White Sox

Konerko: Not always the King

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Konerko: Not always the King

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

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

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.

The Yasmani Grandal Effect is real, and it's already happening for the White Sox

The Yasmani Grandal Effect is real, and it's already happening for the White Sox

It might not be possible to measure the effect Yasmani Grandal has already had on the 2020 White Sox.

While the team’s first big splash signing of the winter has been met with near universal acclaim — how could you not love a guy with Grandal’s track record of offensive production and winning experience? — plenty wondered why it happened in the first place. After all, the White Sox already boasted an All-Star catcher in James McCann.

Sure, two All-Star backstops are better than one. But with so much still on Rick Hahn’s offseason to-do list when the move was made, why spend big bucks — the richest contract in team history — on a position you already had covered?

Well, the 2020 campaign hasn’t even started yet, and already Grandal’s worth is evident.

As much love as McCann got for his skills as a game-planner during his All-Star season in 2019, the rave reviews for Grandal take things to a whole different level.

“I got to talk with Yaz for a while, I played catch with him today down the road. He’s already got a plan for me, how he wants to set up, attack guys, showing me the program he uses. It’s awesome,” new White Sox reliever Steve Cishek said before SoxFest kicked off Friday. “He’s ready to go, and it’s going to be a lot of fun working with him.

“Just talking with him today, it’s obvious that he knows what he’s doing and what he’s talking about. And then you see why he’s one of the best catchers in the game. And then how mentally prepared he is, we’re not even into February yet, and he knows what he wants to do with each and every one of us. That’s incredible to me. He’s just planning ahead.

“I introduced myself. He wanted to play catch, just to see what my stuff does first hand. … First conversation after playing catch, he’s like, ‘Did you see me messing around? I was standing over here just to see if you would start your fastball over here. This is how I’m planning on setting up with you. I watched how Willson (Contreras) set up with you last year. I like how he did it, but I want to try this way, too.’

“Are you kidding me? When can we start? Let’s go.”

It’s clear from talking to his new teammates — some, like Cishek, who haven’t even been able to spend much time with him — that Grandal is prepared to the point where he’s ready for the season to start yesterday.

Rick Hahn revealed when the White Sox signed Grandal way back in November, that the newest backstop on the South Side is the kind of student who asks for homework — then devours it in no time.

“We met with him in Phoenix (the) Tuesday afternoon during the GM meetings, but I think it was by Thursday, he had reached back out and requested video of each of our starters and wanted to spend some time getting to know each of them,” Hahn explained the day the White Sox announced Grandal’s four-year contract. “He had some familiarity from afar but wanted to spend some up close time learning their strengths and weaknesses and how to get them better.

“He and I, since things became official late last night, we’ve been texting back and forth about various guys both on our roster and available throughout the league. He really has a deep, deep knowledge of how to maximize a pitcher’s ability. He’s tireless worker.”

Though the White Sox have yet to converge on Camelback Ranch for spring training, that unmatched work ethic has already become apparent to Grandal’s new teammates. These pitchers haven’t had much opportunity to work with Grandal yet — as Cishek mentioned, he talked with Grandal for the first time Friday before heading to SoxFest — but they’ve already been blown away by the kind of preparation and the kind of work Grandal has done.

It’s the kind of effect a veteran with winning experience can have on a young group.

“I haven't personally thrown to him, but having conversations with him about pitching and pitch mechanics, he's very intellectual,” Michael Kopech said earlier this week. “He himself is very serious about his training and his body and his regiment. It's refreshing to see somebody take that much pride in what their doing.

“Not that we don't have that already, we've always had that. But to have that veteran role step in and show you that you can do this and you can do this for a long time, it means the world to us, because that's what we're all wanting to get to.”

One of the White Sox other offseason splashes, Dallas Keuchel, has on multiple occasions talked about Grandal as an attractive selling point that helped bring him to the South Side. Friday night, he described Grandal signing with the White Sox as “mind-blowing.”

Grandal has excited pitchers who were already a part of the organization, too.

“When he signed, the first thing I did was I went to YouTube and I looked him up,” Dylan Cease said Friday. “First, I started with his framing highlights, because there’s a YouTube (video) of that. And then I went to his hitting. I was like, ‘All right. This is a nice addition.’”

That would seem to be an understatement.

Obviously, Grandal will be expected to add something special to the White Sox lineup, and his career .348 on-base percentage in eight major league seasons — not to mention a career-best 28 home runs in 2019 — ought to provide plenty offensively.

But Grandal is here to help the Ceases of the world, too. While Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez bring some veteran reliability to the South Side starting staff, the White Sox will need to see some improvement from both Cease and Reynaldo Lopez from the not-so-stellar numbers they put up last season if they’re truly going to contend for a spot in the postseason.

Grandal is making that his mission, to help the younger pitchers blossom into the stars their once lofty prospect rankings said they could be.

“This not being the first time (I’ve been through this kind of thing), I understand it’s going to be a process, and it’s going to take some time,” Grandal said Friday. “We’re not going to try and hurry the process up, we’re just going to let it be. We know what we have, and we’re just going to take it one day at a time.

“Once I have at least 80 games behind the plate, we’ll look at the bigger picture and start making the bigger strides and start doing the things that we really have to do. We’ve got to lay some sort of base in order to start building. I feel like we’ve moved in the right direction so far this offseason. It comes down to me and the whole catching group getting together with the pitchers.”

That kind of work is something Grandal has already shown he’s willing and excited to do. He’s impressed the pitchers he’ll be catching in their limited interactions, and while he describes a potentially time-consuming process in getting everyone to where they need to be, he’s still thrilled to be working with this group of arms. He continues to explain that it’s the No. 1 thing that drew him to the South Side.

Because as a guy who’s played in each of the last four postseason knows, it’s all about the pitching.

“As we saw in the past World Series, the Nationals kind of did exactly what needed to be done. They relied on their pitching staff,” he said, “and they got big hits when they needed it. At any point, once you get to the playoffs, if you have the right amount of pitchers, you can have a big win.

“Let’s just get there first.”

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Live from Opening Night of SoxFest 2020

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NBC Sports Chicago

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Live from Opening Night of SoxFest 2020

David Kaplan is joined by Chuck Garfien as they speak with the newest White Sox winter acquisitions from this offseason as well as the current White Sox core from Opening Night of SoxFest 2020 in McCormick Place.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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