White Sox trade chip Craig Kimbrel says he just wants to win ballgames
“This team is really good,” Kimbrel said. “It’d be nice to be a part of it and do my part to help this team win.”
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Craig Kimbrel probably thought he’d be traded by now.
He’s probably not the only one.
After struggling in the second half of 2021 in a setup role, Kimbrel had talked with White Sox general manager Rick Hahn and vice president Ken Williams about his place with the team. And Hahn — who never says he might trade somebody — publicly said in Novem-ber that exploring a trade for the closer with 372 career saves was a possibility.
So it seemed like it would happen, and Hahn is believed to be talking to other teams as the first full week of spring training nears a close. Getting a trade partner to take all or most of Kimbrel’s $16 million salary would be the most desirable outcome, perhaps freeing up money the Sox would want to use on a free-agent outfielder.
However, if Kimbrel stays and figures out what ailed him last season after the Sox got him at the trade deadline from the Cubs — for whom he was spectacular in the first half as a closer — the Sox could have the super bullpen they envisioned when they sent Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer to the North Side.
“We’ve got a lot of good arms and maybe not enough innings,” Kimbrel said Thursday. “I wouldn’t say that’s a problem, but [it’s] a good problem to have when you’ve got so many weapons that can go anytime.”
Being part of such a mix for a World Series contender wouldn’t be the worst thing if Kimbrel means what he has said numerous times — that he only wants to win ballgames.
“This team is really good,” he said. “It’d be nice to be a part of it and do my part to help this team win.”
In such a bullpen, with closer Liam Hendriks blocking Kimbrel’s path to the top spot, “everyone’s going to have their role,” he added.
The late-inning crew would be Hendriks ($13 million), Kimbrel and new additions Kendall Graveman ($8 million) and Joe Kelly ($7 million) comprising a right-handed arsenal at an extraordinary $44 million in salary in 2022, with Aaron Bummer and Garrett Crochet as the lefties. There’s also Jose Ruiz and Ryan Burr, plus fellow righties Reynaldo Lopez and Vince Velasquez in the mix as long relievers and possible starters.
“Guys are going to have an understanding of what we’re going to be asked to do,” Kimbrel said. “That will get shaped up as the year goes on. Obviously, we’ve got Liam at the back end, and we’ll go from there. We all know Liam wants the ball every single day, and that’s what you want in a guy at the back end — someone who wants the ball.”
Hendriks, because of his success in the role, hasn’t lost his grip on the ninth inning.
“Even if you tell him he can’t have it, he’s going to find a way to get it and just working back from there,” Kimbrel said. “I’d like to be in [manager Tony La Russa’s] spot and have to make decisions.”
La Russa said Kimbrel likes being a member of the Sox, but “he really likes to close.” He expects Kimbrel to be with the team on Opening Day on April 12.
Hahn said he expects the same, but he also didn’t rule out a trade when asked about it this week.
Kimbrel, 33, appreciates the front office’s transparency in discussing his future as he builds a Hall of Fame-caliber résumé.
“We had discussions toward the end of last year, and it kind of looked like that’s where it might have been going,” he said of a possible trade. “But here we are, for multiple reasons. I’m here to get ready for the season and do whatever.”