Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
The only suspense surrounding Paul Konerkos decision to decline arbitration was when the official word would actually break.
That word finally came late Tuesday, long after reliever J.J. Putz also declined the Chicago White Sox offer of arbitration.
The logic to such a move from Konerkos standpoint is solid -- coming off a near-career year, the longtime South Side first sacker wasnt going to take a one-year deal from andor limit himself to the White Sox. Declining arbitration means that Konerko keeps his options open in every way: length of contract, total salary, and where he suits up.
Ominous in his late-season forum on pending free agency, Konerko noted that the White Sox could make the highest offer to him and he might still opt to play elsewhere. Curiously, he spent more time discussing the White Sox competitiveness within the division than he did an ideal future salary.
Konerko just ended a five-year, 60 million deal signed in the afterglow of the 2005 World Series win, choosing to re-up with the White Sox in spite of more generous offers from the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles. That postseason, Konerko was named the MVP of the American League Championship Series, a series win that propelled the club to its first World Series in 46 years. At age 34 in 2010, he hit 39 homers and drove in 89 runs, posting a .977 OPS and finishing fifth in AL MVP voting -- ensuring that he will receive offers comparable to the 12 million salary he earned.
Several factors are working against the White Sox re-signing their right-handed slugger, beyond his hinting late in the season he had at least one other city besides Chicago in which hed like to play. With the possible loss of catcher A.J. Pierzynski tilting the White Sox lineup even farther to the right, the club is in desperate need of left-handed hitting, something still in ample supply on the first basedesignated hitter market this offseason. Konerko is also highly unlikely to duplicate his 2010 season as his career winds down -- stats guru Bill James is already predicting a 120-point OPS tumble for the first baseman in 2011. Konerkos defensive skills are in decline at a time when the White Sox are placing a higher priority on solid fielding. And finally, the White Sox again have limited funds in which to pursue free agents -- even if Konerko was the teams first choice to add this offseason, any raise on a 12 million salary -- in fact, any deal in excess of 10 million -- would be cost prohibitive to the White Sox.
Finally, the plain fact is that for all his heroism for the Pale Hose, Konerko only outpaced his multimillion-dollar deal in 2006 and 2010, per FanGraphs value analysis. Over the course of his recent contract, Konerko was paid more than he was worth for his performance on the field. Clearly, Konerko offers assets beyond between the lines, evidenced by his five-year captaincy and continual mentorship of White Sox youngsters. Whether thats worth the golden parachute that could be tucked into whatever contract he would re-sign with the club is an elusive question to answer.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.