The White Sox did not specifically answer a question in right field by acquiring veteran AJ Pollock from the Dodgers in exchange for fellow veteran reliever Craig Kimbrel.
Instead, they added another championship component to an already strong squad.
“It’s very much about roster depth,” said general manager Rick Hahn after the trade was announced on Friday. “Obviously, AJ has the ability to help us in right field.
“But he’s made his career in left and center as well. So, it gives us some depth, some alternative options and the ability to take guys off their feet as well as solidify us both offensively and defensively.”
This move might end up being a good baseball deal for two teams at the top of the preseason World Series contender chart. Kimbrel was as dominant of a closer as any in MLB during the first half of the 2021 season with the Cubs, but that same success didn’t follow him in a setup role after he moved across Chicago in exchange for second baseman Nick Madrigal and right-handed reliever Codi Heuer.
Now, the active saves leader (372) figures to move back into the ninth inning. While the results weren’t what the White Sox wanted, they raved about the character of Kimbrel.
“Sucks to see Craig go because he’s just the best ever,” starting pitcher Lucas Giolito said. “He’s been so great in the clubhouse — he fit in immediately when we got him. He was such an integral part of our overall vibe in the clubhouse, and he could have helped us immensely out of the bullpen this year. But it ends up being a really good deal for both sides.”
“Craig was such a special addition,” manager Tony La Russa said. “If we had gone later in the playoffs, having that extra closer might have made the difference. It’s a tough transition for him. His character is as good as it gets – teammate. But he’s got a closer’s mentality, so it’s doing what he’s done his whole career.”
Pollock, 34, slashed .297/.355/.536 with 27 doubles, a career-high-tying 21 home runs, 69 RBIs, 53 runs scored and nine stolen bases in 117 games last season, his third with the Dodgers. He slashed .301/.353/.548 with 20 doubles, 14 homers and 52 RBIs vs. right-handed pitching, setting career highs in average, slugging and OPS (.902).
Hahn pointed out how thoughts on filling right field might have gravitated more toward a left-handed hitter with the way the White Sox lineup is constructed. But the 10-year-veteran with a career slash line of .281/.338/.482, 126 home runs and 119 stolen bases works against both righties and lefties.
There are also 34 career postgame games on Pollock’s resume, including being a part of the 2020 World Series champions. He fits the theme of previous offseason additions in Joe Kelly, Kendall Graveman and Josh Harrison, in that they are great clubhouse presences with playoff experience.
“All veterans who have been through the wars and succeeded on the biggest stage, which we think fits in nicely with a young team,” Hahn said. “A team with a lot of young core players who are continuing to grow through, ideally, all the way through October.”
“I was wondering about [Pollock] leaving the Dodgers, he had a good situation there and [was] very excited to come here,” added La Russa. “I knew him in Arizona. Same thing: high-quality guy, healthy, can play three positions [and] can hit him anywhere. He runs well. He’s a good, experienced championship-type player.”
Adding Pollock likely shifts young talents, including Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets, who were penciled in for right field playing time, into less of a regular role. That theory holds true with La Russa intending to give a couple of days off per week to catcher Yasmani Grandal, while keeping his potent bat in the lineup at designated hitter.
Plenty of opportunities still exist for playing time for this group, especially with a manager like La Russa who likes to use his entire roster. The short Spring Training ramp up potentially presents some health issues down the way, further opening up opportunities.
“We are thrilled to add a player of AJ Pollock’s caliber to this roster,” Hahn said. “We view him as making us better offensively as well as defensively and providing us with some important flexibility as we go through this season, as well as some depth for whatever valleys may lie ahead for us.”
“Trust me, he can play right field,” said La Russa of Pollock, who has played six of his 824 career games in right field. “He’s a really good athlete and has a good arm, so that’s easy to do. If anything, he protects us wherever we have to protect out there.”
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