CHICAGO – The moment prompted two colleagues to embrace for the first time in nearly two decades of working together. It also created a raucous atmosphere in the Chicago White Sox clubhouse, where high-fives accompanied some exclamations and screams.
As the evening hours progressed, the day that marked the MLB trade deadline, the front office was hopeful, but still very nervous, in the prospect of acquiring the player they had been targeting for weeks: the closer. All-star of the Chicago Cubs, Craig kimbrel.
“There’s a roller coaster that’s part of that,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said as his team prepared to play the Cubs this weekend. “There were times when I thought it wasn’t going to happen.”
Waiting during the trade deadline season can lead to some sleepless nights, according to Hahn and White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams.
Ultimately, they got their man, one of the best relievers in the game, even though he allowed his first home run of the season on Friday, a three-run connection from Cubs shortstop. Andrew Romine that tied the game. The Sox still won that day and will get a chance to sweep their rivals Sunday night (7 p.m. ET on ABC).
Kimbrel’s addition gives the White Sox instant credibility in October when he joins another closer. All-star, Liam hendriks, in the Chicago bullpen that now has some depth.
Talks about getting a second star started during MLB draft meetings early last month. During some downtime, Hahn and Williams began discussing their strategy for the trades. The White Sox had a huge lead in the American Central League and weren’t looking to just add around the margins.
“I think I asked (Williams), ‘If we could acquire just one player, who would you want it to be?'” Hahn recalled. “We both had the same answer: Craig Kimbrel.”
In some ways, it was a surprising response. Hendriks was days away from the All-Star Game and the ninth inning wasn’t a problem. But getting the ball to Hendriks had been a problem in the first half. It seemed that manager Tony La Russa relied on fewer and fewer arms in difficult situations. The flamethrower Michael Kopech he was their go-to man to get to Hendriks, but the team felt they needed more.
Hendriks had kept up-to-date on the team’s strategies and instantly agreed to bring in another closer. Hahn just wanted the best guy available.
“There are some extremely high leveraged exits that need to be secured for a team that has high hopes,” Hahn explained. “We saw him as the guy most capable of getting those big outs, regardless of where they came from.”
Then, on July 9, Hahn made his first phone call to Cubs president Jed Hoyer. At the time, the city’s rivals were on different paths for 2021, with the Cubs clearly looking to reorganize while the White Sox were looking to win a championship.
The two teams talked about several different players on the Cubs roster, including the setter Ryan tepera. In fact, the ChiSox traded for him, the day before the deadline. It was a kind of appetizer for the big deal later on. It was July 20 when Hahn and Hoyer spoke again. The Cubs were concentrating on the request for Kimbrel, and from that point on, they knew the ChiSox were going to be willing to go for him to the end.
“A lot of teams call and check, but it was clear with the frequency of check-ups and calls that (the ChiSox) were really serious,” Hoyer said.
Hoyer admitted that he had so much going on during that period of time that he didn’t always communicate with people when he wanted to. It added to the uncertainty Hahn and Williams were feeling as they waited for some late-night phone calls that never came.
“I wasn’t going to call Rick at 2 am,” Hoyer said.
As the deadline approached, optimism grew. The teams focused on second baseman Nick Madrigal as the centerpiece back to the Cubs. Madrigal is one of the best contact hitters in the game, a great necessity for his eventual new team. And his loss wasn’t going to affect the White Sox’s chances in 2021, considering he’s out for the rest of the season with a torn hamstring.
“Where I have so much respect for what Rick and Kenny are doing, it was clear they were doing it by October,” Hoyer said. “They were clear, decisive and aggressive.”
But the deal was not yet closed. When the White Sox traded pitcher Jose Quintana to the Cubs for the prospects Eloy Jimenez Y Dylan cease In 2017, Theo Epstein then spoke of having to pay a ‘tax’ to do business in the city.
Now the roles were reversed. The White Sox had a tax on getting Kimbrel because his situation is not necessarily a two-month rental, as he has a team option for next year. So, on the day of the deadline, the teams agreed on the reliever. Codi heuer besides Madrigal.
The Cubs got two major league-ready players, while the Red Sox got the best reliever available. The deal was done.
“It was Kenny, about an hour to an hour and a half before the deal was closed, who said, ‘We’re going to hug each other if we do,'” Hahn recalled. “After my last conversation with Jed, I walked into his office with a big smile on my face and said something like ‘Where’s my hug?'”
The two won a World Series together in 2005, but this was the first time they remembered hugging, and the White Sox players were equally excited when word of the deal spread.
“It definitely surprised me,” said the first baseman and team leader, Jose Abreu, through an interpreter. “Everyone knows the quality of a pitcher he is and the year he was having with the Cubs. It’s better to have him on our side than to face him.”
Being able to complete the deal had an additional element for the main office. After seeing the team maintain its place at the top of the rankings after an injury-ridden first half of the season, Hahn wanted to honor that.
“With all that they have endured, with all the injuries, all the obstacles, we almost felt an added compulsion to reward them,” Hahn said. “Have something, somebody come through the door of that clubhouse and say ‘ok, they saw what we’ve been doing, they appreciate what we’ve done and they came out to get us help.’
Or maybe it was more about self-preservation for the longtime White Sox executive. Hahn recalled a road trip before the deadline in Pittsburgh. He had been reading a book about the Houston Astros where the current White Sox pitcher and former Astro, Dallas keuchel, had criticized the main office for not doing more on the trade deadline to help the team a few years ago.
“I saw Keuchel on the bus to the ballpark that day and I said, ‘I read about you criticizing the front office. I woke up this morning and called 15 guys to do something,'” Hahn joked.
Keuchel told him not to worry, the main office was ‘fine’.
Hahn ran into Keuchel again after the exchange was completed, now feeling that it would not be a chapter in a future book. The White Sox had their man.
“When I saw him (Keuchel) that day,” Hahn joked. “I said ‘really, we only did this to keep you away from us.’