close out a game. If it’s coming and getting a starter out of a jam, I’ll do that as well.
“I’m here to win ballgames. This team is really good. It’d be nice to be a part of it and do my part to help this team win.”
Much like he did after he arrived in that Crosstown trade last July, Kimbrel said all the right things about his willingness to do whatever is asked of him coming out of the bullpen. But it was no secret that his transition from All-Star closer to setup man in front of Liam Hendriks didn’t go well. Tony La Russa pointed out over the weekend that while Kimbrel likes playing for the White Sox, he also likes being a closer.
La Russa followed that up by saying that Kimbrel’s role won’t be changing in 2022, that he’ll continue to pitch in front of Hendriks as part of what is now, thanks to the additions of Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly, a stacked back end.
That is, he’ll have that role if he remains a White Sock.
Right now, uncertainty reigns, with free-agent signings and trades coming at a Winter Meetings level pace in the middle of players’ preparations for the upcoming season. It’s a weird time for front offices and a weirder time for players whose names have been in trade rumors for months.
Hahn’s comments at the GM meetings focused on the White Sox’ decision-making, a need to evaluate whether Kimbrel best served the team as part of the roster or as a trade chip to provide other immediate benefits to the 2022 title chase. Whether or not a firm conclusion was ever reached, Kimbrel’s still here.
The longtime relief ace tipped his hat to that front office, appreciating the attempt to figure out what could work for him, someone who obviously struggled outside of a closer’s role last year and might benefit from getting back to it.
But in another master class in saying the right thing, Kimbrel turned his attention toward what every teammate and fan wants to hear.
“I was very respectful with how straightforward and transparent they were through everything,” he said of White Sox front office, “thinking about my career and what I can do and having that on the forefront of their mind, about what might be best for me.
“In my mind, what’s best for me is winning ball games. I want to put another ring on my hand.
“That’s why I’m still here playing this game. I love to compete, and I love hanging out and maybe making a difference with the guys around me and trying to help in any way that is. At the end of the day, I still play this game and I want to play this game because I want to win. When I wake up every day and I come to the field, it’s, ‘What can I do to help us win?’ It may not be closing out the game and going home after that. But that’s fine, too.”
Hahn’s made some additions since the lockout lifted, signing Kelly, Josh Harrison and Vince Velasquez to free-agent deals. Many White Sox fans are clamoring for another, bigger move, and the gut feeling from reading the tea leaves – not to mention Hahn’s own comments that he’ll keep pursuing opportunities – is that he’s trying for something like that.
Kimbrel, of course, could be the key to such a deal getting done, should it come in the form of a trade or even just if $16 million needs to be freed up to pay another free agent. Even if Kimbrel’s all in on filling whatever role is asked of him in the White Sox’ bullpen, a good way to address a need is to deal from a position of strength, and the South Side relief corps is a position of strength right now.
But that’s a whole lot of “if” at the moment, and the other side of that coin is Kimbrel sticking around.
Kimbrel and the White Sox are prepared and still preparing for either scenario. Whether Kimbrel can exorcize his setup demons from last season remains to be seen, obviously, but he admitted that more preparation time – i.e. more than a few hours after the trade deadline – could help him iron out some of the issues that plagued him in his first couple months in a White Sox uniform.
That’s what everyone hopes is the difference between 2021 and 2022. But what’s stayed constant is Kimbrel’s tendency to say all the right things and be open to whatever La Russa and the White Sox have in mind for one of the best relief arms of all-time.
Does Kimbrel stay? Does Kimbrel go? Who knows?
But should he remain a part of the loaded back end of the White Sox’ bullpen, he’s going to give it all he’s got.
Get Chicago's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!
Become a smarter Chicago sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from CHGO’s writers and podcasters!
Just drop your email below!