Five ways the Craig Kimbrel trade bolsters Dodgers’ pitching, balances the roster

Chicago White Sox reliever Craig Kimbrel delivers against the Cleveland Indians in August.
Chicago White Sox reliever Craig Kimbrel delivers against the Cleveland Indians in August. Trading AJ Pollock comes with risks, but adding a proven closer like Craig Kimbrel was too big an opportunity for the Dodgers to pass up.
(Matt Marton / Associated Press)

For a blockbuster move, the Dodgersacquisition of Craig Kimbrel from the Chicago White Sox for AJ Pollock came down to a simple calculation by the front office.

The Dodgers lineup was loaded, but its pitching staff was a little thin.

Pollock had become one of the team’s best hitters the last two seasons, and sending him to the White Sox comes with risks. But to the Dodgers decision-makers, the chance to add a proven closer such as Kimbrel — and balance out the roster in the process — was too valuable to forego.

“As much as the players, clubhouse, manager, staff, the front office loves AJ, we felt like it was a way to balance up the roster, add to our pitching depth,” general manager Brandon Gomes said. “We thought it was the right thing for the team in totality.”


Five ways the trade will impact the Dodgers.


Closer role settled

Craig Kimbrel delivers for the Chicago White Sox against the Cleveland Indians in July.
(Paul Beaty / Associated Press)

Following the departure of Kenley Jansen last month, the Dodgers didn’t rush to name a successor. They said they wanted to keep Blake Treinen in his set-up role and expressed confidence in a closer-by-committee system to start the season.

The addition of Kimbrel, however, settles that issue.

“The expectation is that Craig is gonna come in and take the ninth,” Gomes said. “And the group that we currently have will be moved around as we’ve done in the past.”

Kimbrel has 372 career saves, the only active pitcher with more than Jansen’s 350. He and Treinen could form one of the best duos of any bullpen. They also allow the rest of the relievers to stay in familiar middle-inning roles.

Kimbrel, who turns 34 in May, had an up-and-down 2021. After racking up 23 saves and a 0.49 earned-run average over the first half of the season with the Chicago Cubs, he struggled following a trade to the White Sox, who slid him into a set-up role.


Kimbrel didn’t believe the role change was the cause for his regression, but said with a smile that going back to closer is “nothing that I’m mad about.”

“I’m going to be able to put some shoes on that I know that fit,” Kimbrel added. “Hopefully it turns into good results.”

With the help of a new slider, Blake Treinen reestablished himself as an elite reliever. Now the Dodgers are deciding what his role should be.

March 29, 2022


Bullpen depth solidified

Dodgers reliever Brusdar Graterol celebrates during Game 5 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves in October.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

The Dodgers likely will have to lean on their bullpen early in the season as they begin with less established rotation depth than in years past and with starters still getting fully conditioned following a short spring.

Kimbrel’s addition should help ease that burden.

With Kimbrel settled in the ninth, middle relievers such as Brusdar Graterol, Daniel Hudson and Alex Vesia can be used earlier in the game, instead of having to be saved for save situations.


The Dodgers also can save their long relievers for days when they get a short start.

“It helps you know, the cascading effect of when guys are coming into games and how we get to use different pitchers,” said Gomes, who added the Dodgers are leaning toward having 16 pitchers on their 28-man opening day roster. “It’s only beneficial.”

The designated hitter is now part of both leagues. Each team will play every other team in 2023. The days of the traditional NL and AL are over.

April 1, 2022


Options in left field

Gavin Lux warms up during a Dodgers spring training workout on March 13.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

As much as Kimbrel’s arrival helps the pitching staff, the loss of Pollock leaves an important hole to be filled in the lineup.

With left field open, Gomes said the team will use “a little bit more of a platoon” that likely will feature Chris Taylor and Gavin Lux, utility players who are coming off up-and-down 2021 campaigns.

Taylor, a right-handed bat, earned his first career All-Star selection after a strong start last season, but faded down the stretch to finish with a .254 batting average, 20 home runs, 73 RBIs and a .782 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. A free agent this offseason, he re-signed on a four-year, $60-million deal.


The left-handed-hitting Lux is a former top infield prospect who last year played in the outfield late in the season and the playoffs. In his three-year career, he has a .233 average with 12 home runs, 63 RBIs and .682 OPS. He also had been getting outfield work this spring in anticipation of another multi-position role.

Neither player matched Pollock’s production last season, when the outfielder hit .297 with 21 home runs, 69 RBIs and an .892 OPS that ranked third on the team. Though Pollock again dealt with injuries, appearing in only 117 games, there were stretches in which he performed like one of the team’s best hitters.

The Dodgers are trusting that Taylor, Lux and whoever else plays in left can hold their own — and that the rest of their star-studded batting order can absorb the blow of Pollock’s departure.

In a blockbuster trade Friday, the Dodgers acquired closer Craig Kimbrel from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for outfielder AJ Pollock.

April 1, 2022


Depth additions

Edwin Ríos hits a home run against the Oakland Athletics in April 2021.
(Jed Jacobsohn / Associated Press)

The trade will have other ripple effects on the lineup.

Pollock was one of several Dodgers expected to rotate as the designated hitter. With him out of the mix, it could create opportunities for players such as Edwin Ríos, Jake Lamb and Kevin Pillar to get more at-bats.


That position depth — something the Dodgers were purposeful in bolstering this offseason — also played into the decision to trade Pollock.

“As tough as it is to see AJ go, some of the depth that is behind our group right now, with Ríos and Lamb, our triple A group and some of the younger guys coming up, we felt like it was something that we could do and feel OK about,” Gomes said.

With one week to go before the 2022 season begins, here’s where the Dodgers stand before opening the season against the Colorado Rockies.

March 31, 2022


Cash neutral swap

Craig Kimbrel prepares to deliver during a game between the Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics in August.
(Matt Marton / Associated Press)

The Dodgers’ salary situation didn’t drastically change with the deal, which was just a straight player swap that didn’t include any money.

Pollock was due to make $10 million and had a player option for next season worth another $10 million or a $5-million buyout — guaranteeing at least a $15-million outlay over the next couple seasons.


Kimbrel will make $16 million after the White Sox picked up his club option, then will be a free agent.

Trading Pollock for Kimbrel will raise the Dodgers’ competitive balance tax. The team already was slightly over the $290-million threshold before the trade, and the annual average value of Kimbrel’s contract is $4 million higher than Pollock’s, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

But overall, Gomes said the trade was more about roster construction than financial considerations.

“It was an opportunity for us to strengthen our pitching,” he said, “and take from an area that we felt had a little bit more depth.”