The White Sox made a bold statement Friday about their October intentions.
After acquiring All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel from the Cubs for second baseman Nick Madrigal and reliever Codi Heuer before the trade deadline, the Sox boast a bullpen seemingly built for the fall. With Kimbrel, incumbent closer Liam Hendriks, Michael Kopech and newcomer Ryan Tepera, the Sox have four righties they can use to shorten games who provide flexibility for manager Tony La Russa in the regular season and playoffs.
The Kimbrel trade and the moves to get Tepera and second baseman Cesar Hernandez also serve to reward a team that has surged to the American League Central lead despite a rash of key injuries.
“This is a team that has accomplished a great deal despite the adversities that they faced over the course of the season,’’ general manager Rick Hahn said. ‘‘And as we start to see some of our injured players return, the fact that we were able to add and address what we felt were the potential needs as we headed down the stretch and into October was of the utmost importance to us. The vibe in there right now is extremely positive and excited about what lies ahead, hopefully, for the next three months.”
If Kimbrel keeps throwing like he did with the Cubs this year, these could be a special three months for the Sox, who also should be getting center fielder Luis Robert and catcher Yasmani Grandal back for the stretch run.
Kimbrel has 23 saves, an ERA of 0.49, 64 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.71 in 39 appearances. Tepera witnessed that dominance with the Cubs, saying Kimbrel has been unbelievable.
“I think he’s better than he ever has been, possibly,” Tepera said. “It’s been cool to see, and his work ethic is unbelievable. It’s fun to watch him in the weight room and on the field and just the way he goes about his business.”
How exactly save chances will be divvied up isn’t entirely clear as Hendriks and Kimbrel are in the top echelon of relievers. But that seems like the kind of problem teams would love to have, trying to decide which All-Star closer to use in which situation.
Regardless, it means the Sox can rest one of their elite arms knowing another is readily available.
“The obvious thing is the depth that it provides the back end, especially because at times we’ve raised the question, how far can you push Liam?” said La Russa, who didn’t divulge his plan for using Kimbrel and Hendriks. “And it’s not good because with this much season left and hopefully October, you want to keep those key guys with fresh arms. And the depth that this adds to our bullpen is perfect.”
Kimbrel, who is under team control for next year, didn’t come cheap.
Drafted fourth overall in 2018, Madrigal, 24, was hitting .305 before suffering a season-ending right hamstring tear in June and was viewed as the Sox’ second baseman of the future. Heuer, 25, has a 5.12 ERA in 40 appearances but had shown flashes.
Both will be missed, but that was the price to get Kimbrel.
“As I discussed with Craig, a few weeks ago, Kenny [Williams] and I asked each other: Of all the players expected to be moved, let’s assume we could only acquire one, who would it be?’’ Hahn said. “And he and I had the same answer, and that was the player we acquired today.”