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Dodgers acquire Craig Kimbrel from White Sox for AJ Pollock

LA trades for a closer

MLB: Spring Training-Chicago White Sox-Workouts Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The answer to the spring-long question of who will close games for the Dodgers in 2022 has been answered, definitively. Los Angeles acquired Craig Kimbrel from the White Sox in exchange for outfielder AJ Pollock, the team announced Friday.

It’s a straight-up swap, with no money changing hands. Pollock is making $10 million this season, and has a $10 million player option for 2023 with a $5 million buyout. For competitive balance tax purposes, he counted $12 million against the luxury tax payroll.

Kimbrel will make $16 million in 2022 after having his club option exercised by Chicago in November. That salary might look familiar, because that’s what Kenley Jansen signed for with Atlanta. So why didn’t the Dodgers simply retain the beloved franchise icon for the same price?

Again, the luxury tax plays a part.

From Jorge Castillo at the Los Angeles Times in March, after Jansen signed with the Braves:

The Dodgers were one of a few clubs willing to commit to two years. But the situation was further complicated when they agreed to a six-year, $162-million deal with former Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman last Wednesday. The development produced a new wrinkle: The Dodgers wanted Jansen to wait until they shed payroll before signing to keep their payroll under $290 million and avoid the resulting 90% tax rate for exceeding the competitive balance tax line for the second straight season.

The Dodgers wanted to clear payroll, because with the Kimbrel-Pollock swap they are already at about $296 million for luxury tax purposes with the current roster. That’s higher than the new fourth tier of $290 million for 2022, which is more punitive in that any amount the Dodgers are over will be taxed at 90 percent. That figure includes the full $34 million average annual value of Trevor Bauer’s contract, though he is currently on administrative leave while under MLB investigation.

Pollock in his three years with the Dodgers hit .282/.337/.519, a 125 wRC+ with 52 home runs, and topped a 130 wRC+ in each of the last two seasons.

Trading Pollock tests the Dodgers’ vaunted lineup depth, which was exposed in an injury-plagued 2021 season for the team. The trade is a vote of confidence for Gavin Lux, who has more room for regular playing time, especially in the infield.

In Kimbrel, the Dodgers get an eight-time All-Star who had a 2.26 ERA in 63 games in 2021, with 100 strikeouts in just 59⅔ innings, with 24 saves. He struck out 42.6 percent of his batters faced last year, the third-best strikeout rate in the majors.

His 2021 season was split between the Cubs, for whom he was the closer, and the White Sox, for whom he was not. His strikeout rate was mostly the same with both teams, but his ERA was not. He went from a 0.49 ERA and 1.10 FIP with the Cubs to 5.09 and 4.56 with the White Sox. Kimbrel seemed to suffer in non-save situations, relatively. Looking at his year-long splits, opponents hit .099/.191/.174 against him in the ninth inning, where he had a 0.99 ERA. But in the eighth, batters hit .197/.270/.394, tagging him with a 4.42 ERA.

Kimbrel will surely be used in his familiar closer role with the Dodgers, which frees up Blake Treinen to the fireman setup role in the seventh and eighth innings that the team prefers for him.