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Dodgers land another former Brave: acquires Craig Kimbrel via trade with White Sox

The Braves-Dodgers rivalry is building up to be a great one in 2022. Not only did LA sign former Brave franchise icon Freddie Freeman (to go with Atlanta’s signing of former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen), but on Friday it was reported that the team out west landed another former favorite among Braves Country – right-handed pitcher Craig Kimbrel.

As the tweet above describes, the Dodgers sent often-injured outfielder AJ Pollock to the White Sox in exchange for Kimbrel, as the former player makes room for more playing-time for the talented Gavin Lux in LA and the latter reinforces a lacking outfield group in the south side of Chicago. The blockbuster deal appears to be a win-win for both clubs, and both players are similarly paid. Kimbrel will earn $16 million in salary for the 2022 season, while Pollock will make $10 million, not including a $5 million buyout on a $10 million player-option for the 2023 campaign. 

Kimbrel, now 33-years-old, is coming off a resurgent 2021 season with both the Cubs and White Sox, in which he pitched to a 2.26 ERA across 63 relief appearances between the two Chicago teams, while averaging 15 strikeouts per nine and 3.4 BB/9. His 2.2 fWAR overall last year was his highest total since his 2017 season with Boston, when he finished sixth in the AL Cy Young race, thanks to 3.2 fWAR (1.43 ERA in 67 G). 

It feels like such a long time ago, but Kimbrel was an integral piece during the Braves rebuilding years. After being drafted in the third round of the 2008 MLB Draft, the then-20-year-old flamethrower quickly made his mark in Atlanta’s farm system. By early May of 2010 (just two years into his pro career), Kimbrel debuted for the Braves and wound up pitching in 21 games. During those final 3-4 months of the 2010 season, the 22-year-old righty posted a sub-1.00 ERA (0.44), and since then he’s never looked back. 

In his prime years in Atlanta, Kimbrel was a lock every season for 60-70 appearances, 40-50 saves and a sub-2.00 ERA. In fact, from 2011-14, the Alabama native averaged 68 games, 46 saves and a 1.51 ERA, all while punching out 14.6 batters per nine innings. Kimbrel’s 186 career saves with the Braves is still by far a franchise record, pacing Hall of Famer John Smoltz by over 30 conversions. He might not be quite the dominant closer he once was, but the Dodgers are certainly getting one of the best relief arms in the game. Since 2011 (his first season as a full-time closer in the majors), Kimbrel ranks third in WAR at 18.9, behind Aroldis Chapman (19.8) and Kenley Jansen (20.4). Although his 371 saves (out of 414) ranks first in that span. 

Ironically, not only does the Braves and Dodgers both have future Hall of Fame closers on its rosters, but each one was once a huge part of both franchises. The postseason is usually where this rivalry gets intense, but you can bet all eyes will be on these two clubs all year long in 2022. We’ll see who gets the better of who. Atlanta’s first series versus LA this year will come later this month in a three-game series at Dodgers Stadium, beginning April 18.

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