The dust has settled from the trade deadline and the White Sox took care of two of their most glaring needs, thanks in no small part to the Cubs. That was actually the topic of the last edition of this column, so it was nice to see things play out like they did. Glaring might be overstating it a bit, considering they lead the AL Central by 9.5 games, but the additions to the bullpen and at second base were made with an eye toward October. It’s kind of weird to think of the playoffs as fait accompli.
If the White Sox make the postseason — FanGraphs has that probability at 99.7% — it will be the first time EVER that they will have done so in back-to-back seasons. But can we really count 2020? Okay, I’ll stop trying to sabotage it. It also is weird in that the big additions made by Rick Hahn are markedly different from those made by Kenny Williams. The former GM had a penchant for picking up over-the-hill superstars like Ken Griffey Jr., Manny Ramirez, all the Alomars. Hahn did get a big name in his trade deadline deals, but that is more of a coincidence than a goal.
The trade with Cleveland to get a solid veteran second baseman was good even if it wasn’t sexy. It probably tells us more about Cleveland than anything else. They traded their starting second baseman within the division to a team they were nominally pursuing. It felt like a political race where the second-place candidate in the primaries concedes and throws their support behind the leader. I’m not sure if Mike Chernoff is expecting a job after the White Sox win, but that isn’t how this all usually works.
Acquiring Cesar Hernandez looked even better when the White Sox went shopping at Jed Hoyer’s Bullpen Emporium. The swap of Craig Kimbrel for Nick Madrigal (Nicky Two-Strikes!) stings a little because Madrigal has been such a fun player to watch. Though it’s not the same as seeing the core of a team being traded away, seeing a player who came up through the system get traded away is still bittersweet. I truly hope he comes back from his hamstring injury and plays well for the Cubs. Of course, if Madrigal plays too well, he’ll be gone before you know it.
The two-headed closer might still be an issue, but right now Kimbrel and Liam Hendricks are saying all the right things. Kimbrel has been lights-out in his appearances thus far. We won’t talk about Ryan Tepera’s work just yet, though he settled down after allowing a homer right out of the chute. Though it can be maddening at times, Tony La Russa built his reputation on being able to handle a bullpen. Giving him more weapons is a really good move.
If the White Sox can shorten games with a Michael Kopech/Kimbrel/Hendricks finish, they will be a tough out. It’s hard to fathom, but they might even be favorites in a playoff series or two. This is definitely rarified air and I hope they are ready for it.