October 25, 2014
Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Paul Konerko sits down to meet with White Sox general manager Rick Hahn and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to talk about next season.
Does he want to play? Do the Sox want him to? Would it be better for all concerned if he plays his final year for another team?
The general managers meetings are next week, and Hahn, if he hasn’t met with Konerko already, will want to know by then if the franchise’s No. 2 home-run hitter will be on board or whether the Sox should begin making plans to retire his number, which is one thing everybody knows will happen.
While respected by all and revered by many, including Reinsdorf — the man to whom Konerko handed that prized World Series ball at the Sox’ championship parade in 2005 — there are a few reasons why Konerko no longer might be a good fit. The Sox just signed another first baseman, Jose Abreu, to the richest contract in team history. They have a third designated-hitter/first-base type in Adam Dunn, who will be paid $15 million in 2014. And by hitting .244 with 12 home runs, 54 RBI and an OPS of .659, Konerko didn’t resemble the hitter who produced like the career .281 hitter that he is.
What’s more, the Sox like how the Tampa Bay Rays are constructed, with interchangeable players at various positions, and they want to get younger and faster. While there are major-league scouts and one former manager of his who believe Konerko has value, a slow-footed 38-year-old (by next season) occupying a roster spot on a four-man bench — unless the Sox go with 11 pitchers to expand it to five — doesn’t fit that vision.
Father Time might be calling Konerko’s name. It happens to all the great ones. Ozzie Guillen, though, who managed Konerko eight years and watched a lot of Sox games on TV this year, said Konerko’s bat speed is still there. He also thinks nagging injuries, coupled with the weight of a difficult, lost season, dragged Konerko down and kept him from functioning at his best. Guillen also believes Konerko wants to play one more year.
If there isn’t a place for him on the South Side, there very well could be somewhere else.
“There’s a market for right-handed bats,’’ a major-league scout said. “There are a lot of left-handed bats out there. A veteran like Konerko, if he starts feeling good and telling people, ‘I’m healthy now’ after taking some time off, there will be teams that will pursue him, especially teams that are going to win because guys like him that have been there and done that, they’re valuable. Even if he’s not 21, he can still do it from time to time and carry you for three or four games.”
Maybe the Sox will somehow find a role for a player like that. Perhaps a team such as the Texas Rangers, whose Arizona spring-training base is near Konerko’s home as he’d want it, will find one if the Sox don’t. The Sox, who are building for the future, are in a delicate spot. Nobody knows what Konerko has left to offer.
“What do you do, keep him because he’s a fan favorite?” another major-league scout said. “It might hurt you because you pay him the money, and if he struggles, the fans might be booing him by the end of the year. I think he’s seen his better days. Their owner is one of the best owners in the game, and he takes care of his people. But sometimes they don’t give the same love [production worthy of the money] back.’’