Boston Red Sox

An underrated factor that brought Craig Kimbrel to Chicago

An underrated factor that brought Craig Kimbrel to Chicago

At the end of the day, money makes the baseball world go round and the dollars and years were there to Craig Kimbrel's liking on the Cubs' offer.

But you can't discount the allure of playing at Wrigley Field in front of this fanbase and the kind of impact it can have on a player who's already performed on the highest stage the game has to offer.

Kimbrel said he had conversations with other MLB teams throughout the free agency process, but things moved quickly last week when the Cubs stepped up to the table because of the fit from both sides.

"One thing that's important to me as well is being able to play in front of a fanbase that is as passionate about this game as I am," Kimbrel said in his introductory press conference Friday morning. "I did get to experience that in Boston and it'd be hard to leave that kind of passion each and every night — especially in the role that I am [as closer].

"I'm a very adrenaline-based player. And knowing that each and every night, those seats are gonna be full, it definitely played a huge part in the decision."

It would be easy to just write a statement like that off and chalk it up as fan service, but Kimbrel offered that up unprompted and it makes a lot of sense. 

The last time he played competitive baseball, he was part of a World Series-winning Red Sox team that got to celebrate with a parade in front of one of the most passionate fanbases in all of American sports. And if you're going to leave Fenway Park, what better stadium to call your home park than Wrigley Field — another iconic place to play?

Kimbrel played with Jason Heyward for five years in Atlanta and the two came up through the Braves system together. The rapport with Heyward and David Ross played a big role in Kimbrel signing with the Cubs, as it allowed him to get a lay of the land on the non-money topics — how the Cubs take care of players' families, what it's like to play for this organization, the clubhouse vibe...and what it's like to play in front of these fans at Wrigley Field.

As Kimbrel and his camp were discussing terms with Theo Epstein and the Cubs, Heyward sent his former teammate a long text.

"It's an awesome thing because you know it's his decision solely — he and his family," Heyward said. "I respected that space — I just let him know a little bit about what's going on here and what it would be like and told him he deserved to play for a place like this. 

"... In that one text, I told him — a place like this, he'll see. I just told him about the winning culture, what we're trying to get done — family, ownership, front office, the city to play for."

Once upon a time, Heyward was also a coveted free agent weighing his options and the best fit for the next stage of his playing career. When he was talking with the Cubs, he reached out to Ross and fellow former teammate Eric Hinske (who was on the Cubs coaching staff at the time) and used them as resources to see what things were really like with the team. 

Heyward believes the familiarity Kimbrel has with some of the guys already on the Cubs will only make it easier to gel and the veteran outfielder is looking forward to the team's new closer feeding off the vibe in the ballpark.

Those around baseball have long said the final three outs are the toughest to get in a game. The ninth inning in a close contest carries all kinds of pressure with it and a ballpark jam-packed with 40,000-plus screaming fans only intensifies that. For the Cubs to acquire a closer that not only thrives on that type of environment, but actually believes he NEEDS that energy to be successful, that's an ideal fit.

Joe Maddon spent nearly a decade managing in the AL East, so he knows all about the type of environment Kimbrel is coming from at Fenway and what he's about to step into here at Wrigley in a few weeks.

"The fact that he's thrived there — back to the mind once stretched theory — it's no different," Maddon said. "Having been successful there, he knows he can be successful anywhere. ... His answer did not surprise me — the adrenaline gig.

"Think about it: How many times have we talked about it in the past where you put a closer in the game when it's not a close situation and he does not perform well? It's all based on adrenaline, man. [The top closers are] good, plus they're adrenaline junkies. They really need that fix to get them over the top with their stuff.

"Love it. Absolutely love it. And then there's guys that just can't deal with that. The fact that he's dealt with it where he's dealt with it and the fact that he seeks it, I think is outstanding."

The Cubs and Cardinals are reportedly set to play in London next year

cubs-cardinals_london_series_2020_slide.jpg
USA TODAY

The Cubs and Cardinals are reportedly set to play in London next year

Back in February, the rumor started floating around that the Cubs and Cardinals could be one of the rivalries to head to London in 2020 for a series. 

That appears to now be a reality, as USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale reported Thursday evening:

The Yankees and Red Sox are set to play in London this summer (June 29-30).

No word yet on which team — the Cubs or Cardinals — would be the "home" team in London or who would lose a series at their home ballpark. 

It will also be interesting to see how Major League Baseball manages the schedule around the series for both teams. In the case of the Red Sox-Yankees series next month, both teams were given two days off (which would include travel) and then a two-game series on a weekend, followed by another off-day for each team. 

The All-Star Break is the following week, so it does not appear to be all that grueling on paper, but no team has had to make that journey yet, so we'll see how the Yankees and Red Sox describe the ordeal.

For the Cubs, it's a really cool and unique trip, becoming part of the second MLB series ever to play in London.

And if you're the league, what better rivalry to help market the game to Europe? Both the Cubs and Cardinals should be contenders once again next year.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.

Who won the Chris Sale trade? Both colors of Sox might claim multiple victories when it's all said and done

Who won the Chris Sale trade? Both colors of Sox might claim multiple victories when it's all said and done

Who won the Chris Sale trade?

Despite what the world of sports talk might have to say, trades aren’t like the games themselves. They aren’t competitions. They can have multiple winners and multiple losers.

