Here are the top stories from a huge Saturday for the Chicago White Sox:
Paul Konerko debuts on the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot.
He probably won’t get in, but I’m going to lay out his case regardless.
It’s easy to pull up his baseball-reference page, cite his 27.7 career wins above replacement and immediately dismiss him. But basing everything strictly off a WAR number is lazy analysis. And he deserves better than that.
Paul Konerko was a very highly touted prospect, reaching #2 on the Baseball America top 100 prospects list (behind Ben Grieve) in 1998. His November 1998 trade to the White Sox (from the Reds) was already his second time traded since being drafted by the Dodgers (as a catcher!) in 1994. When he joined the White Sox he began to realize his prospect potential. By the time he was finished, he was synonymous with White Sox baseball.
Konerko finished his career with 439 home runs. Only 43 players in the history of Major League baseball have more. During a 14-year run (1999 to 2012), he hit at least 20 home runs 13 times; “Paulie” is one of only 34 players in MLB history with at least 13 seasons of at least 20 dingers. The six-time All-Star finished with 1,412 career RBI, and if you look right below his name on the all-time list, you’ll run into a flurry of Hall of Famers, including Robin Yount (1,406), Johnny Bench (1,376), Orlando Cepeda (1,365), Brooks Robinson (1,357), Johnny Mize (1,337), Mike Piazza (1,335), Duke Snider (1,333), Iván Rodríguez (1,332), Ron Santo (1,331) & Carlton Fisk (1,330).
When he hung up his spikes, Paul Konerko had become an icon on Chicago’s South Side. His 432 home runs with the White Sox rank second to only Frank Thomas (448). In fact, Konerko (twice) & Thomas (five times) are the only two players in White Sox history with multiple 40-home run seasons; Konerko’s were consecutive (41 in 2004, 40 in 2005). His 81 round-trippers in 2004-05 stand as the most in Sox history over a two-year span. Nobody in White Sox history can match Konerko’s 29 career multi-homer games. He ranks highly on several career White Sox lists; no small feat for a team which has been around for well over 100 years. He’s 2nd in RBI (1,383), 3rd in Hits (2,292), 4th in Runs (1,141), 3rd in Doubles (406), and 1st in Total Bases (4,010); the only player in White Sox history with 4,000 or more. With his 40 home runs in 2005 to go along with a stellar .283/.375/.534 slashline and 100 RBI, Konerko was the best offensive performer on a World Series Championship team. He was 2005 ALCS MVP with 2 home runs & 7 RBI for the White Sox in their 5-game series win over the Angels. He homered in the World Series as well. Konerko’s seven career postseason home runs remain a White Sox record.
The fact that Konerko is one of the all-time greats for a storied franchise is something that isn’t discussed enough. He’s one of only 25 players in MLB history with 400+ home runs for a franchise, and 20 of those 25 are in the Hall of Fame. The five outside of the Hall are David Ortiz & Albert Pujols (who will almost certainly get in), Sammy Sosa & Barry Bonds (well, you know…) and Konerko. There aren’t too many players in MLB history who come to the plate in a game with their statue overlooking them from the outfield concourse. But such was the case in Paul Konerko’s final two MLB games. The White Sox unveiled his statue on the left field concourse on September 27, 2014 prior to his penultimate game. The next season, the Sox retired #14 in Konerko’s honor, joining Nellie Fox (#2), Harold Baines (#3), Luke Appling (#4), Minnie Miñoso (#9), Luis Aparicio (#11), Ted Lyons (#16), Billy Pierce (#19), Frank Thomas (#35) & Carlton Fisk (#72) among White Sox greats with their numbers displayed at the ballpark (Mark Buehrle - #56 - would join them in 2017).
When you walk into one of Major League Baseball’s 30 cathedrals, you get a sense of history of the team that plays there. As you enter Guaranteed Rate Field, you see the number 14 displayed in various spots. You see the statue on the left field concourse. You see the momentos of the 2005 Championship. Even if his career doesn’t ultimately place him in Cooperstown’s hallowed halls, Paul Konerko’s legacy is one worth celebrating.
Would the White Sox pursue Anthony Rendon?
It’s one of the many things they’re not taking off the table as they embark on what’s expected to be a busy offseason. But it doesn’t sound like they’re itching to make the necessary corresponding move: switching Yoan Moncada’s position for the second year in a row.
Of course, Rick Hahn doesn’t talk about specific free agents, meaning he doesn’t get asked about specific free agents, meaning there’s no definitive answer on whether the White Sox are even interested in Rendon, the top position player on the free-agent market this winter. The rumor mill is already churning, though, and they’ve been connected to the All-Star third baseman, among plenty of other big names.
But the White Sox have a third baseman in Moncada, and they really don’t want to move him again. However, if the right free-agent opportunity presented itself, maybe they would.
“We're not looking to move him again because we do think he's an MVP-caliber player over at third base and don't want to upset the apple cart with that,” Hahn said during the GM meetings last week in Arizona. “That said, he's also extraordinarily athletic and has the ability to play multiple other positions, whether it's second base, like you saw, or even potentially in the outfield, something that he's raised before.
“The general plan is to not mess with that, but we're at least going to go through this process and be open minded about, 'If we did this, what effect would that have on Moncada and how do we project him going forward at a different spot?' We project him awfully good at the spot he's at right now.”
Moncada had a breakout offensive season and at least appeared to play a good defensive third base in 2019 (even if some of the defensive metrics said otherwise). After striking out 217 times in his first full season in the major leagues in 2018, he blossomed into the White Sox best all-around hitter with a .315/.367/.548 slash line to go along with 25 homers, 34 doubles and 79 RBIs in 132 games.
Rendon, meanwhile, is a perennial MVP-type producer coming off a career year featuring a .319/.412/.598 slash line, 34 homers, 44 doubles and 126 RBIs. He also plays a very good third base, a Gold Glove finalist this year.
He’s the kind of player you rearrange your defense for.
The White Sox are looking for that kind of major splash, a guy who can help vault their rebuilding project into contention mode. Rendon is the type of middle-of-the-order bat who could do just that, and the opportunity to sign him might be too good to pass up. And though we’re throttling our way down Hypothetical Avenue, the White Sox would have to figure out where to put Moncada if they were able to sign Rendon.
Moncada’s versatility, as Hahn mentioned, could help with that. Moncada spent the 2017 season at second base, where he made a whopping 21 errors. Manager Rick Renteria revealed during the season that Moncada has said he can play the outfield, and Moncada himself said he’d play wherever the White Sox wanted him to play.
We also don’t have to guess at whether the White Sox would chase one of the best players in baseball despite their playing a position the team already has filled. They did it last winter, going after Manny Machado while Tim Anderson was seemingly entrenched at shortstop.
But with three stated goals on their offseason to-do list — right field, designated hitter and starting pitching — the White Sox don’t seem to be close to putting all their chips on Rendon's number.
Hence the staunch defense of keeping Moncada at third base. But, in what is emerging as a theme for the White Sox this winter, the door remains open to anything.
“In terms of moving Yoan, that's not a goal. We're not looking to move him,” Hahn said. “We think he's a really, really good third baseman and will be that for a long time.
“When we have players with flexibility and athleticism, you at least consider different permutations. We wouldn't be doing our job if there was a way for us to get better that we just ruled out because we have set at a certain spot.
“Part of it, though, and we don't take it lightly is: Moving him again defensively, what impact does that have on his performance? It's not an exact science, but it's a consideration. And given how good he's been this last year plus and the trajectory he's on, moving him is not something we take lightly.”