Saturday, December 2

2022 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Craig Kimbrel trade pushes him back into high-end closer range

A Craig Kimbrel trade has felt inevitable since the White Sox opted to pick up his option for 2022, but it took until the waning days of Spring Training to come to fruition. The Dodgers acquired Kimbrel from the White Sox Friday in a trade that sent veteran outfielder A.J. Pollock back to the White Sox. 

It’s a trade that sees the Fantasy appeal of pretty much everyone involved improved, with the exception of Dodgers would-be closer Blake Treinen. Let’s break it down for both sides ahead of the biggest draft weekend of the year. 

The Dodgers acquire RP Craig Kimbrel

The Dodgers have their Kenley Jansen replacement, as Kimbrel should step right into the closer’s role for the Dodgers. And that’s quite a spot to land in for a guy we were worried might not have a valuable role heading into the season. The Dodgers figure to be one of the best teams in the league, and that should mean a ton of save opportunities – they led the NL with 56 of them as a team last season.

And, while the Dodgers are as analytically inclined as any organization in the game, their history suggests Kimbrel won’t have to worry about splitting saves too much. The Dodgers were consistent in trusting Jansen in that role over the years, and you have to think they’ve acquired Kimbrel with an eye on using him the same way. We had been operating under the assumption for much of the spring that Blake Treinen would get the ninth inning job, but the Dodgers indicated in recent days that they prefer to have him available as a high-leverage fireman in a more flexible role, and Kimbrel’s presence allows for that.

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Kimbrel isn’t quite the dominant force he once was, but he’s still coming off a season with a 2.26 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 59.2 innings. With a real chance for 100 strikeouts and 40-plus saves in L.A., he has to be viewed as one of the best closers in Fantasy now – I’ve moved him ahead of Jansen and Aroldis Chapman to No. 7 among RP in my rankings. 

The absence of Pollock from the Dodgers lineup has some ramifications too, of course. Because, while Pollock wasn’t necessarily going to play everyday, he was going to be a consistent part of the lineup. There aren’t many teams more well equipped to weather the loss of a starting outfielder, of course, and in this instance, we’ll likely see the Dodgers move Chris Taylor to the outfield primarily. That gives Gavin Lux a bit more job security in the infield, while also potentially opening up more opportunities for someone like Edwin Rios – or top prospect Miguel Vargas if those two can’t get the job done.

Lux becomes a more interesting late-round flier as a result of this, though probably someone I wouldn’t want as more than a middle infielder if I could help it. Lux shot to the top of prospect lists when he hit .347/.421/.607 over 113 games in Double-A and Triple-A in 2019, but has hit .233/.314/.368 in 144 major-league games since. He’s still young enough to grow, but Lux hasn’t shown many stand out skills yet in the majors – he’s got solid plate discipline and decent quality-of-contact metrics, but has just a .319 expected wOBA so far in the majors. 

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The biggest issue has been his struggles against lefties, as he’s hitting just .168 against them with just four extra-base hits in 121 PA. The Dodgers may not give him much of a chance against them, so he’ll need to hit early to have a chance to emerge as an everyday player. If not, Vargas and Rios could be worth a look in Fantasy if they get an opportunity. 

The White Sox acquire OF AJ Pollock

With Andrew Vaughn suffering a hip injury in spring training, the White Sox lack of outfield depth was laid bare early on, so this move makes a ton of sense for them. Pollock is 34 but has still been a very productive player, amassing 3.9 WAR over 172 games over the past two seasons while hitting .290/.342/.547 in that span.

Pollock should benefit from a good home park, and while the White Sox lineup is a downgrade from the Dodgers, it’s still one of the best in the league. He should continue to be a very productive player in his mid-30s, and as a fifth outfielder or reserve bat, still has plenty of value for Fantasy. Of course, he wasn’t an everyday player for the Dodgers and probably won’t be one for the White Sox, so that limits his appeal quite a bit. 

Pollock probably isn’t up for playing 162 games in the outfield these days anyway – he hasn’t played more than 117 since 2015 – but he gives the White Sox another viable option for a corner spot. Eloy Jimenez, Pollock, and Vaughn figure to be the primary options in the corners, with the odd man out seeing time at designated hitter. This gives the White Sox perhaps one more bat than they have lineup spots, which will leave an odd man out at times – likely Gavin Sheets against lefties and Pollock or Vaughn against most righties. 

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This hurts Vaughn’s upside, at least to start the season. The hip injury isn’t expected to keep him out for long, but given that he didn’t establish himself as a core piece as a rookie, it makes sense for the White Sox to get some insurance. He still has the skills to mash his way into a full-time role, but he’ll need to do that before he’s viewed as much more than a late-round bench piece for the final draft weekend.

Pollock and Vaughn are both just late-round Fantasy options with upside, with Pollock more likely to provide immediate help, but perhaps with less upside than a fully-realized version of Vaughn. 

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