The Chicago White Sox made headlines Friday afternoon by trading Craig Kimbrel to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for AJ Pollock. I have some level-headed thoughts to share now that I have processed my excitement about this trade.
The White Sox had appeared to leave right field unaddressed this offseason as Andrew Vaughn was expected to play the 9-spot on the diamond. Such a scenario likely would have resulted in a platoon situation with several other players. While Vaughn filled the left-field void admirably last season after Eloy Jimenez suffered a Spring Training injury, adding AJ Pollock to the mix has changed the calculus of the White Sox lineup.
Vaughn will now mostly platoon at DH with Gavin Sheets. That setup has a high upside for the team if both young sluggers continue developing. However, the White Sox drafted Vaughn to be a first baseman.
How We Got Here
Tepera pitched very well during his time on the South Side despite some early struggles. The same cannot be said for Kimbrel. He couldn't produce a shell of his All-Star first-half performance with the Cubs.
The Dodgers losing Kenley Jansen to the Braves in free agency necessitated this trade. Jansen was a mainstay of the Dodgers' bullpen for 12 years, so his departure left a massive hole. Kimbrel has the potential to be an elite closer for Los Angeles if he can regain prior form. This is something they surely have confidence in if making this trade.
The New Guy
Enter AJ Pollock. He comes to the Chicago White Sox with a solid résumé. In 2021, he had an .892 OPS while hitting 21 home runs and 69 RBIs (nice). Pollock comes with a ton of playoff experience from his time with the Dodgers. He spent the vast majority of his career in centerfield, where he won a Gold Glove, but is expected to play right field in Chicago.
Taking a look at his 2021 Statcast numbers offers a promising outlook for the upcoming season. While certain things stand out likely because of his age -- chase rate and outfield jump -- you’ll see he makes up for some of those shortcomings at the plate. His exit velocity, xBA, xSLG, and hard hit% figures were great in 2021. Those power numbers typically come with a high strikeout %. However, Pollock's walk rate of 26% is above the league average of 20%.
Those of us (including me) that have been clamoring for a left-handed bat will be happy to see that the newest member of the White Sox has enjoyed a nice career vs. right-handed pitching.
Pollock has been even more successful against righties as recently as last season.
Simply put, Pollock is a significant upgrade for the Pale Hose in right field. The club has not seen this level of production at the position for quite some time.
In the playoffs, we have seen mostly a lackluster performance from Pollock throughout his career. However, he looked like a different player in the 2021 postseason.
In the NLCS vs. the eventual World Series champion Braves, Pollock performed admirably. Despite his team falling to Atlanta in six games, he hit two home runs with seven RBIs and collected eight hits in 21 at-bats. Pollock also won a World Series ring with Los Angeles in the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
The biggest takeaway is that he has experience playing on the biggest stage. That experience bodes well for a Chicago White Sox team with World Series aspirations.
As with anything in baseball (or life), this acquisition is not all roses. Given his age (34) and history of injuries, Pollock is unlikely to be the everyday right fielder. Considering he hasn't played more than 117 games since 2015, it’s safe to assume we can expect 50 to 60 starts in right field from the likes of Andrew Vaughn, Adam Engel, and Leury Garcia.
With Pollock not likely to man right field all the time, a young slugger like Vaughn has a good opportunity to see regular at-bats. Engel provides a decent plate presence and Gold Glove-caliber defense while taking the pressure off Garcia, who is typically plan B at every position.
The White Sox finished fifth in the American League in runs scored last year. And they achieved that total despite Eloy Jimenez, Yasmani Grandal, and Luis Robert all missing significant stretches of games. With Pollock now in the mix, the White Sox boast what appears to be the most formidable lineup in the American League.
Okay, I got a little sidetracked from "the downside" at the end there. Just keep in mind that Pollock is a veteran with plenty of miles on his legs and will not play every day.
The Time to Win is Now
The Chicago White Sox have finally made the trade acquisition that fans have been waiting for. Much like the Kimbrel/Tepera acquisition at the 2021 trade deadline, this move is another signal from the organization that the plan is to win now. Picking up AJ Pollock, who has just this year and a player option for next year remaining on his contract, is very much a win-now move.
In a previous article, I outlined how this approach represents a departure from the mentality of prior years, going back to the 1990s. The White Sox have addressed right field with a veteran who adds a plethora of playoff experience and production at the plate in the field. Sure, he’s not the perfect addition since he is unlikely to play more than 120 games. However, the White Sox no longer have any glaring holes in their lineup. Bringing AJ Pollock into the fold means the South Siders are poised to have an incredible offensive year.