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White Sox reliever Craig Kimbrel center of negotiations with Braves

by Joe Binder

Though nothing ever came to fruition, we recently learned an update about trade talks involving a certain White Sox reliever.

According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Braves recently discussed a trade centered around relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel. Unfortunately for the South Siders, the reigning World Series champs instead opted to sign Kenley Jansen for $16 million – the exact amount remaining on Kimbrel’s contract – thus suggesting that a reunion would no longer be a possibility.

A quick glance at both relievers’ 2021 seasons and you’ll find rather similar numbers. Jansen went 4-4 with a 2.22 ERA (17 ER/69.0 IP), 86 strikeouts, 3.08 FIP, and 1.043 WHIP. Kimbrel, on the other hand, finished 4-5 with a 2.26 ERA (15 ER/59.2 IP), 100 strikeouts, 2.43 FIP, and 0.905 WHIP. His brutal second half obviously tarnishes his perspective among the Sox fanbase, and rightfully so considering who was sent to the North Side. Because of this, it’s been no surprise that the front office is actively looking for a trade partner for their right-handed hurler.

Almost immediately after their postseason run, it was reported by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale that the Sox would exercise Kimbrel’s $16 million option and explore his market over the winter. The pre-lockout signing of bullpen piece Kendall Graveman increased trade speculations, with the recent addition of Joe Kelly only adding more fuel to the fire.

So, now what? Even with us being less than three weeks from Opening Day, the ticking clock likely won’t stop Rick Hahn and Co. from actively pursuing a deal with teams in need. Looking at Chicago’s record payroll of $194 million, $44 million of that is dedicated to the quartet of Liam Hendriks, Kimbrel, Graveman, and Kelly. While you can never have too many arms and a bullpen of this caliber could be lethal, assuming everyone pitches to their potential, all signs signal the Sox will still try to part ways with their 2021 trade deadline darling in an effort to free up their budget.

Many fans have long speculated which clubs could be good trade partners, with a few consistently being thrown around on social media. The good news for Chicago is twofold: there are indeed several teams still looking for a closer and given the amount that Jensen signed for, there’s no longer any potential cost savings associated with waiting for the former Dodger to sign.

Speaking of Los Angeles, they may just be one of those potential trade partners to actually keep an eye on. Considering they just lost their closer to Atlanta, it’s easy to point a finger and say they should check to see where Kimbrel’s price tag stands. Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic also suggested this possibility in a recent article.

Another candidate remains available via trade, with the White Sox perhaps looking to move Kimbrel with Liam Hendriks already in place as closer. Kimbrel has one year and $16 million left on his deal, just as Jansen just got from Atlanta. The Dodgers’ payroll is already pushing up against the new, fourth tier of the luxury tax of $290 million — it’s currently at a projected $285 million, according to FanGraphs. But while Friedman said Friday the current payroll would not be sustainable on an annual basis, he didn’t close the door on the Dodgers crossing that threshold in 2022.

Time will ultimately tell what happens with Kimbrel and the Sox. For now, both sides are planning to proceed as if nothing will transpire heading into the regular season, and pivot as needed.

We’ll likely be exploring this topic and potential trades later in the week here at Sox On 35th. Be sure to stay tuned and give us a follow on social media @SoxOn35th for updates!

Featured Photo: White Sox/Twitter

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Kimbrel and a lower-level prospect for Bellinger. Salaries for ’22 are the same, Sox need what a rebounding Bellinger would provide. Worst-case: Kimbrel returns to form for the Dodgers and Belli doesn’t, Sox lose the same money, but already have a stacked ‘pen, then cut Belli. Best case scenario: Belli rediscovers his ’19 form and the Sox get an absolute steal this year and then a near market-rate deal for ’23. Maybe a pipe dream, but seems a worthwhile gamble.

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