White Sox

Konerko: Not always the King


Konerko: Not always the King

Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Posted: 2:20 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini

CHICAGO A spring training clubhouse is an odd thing.

When camp opens, one side of the room is filled with veterans who are unlikely to ever have to pack their belongings and take that walk down a long, dark hallway to minor league camp after being cut. The other side is steerage class on the Titanic, the non-roster invitees and bonus babies of a club, one or two of whom hope to make enough of an impression to warrant wearing the big-league duds until late Marchif not into Opening Day.

No matter how removed those veterans are from the steerage class of hopefuls, theyre always around. The two groups dress, play, and shower together. Once they leave the clubhouse, theyre all doffing the official White Sox cap.

So even the King, team captain Paul Konerko, tucked off in a corner of the clubhouse, is not immune to the sights and sounds of steerage class struggles. And those struggles evoke a time when he too was strapped to make a big-league ballclub, a player with no position and thus, perhaps, no future.

Sure, I remember what it was like to be scraping for a job, Konerko said in Glendale. Sometimes, it actually doesnt feel like it was that long ago.

Going by the authority of the Skybox Dugout Access card pictured, its been 13 years since Konerko was floating about the majors, a man with 1997 Minor League Player of the Year tools but nowhere to ply them. For this, he was honored not only with a No. 66 Los Angeles Dodgers uniform, but membership among the Little Dawgs.

READ: Predictions for the 2011 MLB season

Konerko started his pro career as a catcher, before moving to first and dabbling at third (in his minor-league career, Konerko would play every position on the diamond save for shortstop and pitcher). He mashed at every level, with a career OPS of .920 and never batting less than .277, which he did at age 19 at Single A San Bernardino.

Hitting was never a problem. Fielding, that was another issue.

In one of their first drills together this spring, Konerko recounted his fielding struggles to new acquisition Adam Dunn, who was taking grounders along with the captain on one of Camelback Ranchs pristine infields.

I was OK at third, Konerko said by way of navigating his history around the diamond for Dunn, if it was hit right at me.

Konerkos Little Dawgs card notes that he was blocked at the infield corners by Eric Karros and Todd Zeile and may be converted to the outfield, a position to that point hed never played. Zeile would spend just a month and a half longer with the Dodgers before being doorstopped into the Mike Piazza-Gary Sheffield trade, with the Florida Marlins shipping him to Texas two weeks later for a couple of Rangers farmhands. (Konerko was given less than a two-month audition in place of Zeile before being shipped to the Cincinnati Reds for closer Jeff Shaw.)

READ: Who could the White Sox least afford to lose?

Karros, blocking PK at first base, at least stuck around southern California for five more seasons, producing a modest 11.3 WAR (Wins Above Replacement, a standard measure of overall player value) before a December trade delivered him to Chicagothe North Side, that is.

After being traded to Cincinnati, Konerko played a total of 21 games in the outfield (amassing a .912 fielding percentage) at AAA Albuquerque.

L.A. would suffer for having bailed on Konerko. Zeile obviously did little for the Dodgers before being dealt, compiling a 0.4 WAR in his six weeks remaining with the team. Shaw was the Dodgers closer until 2001, saving 129 games and producing 4.3 WARbut at a cost of 15.2 million over that time. Combining Zeiles and Shaws production with Karros, the Dodgers squeezed 16.0 WAR from the players blocking Konerko from the majors back in 1998.

Konerko? Well, after being swapped to Cincy for Mike Cameron in a much more even-handed trade, he settled in for 12 years on the South Side, producing 29.2 WAR for the White Sox in that span. Converting Konerkos WAR record to dollar value, PK has provided about 86 million in value back to Chicago on the field, at a cost of about 89.5 million in salary. For a longtime high-salaried player, thats an impressive ratio.

You can see in Konerkos eyes he hasnt quite forgotten those times long before the millions, or any of his 358 career homers for the White Sox. There were plenty of other Little Dawgs in that 1998 set, including future White Sox teammates Cliff Politte, Mike Caruso and Greg Nortonbut none who grew up into, ahem, big dawgs on the playing field like Konerko.

Konerko may not be dressing in steerage class any longer, but part of what makes him the King of the Chicago clubhouse is the fact that he hasnt completely forgotten being there.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Houston Astros?


White Sox opposition research: What's there to know about the Houston Astros?

What’s there to know about the Houston Astros?

They’re the best, that’s what there is to know.

The Astros are the defending world champions for a multitude of reasons, and it’s all those and more that will have them as a favorite to repeat in 2018. Yes, the Cubs and New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians will all have something to say about that. But right now, no team is better on paper than the team the just won the big enchilada not five months ago.

The best 1-2 starting-pitching in combo in baseball? It belongs to the Astros. Justin Verlander was sensational for them after coming over in a late-summer trade with the Detroit Tigers. All he did was post a 1.06 ERA in five regular-season starts and a 2.21 ERA in six postseason outings. Justin Verlander. Again. And then there’s his running mate Dallas Keuchel — who doesn’t like the Cubs very much, apparently — has been just as good. He had a 2.90 ERA last year and won the American League Cy Young in 2015 with a 2.48 ERA and 20 wins.

Get past those guys and you’ll have to face the new guy. Gerrit Cole is now an Astro, as well, the reigning champs bolstering their already excellent rotation by importing one of the National League’s best pitchers. Cole saw his numbers jump last year (4.26 ERA) but still almost had 200 strikeouts and now has a much better roster around him than the one he left in Pittsburgh.

Charlie Morton? He threw four one-run innings in Game 7 of the World Series. Lance McCullers? He had 2.1 shutout innings in Game 7 of the World Series. This rotation is a force that could mow down the AL. There are questions, sure, but this five is entering 2018 as the best collection of arms in the Junior Circuit.

