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Sometimes, White Sox fans, you can always get what you want.
Rick Hahn surely wasn’t thinking of public relations when he pulled the trigger on the deal that brought outfielder A.J. Pollock to the South Side and sent reliever Craig Kimbrel to the Dodgers’ bullpen. Surely he was thinking about making his team better, which it now is. But this move, a week before Opening Day, does the job of rectifying what in the mind of many fans was a frustrating offseason without a major acquisition.
The combination of newcomers Kendall Graveman, Joe Kelly, Josh Harrison and Vince Velasquez did little to excite the fan base ahead of a 2022 season with championship expectations, and in many cases, the absence of a big name in that group fueled opposite feelings of pessimism, despite the White Sox already boasting one of the game’s best rosters and the status of legitimate World Series contenders.
Now, though, with Pollock aboard, with a sizable move made, with right field addressed, that excitement – which deserved to be here all along – can finally take root just a handful of days before the games start counting.
The 34-year-old Pollock, a Gold Glove winner way back in 2015, arrives almost certainly to serve as the White Sox’ new everyday right fielder, a hitter coming off a career year at the plate in 2021 in which he posted a 137 OPS-plus for the 106-win Dodgers.
Prior to Friday morning, the team’s “cavalcade of stars” approach to right field had some fans panicking, especially in the wake of the hip-pointer injury Andrew Vaughn suffered when making a diving catch during a spring game last weekend. While Vaughn, Gavin Sheets, Adam Engel and Leury García will continue to be featured players in the White Sox’ lineup – Vaughn and Sheets most notably in the DH spot – Pollock gives the White Sox an everyday option at the position, even if his versatility in the outfield allows Tony La Russa to mix and match how he sees fit.
Pollock does not come without his own red flags, of course, and he’s dealt with inconsistent playing time due to injuries throughout his career. He played in only 117 games last season and in only 86 games during the previous 162-game campaign in 2019. But he’s been a part of the Dodgers’ great success the last three years, including their championship-winning season in 2020, and was a well above average hitter during that stretch, with an OPS-plus of 125 since the start of 2019.
Much like he did with the Dodgers, Pollock finds himself among plenty of star power in the White Sox’ batting order, a position that should bring little pressure as José Abreu, Tim Anderson, Luis Robert, Eloy Jiménez, Yasmani Grandal and Yoán Moncada shoulder the load. But he’s another arrow in the quiver for La Russa’s club, and as those Dodgers have shown, you can never have too many. Having as many as possible, as a matter of fact, makes you all the more dangerous.
The White Sox made the long awaited trade of Kimbrel to reel in Pollock, a move anticipated since Hahn openly discussed the future Hall-of-Fame closer as a trade candidate back in November. Even Kimbrel was shocked he was still in a White Sox uniform in the early days of spring camp, and the bright side of a move not made was starting to become apparent: What if Kimbrel was Kimbrel and the South Siders boasted an out-of-this-world bullpen?
That seemed like a fine result of this whole process, even with a $16 million price tag, but in the end, Kimbrel got dealt, Hahn doing that thing GMs do, trading from a position of strength to address a weakness. Pollock’s bat, perhaps, more than his position, addresses that weakness, but now everybody’s happy: those who wanted an outside addition in right field and those who thought another hitter in the lineup – regardless of position – produced a greater benefit.
Of course, the White Sox will only be happy if they accomplish their sky-high, championship-level goals this season. Before Friday’s trade, they were already a World Series contender, and Pollock’s arrival merely improves that standing rather than changes it altogether. But as one of those contenders, the White Sox’ to-that-point lack of participation in the offseason arms race was noticeable, even if they had the roster to weather any other club’s major acquisition. Carlos Correa joining the Twins did not upend the AL Central, and only perhaps the Blue Jays vaulted past the White Sox in the AL power rankings thanks to their offseason work.
Pollock is not an add the caliber of what the Rockies got in Kris Bryant, the Mets inked in Max Scherzer or the Dodgers landed in Freddie Freeman. But it is the White Sox making the kind of move that contenders make, beefing up the roster even as, as La Russa came under fire for suggesting earlier this week, the internal options might have gotten the job done.
Now the White Sox retain those internal options, some of them very exciting ones, to use wherever they see fit and add an impressive player to the mix at the same time.
In other words, this is what contenders do.
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