After acquiring Craig Kimbrel from the Chicago Cubs at the trade deadline in 2021, the White Sox bullpen became loaded with back-end talent. Kimbrel, along with Liam Hendriks, Michael Kopech, Ryan Tepera, and Aaron Bummer made up what looked to be, at least on paper, a juggernaut capable of shortening games in the postseason. At least that's what White Sox general manager Rick Hahn intended on having.
Unfortunately for the White Sox, sometimes the best-laid plans can go awry. Kimbrel, who served as the closer for the Cubs, primarily worked the eighth inning for the Sox after the trade. In the set-up role for closer Liam Hendriks, the version of Craig Kimbrel the White Sox and their fans expected to see just wasn't there.
At the time of the acquisition, Kimbrel held a 0.49 ERA through 36.2 IP while only giving up a single home run. Things fell apart quickly upon his arrival at 35th/Shields. In 23 innings for the White Sox, Kimbrel gave up five long balls, some of them in extremely ill-timed scenarios. His ERA over that span finished at a not-so-great 5.09.
Since the end of the 2021 MLB season, rumors of the White Sox moving on from Craig Kimbrel have swirled. It makes sense as to why. With money already invested in Hendriks as the closer, and plenty of teams interested in top-tier relief pitching, it seemed at the very least Rick Hahn had a valuable trade chip to work with -- albeit one that he paid a high price to get. Moving second baseman Nick Madrigal and reliever Codi Heuer in order to acquire Kimbrel's services defines a win-now move. But it's one that didn't pan out for the Sox in 2021.
At one point, the Philadelphia Phillies looked like a potential landing spot for Kimbrel. It appears that ship may have sailed as the Phillies recently signed Corey Knebel to help shore up their back-end needs.
Rick Hahn on Craig Kimbrel
This leads us to today's comments from White Sox general manager Rick Hahn. These came right around the same time that Knebel struck a deal with the Phillies. Hahn's remarks certainly stirred the pot among White Sox fans, especially those who were less than thrilled with how Kimbrel has performed during his time on the South Side.
It's important to note the three dots here because Hahn did continue to speak on the matter. However, if we examine this quote in this context, the striking words are "going to require us potentially modifying how that bullpen is deployed".
Looking back at the 2021 season, manager Tony La Russa also expressed regrets about how Kimbrel was utilized in certain scenarios. If the Sox and La Russa plan on giving Kimbrel a shot at the closer role in 2022 while moving Hendriks into a "highest leverage of the game"-type role along with recent acquisition Kendall Graveman, this might potentially make some sense.
It seems Hahn is still keeping his options open as he continued with this:
As MLB heads into a lockout due to the expiring CBA, it will likely be months before the ultimate fate of where Craig Kimbrel will be playing baseball in 2022 is decided. Should that place be 35th/Shields, it seems he will likely have a different role for the White Sox.