Unless they run up against Sale in the postseason one day, the White Sox won’t judge the decision to ship him to the Boston Red Sox ahead of the 2017 season based on what he does in the remainder of his potentially Hall of Fame career. They’re far more concerned with what Michael Kopech and Yoan Moncada and Luis Basabe do in White Sox uniforms. That’s how they’ll claim a win or loss.

Of course, the Red Sox have already claimed a big victory, with Sale playing a starring role in their World Series championship a little more than six months ago. Sale put up a 2.11 ERA during their 103-win regular season, then allowed just seven runs and struck out 24 batters in his 15.1 postseason innings, which included striking out all three hitters he faced in the ninth inning of the Game 5 win that clinched the championship.

Kopech and Moncada could go on to be star players. But the Red Sox got what they wanted out of Sale, and he’s got a ring to prove it, something (other than the memories, of course) to confirm his dream came true.

“It was awesome,” Sale said Saturday during his first conversation with Chicago reporters since he won the World Series. “Definitely one of those lifelong dreams you think about when you're a kid. I got to live out basically everybody's dream of being able to throw the last pitch and win a World Series and celebrate with my team, with my city, with my family. That's what you sign up to play this game for is to be the last man standing, and we were.”

Sale never came close to doing that while he pitched for the White Sox. They missed the postseason in all seven of his seasons, five of which saw him represent the team at the All-Star Game. But the reason they traded one of the best hurlers in franchise history away was to get there one day.

Sending Sale to the Red Sox brought a big haul back to the White Sox, headlined by Kopech and Moncada, two players that have fans on the South Side pretty excited. Moncada’s gotten off to a nice start in 2019, the owner of a .298/.361/.521 slash line heading into Saturday’s game.

Kopech is out for the 2019 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery but still carries hopes of being a front-of-the-rotation guy — the kind of thing Sale is for the Red Sox. There’s obviously a long way to go before that comp can be made, but someone who would know sees a few similar qualities between the two.

“(Sale is) a competitor, and I think he's one of those guys that shows it,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said Saturday. “He shows his competitiveness, he'll show his emotion when he's disgusted with something and also show you an extreme amount of joy when he sees something done well. He's driven for success. He knows what he has and he expects the most out of himself and I think if it doesn't happen he always feel bad about not getting the result he wants. That's just the drive the man has.

“(Kopech is) real similar in terms of personality and drive. He does not like not performing well.”

The idea is that Kopech and Moncada will be part of a White Sox championship team. The best-case scenario is that they’ll be part of multiple White Sox championship teams. And that, more than anything and certainly more than what Sale does in Boston, will determine if the White Sox win the trade — and how many times they win it. If they win the World Series with Kopech and Moncada as featured contributors, that’s a win. If they win twice, that’s two wins. And so on.

The goals are the same for those two players, obviously, but they have no interest in winning trades. They do, of course, have interest in winning.

“I know that (Moncada) and myself probably would rather almost put that behind us, but not in a negative connotation,” Kopech said Friday. “Just in the fact we want to have our own careers and build a name for ourselves. It’s not a bad thing by any means. Chris Sale is Chris Sale.

“Obviously when he was here, he was a big part of the team, and me and (Moncada), we want to be our own addition to the team. We want to be able to help this team win a championship someday and hopefully someday soon. We are not really trying to prove anyone right or wrong or anything like that. It’s just now this is the team. This is who we are.”

While the White Sox bevy of uber-confident prospects have not been at all shy when it comes to talking about their championship aspirations, Sale opted not to play talent evaluator when it comes to the rebuilding White Sox.

“That’s not my area, man. I play for the Boston Red Sox. I got this team to worry about,” he said. “I enjoy coming back here and seeing everybody, and they obviously have great talent over there.

“But I’m trying to win the same thing they are. I’ll leave it at that.”

In that aspect, there is a bit of competition between Sale’s Red Sox and the White Sox. But the ultimate factor in whether the White Sox win the trade or not is if it helps get them to the place they want to be, the place Sale was at the end of last season.

Sale might have decided against handicapping the team’s chances of reaching the sport’s pinnacle, but he does think the right man is at the helm. He was very complimentary of Renteria and touted him as the right man for the job of getting the White Sox to their planned contention phase.

“He's a great baseball mind, he's a great person,” Sale said. “I think he's a guy that can get anybody in that clubhouse or anybody in any clubhouse to buy in to something. He's a fun guy to be around, but he's that no-BS (type). He wants you to run hard, he expects the best out of you. I think we've seen that at times from him as a manager already, and I think that's where the respect comes from. I've said it before, I think he's the right guy in the right place for what they've got going on.”

So who won the Chris Sale trade?

Well, the Red Sox did. And maybe they will again. Despite the ugly start to their 2019 season, the Red Sox would surprise no one by figuring things out and challenging for the crown again. And in future seasons, thanks to new contracts for Sale and Xander Bogaerts and the league-wide extension trend potentially keeping Mookie Betts in Boston, they’re sure to be contending for those championships, too.

But maybe the White Sox will win the trade, too. If Kopech returns from his recovery and turns into the ace so many expect him to be. If Moncada is more April 2019 than 2018 as he continues to develop at the major league level. A lot of other pieces of the White Sox plan would have to come to fruition if they’re going to get to the point the Red Sox were at last season. That certainly could happen, though, and if Rick Hahn’s project of building a perennial contender ends up a success, it could equal multiple championships and multiple wins of this trade.

So it’s an ongoing thing. The point is, both teams had the same goal with the deal: to win the World Series. Sale and the Red Sox got there last season. Someday, the White Sox might, too.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.