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White Sox get Craig Kimbrel from Cubs

The Cubs receive Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer

Arizona Diamondbacks v Chicago Cubs Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The Chicago White Sox have acquired another reliever from their crosstown rival. A day after trading for Ryan Tepera, the Sox have brought in Craig Kimbrel. Bleacher Nation’s Michael Cerami was first with the news.

Kimbrel has a vesting option that becomes a club option if he doesn’t finish 55 games in 2021, so the longtime closer could be on the South Side through the end of 2022. The price to acquire talent at this deadline is higher than it has been in years, so the Sox have had to part with second baseman Nick Madrigal and right-handed pitcher Codi Heuer.

Kimbrel hasn’t received an MVP vote as recently as Tepera has, but he’s an even better get. Kimbrel’s struggles from his first two years in Chicago appear to be behind him as the veteran reliever is in the middle of a Renaissance. He’s pitched to a 0.49 ERA and 1.08 FIP in 36 23 innings this season. To say that he was the best reliever on the market doesn’t quite do him justice. Kimbrel ranks in the 100th percentile in Whiff%, K%, xBA, xSLG, xwOBA, and xERA. His Baseball Savant percentile rankings are truly a sight to behold.

Baseball Savant

The White Sox had the AL Central sown up yesterday before acquiring Tepera or César Hernández, so this move was made with an eye toward October. The White Sox were eliminated from last year’s postseason in what was effectively a bullpen game, and they’re making sure that doesn’t happen again.

With this addition, the White Sox now have a bullpen that includes Tepera, Kimbrel, Liam Hendriks, Michael Kopech, and Aaron Bummer. Chicago already had one of the best bullpen in the majors and now it’s even better. Collectively, White Sox relievers have amassed 3.6 fWAR and pitched to a 3.99 FIP. Having to decide between giving the ball to Hendriks or Kimbrel in the ninth inning is a good problem to have.

The Cubs should be overjoyed with the return. Nick Madrigal was the first member of the 2018 draft class to make it to the majors, and though he’s missed time with injuries, he’s hit the ground running. In 324 major league plate appearances, Madrigal has hit .317/.358/.406 for a 114 wRC+. The second baseman is one of the premier contact hitters in the league striking out only 7.4 percent of the time. That would rank first among qualified hitters.

Madrigal won’t make his Northside debut until 2022 as he will miss the remainder of the season with a hamstring tear, but he’s under team control through 2026. With Javier Báez heading to the Mets, and thus unlikely to re-sign with the Cubs, it appears that Nico Hoerner will slide to shortstop while Madrigal plays second. It’ll be a defensive downgrade from what the Cubs are used to, but they shouldn’t miss much on offense even if they’ll have to find power elsewhere.

Heuer is under team control through 2025, and he has been mostly solid in parts of two seasons. In 62 13 major league innings, he owns a 3.75 ERA and 3.33 FIP. Heuer’s sinker averages 96.6 mph and his slider has a 66.7 percent whiff rate in 2021.

The past two days have been hard for Cubs fans, and there’s no replacing Anthony Rizzo or Javier Báez. This return indicates that this rebuild will be faster than the last one. Whether it’s as successful remains to be seen.


Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.