And we haven’t even gotten to the hitting. Oh, the hitting! The Astros scored 34 runs in seven World Series games. They banged out 56 hits. They hit 15 home runs. This after they were baseball’s best offense during the regular season.

The names are obvious to anyone who watched the postseason. Jose Altuve, surely tired of all the short jokes, is arguably the best player in baseball, and he won the AL MVP last season with a ridiculous .346/.410/.547 slash line. Carlos Correa, perhaps baseball’s best young shortstop, had a .315/.391/.550 slash line. George Springer, your World Series MVP, hit 34 regular-season home runs and got on base at a .367 clip before hitting five homers and slashing .379/.471/.1.000 in the Fall Classic.

Then there’s Alex Bregman and Josh Reddick and Marwin Gonzalez, who were all very good to great in 2017. They shouldn’t all be expected to do what they did last season — you need look no further than the Cubs to see what a deep World Series run can do to a team, especially early. But is there a better lineup than this in the AL? Anyone? Bueller?

It’s hard to repeat, and “hard” is becoming one heck of an understatement considering no one’s repeated in almost two decades. The Yankees last did it when they beat the broken-bat-throwing Mike Piazza and the New York Mets in the 2000 World Series. Since then, no one’s done it twice in a row.

Last year, most of us looked at the Cubs and said, “They have the best team, they are favorites to do it again.” And then they were not even in first place in the NL Central at the All-Star break. A similar fate could await the Astros. But right now, they look like the best team the AL has to offer.

Houston, you are clear for takeoff ... again.

2017 record: 101-61, first place in AL West, World Series champions

Offseason additions: Gerrit Cole, , Joe Smith, Hector Rondon

Offseason departures: Carlos Beltran, Cameron Maybin, Mike Fiers, Tyler Clippard, Luke Gregerson, Francisco Liriano

X-factor: The Astros now count one-time Cubs closer Hector Rondon among their relievers now, but the X-factor pick here is Bregman. After a fine but nothing special first half, he was one of baseball's best after the All-Star break last year, slashing .315/.367/.536 with 11 homers and 44 RBIs in 71 games in the second half.

Projected lineup:

1. George Springer, CF
2. Alex Bregman, 3B
3. Jose Altuve, 2B
4. Carlos Correa, SS
5. Josh Reddick, RF
6. Marwin Gonzalez, 1B
7. Brian McCann, C
8. Evan Gattis, DH
9. Derek Fisher, LF

Projected rotation:

1. Justin Verlander
2. Dallas Keuchel
3. Gerrit Cole
4. Lance McCullers
5. Charlie Morton

Prediction: First place in AL West

Catch up on the AL:

Oakland Athletics
Texas Rangers
Seattle Mariners
Los Angeles Angels
Houston Astros

Catch up on the NL:

San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Francisco Giants

Eighteen White Sox questions for 2018: How many members of the bullpen are long-term pieces?


Eighteen White Sox questions for 2018: How many members of the bullpen are long-term pieces?

White Sox fans might have their eyes on the future, but the 2018 season has plenty of intrigue all its own. As Opening Day nears, let's take a look at the 18 most pressing questions for the 2018 edition of the South Side baseball team.

White Sox fans playing the 2020 projection game likely aren't spending too much time on the relief corps.

It might be fun to pick out five names for a potentially elite starting rotation. It might be fun to go around the diamond and place the name of a top prospect at each position. It's probably far less enjoyable to predict which pitchers won't make it as starters and which middle relievers might hit the free-agent market after the 2019 season.

But the bullpen will be a valuable part of any contending White Sox team of the future. And just like everywhere else on the roster, its construction starts now.

The question is, though, after selling off most of the bullpen last summer, how many members of the White Sox bullpen in 2018 will be a part of it in 2020?

Rick Hahn's front office could use a similar strategy this season as it did last season, when Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson and Dan Jennings were all traded away to acquire prospects that might or might not end up helping the team's rebuilding efforts. This offseason has seen a lot of additions to the relief corps. Luis Avilan and Joakim Soria were acquired in a three-team trade, and there were a bunch of veterans signed to minor league deals that could end up on the team. Those older relievers fit the bill of trade bait, potential sign-and-flip guys that could be used to acquire more minor league talent.

But at the same time, there are young guys who will be a part of this 'pen, guys who could show they belong for the foreseeable future. Juan Minaya, just 27, was the White Sox closer at the end of last season and could very well start this season with that job. He picked up nine saves over the season's last month and a half and didn't give up a run in his final eight outings. The 24-year-old Aaron Bummer pitched in 30 games with the White Sox last season and is still ranked as one of the organization's top 20 prospects. Gregory Infante is 30 but put up good numbers in 52 big league games, finishing the year with a 3.13 ERA.

And then there's Nate Jones. He's pitched in parts of six seasons with the White Sox and just turned 32 years old, but the key word there is "parts." Jones hasn't been able to stay healthy, pitching in just 11 games last year and only 21 combined games in 2014 and 2015. But when he has stayed on the field, he's been very good. Look at 2016, when he turned in a 2.29 ERA and struck out 80 batters in 70.2 innings. Jones is under contract through as long as the 2021 season and has the stuff to contend for the closer's job at some point this season.

While Soria and Avilan look like guys who could be moved should they pitch well enough to draw midseason interest — a reason Soria could potentially get a look at closer at some point, that and his wealth of experience in the role — there are a few names that could be pitching for their long-term futures with the team. Outside of Zack Burdi, there isn't a highly touted prospect that currently projects to be a bullpen guy. That leaves opportunity for some of the guys on this year's roster.