Craig Kimbrel passed fellow closer Liam Hendriks in the White Sox dugout Saturday afternoon, just as Hendriks was sitting down with a reporter to discuss his friend’s trade from the Cubs.
“Talking s--- about you,” Hendriks said.
Hendriks proceeded to gush about his new teammate.
If the Cubs’ and White Sox’s opposite trajectories weren’t already crystal clear, two deadline deals between the crosstown rivals hammered home the difference. As the Cubs dismantled their championship core, they also sent two of their three best relievers to the South Side – Kimbrel, an eight-time All-Star closer, and Ryan Tepera, a veteran setup man.
They were two big reasons that the Cubs’ bullpen had been, at points this season, the best in the league. Now, they’re two reasons the White Sox are eying a World Series ring.
“I told (manager Tony La Russa) last night,” Kimbrel said in his introductory Zoom on Saturday, “we won one together when I had a red sock on, so let’s do it in white.”
The White Sox already had an All-Star closer in Hendriks. Now, La Russa said, they’ll determine roles based on availability. Hendriks was down on Saturday, for example, so Kimbrel took the mound in the ninth inning. He retired the side in order in the White Sox' 12-11 loss to Cleveland.
“It's more than just the on-field value that they're going to bring,” Hendriks said in a conversation with NBC Sports Chicago. “It’s the morale boost to the guys that are already here, it's the clubhouse personalities that are coming in.”
Meanwhile in Washington, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras was talking about guiding and supporting a young group through the rest of the season.
“I told them last night that it’s not going to be easy the next two months,” Contreras said. “But we have to enjoy it. We have to try to have fun and learn from each other.”
Hendriks has been on deadline-selling teams before, with the A's.
“In ’16 and ’17, it was it was hard,” he said, “because you're building friendships with guys, and then all of a sudden, they’re going on to greener pastures, and you're where you're at.
“It's hard no matter what, whether you’re sellers or you’re buyers, if you lose someone from your staff. And obviously we lost Codi (Heuer) this year, and that's going to be a big blow to the chemistry that we have out there. He's such a good kid. He's got a bright future ahead of him, and I can't wait to see how he develops.”
That’s a small silver lining for Cubs fans. The Cubs got back Heuer and second baseman Nick Madrigal in the trade for Kimbrel. But as they adjust to this Anthony Rizzo/Javy Báez/Kris Bryant-less version of the team, the Cubs will have to watch their crosstown rivals making a playoff push with players that so recently had fortified the Cubs bullpen.
Tepera was the first to go to the White Sox, with the teams finalizing the deal Thursday afternoon. The next day, he was driving to Guaranteed Rate Field, on the phone with Ed Cassin, White Sox director of team travel. Cassin delivered the news that Kimbrel was coming to the White Sox too.
“We should have just told you to bring Craig over from the beginning,” Cassin said.
Tepera and Kimbrel had found success together on the other side of town. The two of them and Andrew Chafin, the Cubs’ “Big 3” at the back end of the bullpen this year, put together a streak of 50 1/3 innings without an earned run and finished a no-hitter against the Dodgers.
Now with the White Sox, Tepera said, “just want to carry it on and keep it going.”
Gordon Wittenmyer contributed to the reporting of this story from Washington, DC.