White Sox

Sox Drawer: Konerko close to retirement?

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Sox Drawer: Konerko close to retirement?

Every baseball player has his own shelf life in this game. Some know when their time is up. Others stick around long past their prime.

For Paul Konerko, his mind and body will know exactly when it's time to retire, and it might come sooner than you think.

Konerko has two years remaining on his contract, and while he's focused on having another big season for the White Sox, he gave his first hint that 2013 might be his last in a big league uniform.

"No doubt it could be," Konerko said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. "Yeah, in all reality I would see it ending after next year or maybe another year. I mean, at some point you got to go home and be around your kids and have other things to do."

At a time when most players see their hitting numbers decline, Konerko has been exactly the opposite. The 13-year veteran has had a career renaissance in his mid-30s, especially in the last two seasons in which he has averaged 35 home runs and 108 RBIs. Can he keep up that pace at age 36 and 37? That's a mystery. Will he continue playing the moment he sees his skills diminish? That isn't.

"There's obviously this year and I have another year left on the contract, and I would not have signed up for that if I didn't think I could pull it off," Konerko said. "But at that point I'll be 38 years old going into the following year. If someone wants me, and I'm willing to do the work it takes through the offseason, and through spring training and through the year, then I would be willing to play.

"But if any of those things don't exist, I would never just play to say, 'Well, this team wants me and I can kind of hang on for another year and kind of go through the motions here,'" Konerko explained. "I have to be doing what I know it takes for me to play. Otherwise, it's not for me. I have to do the crazy amounts of preparation. It has to be there. If I'm not willing to do all the grind, then I've got some other things I'd like to do."

When Konerko does retire, he will be sorely missed. Not just for his play and leadership, but for his keen perspective on the game. Few people see things the way he does. Even fewer can actually articulate them.

Let's start with the lost season of 2011:

"I don't think there was a moment last year from the word go where at anytime did we feel like, 'This is kind of special' or 'This is inspiring baseball.' There's always going to be a couple teams every year that has that happen to them, and unfortunately we were one of them," Konerko said. "You'd be hard-pressed to find four or five days in a row where it felt like things were starting to go. We'd have two or three maybe. That was the most we ever had. It was a grind. It was not what you're looking for."

If the 2011 regular season was bad, the current offseason appears to be worse. The Sox have lost Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos and Carlos Quentin, and have question marks replacing all three of them. Fans and media sense utter doom. What does Konerko think?
"If I was one of the options, then Robin was a heck of a hire!-- Paul Konerko.
"The only time I have won a World Series, the offseason leading up to it was kind of similar to this where there were a lot people not happy with the moves that were made. A lot of people saying, 'What did we do this for?' And then we went out had a great year and won a World Series. I'm not saying that's going to happen again, but I always keep that in the back of my mind. Anytime you think on paper something is supposed to happen the next year."

Many thought the playoffs would happen for the Sox last year. Clearly that didn't happen. They got off to that terrible 11-22 start and finished 16 games behind the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central. Excitement and attendance nose-dived, leaving the franchise stumbling to get back on its feet. For the fans to return, Konerko knows exactly what the White Sox need to do: Win.

"It's kind of like we're starting fresh. We're really like at zero, and we have to build it back up and earn people's, the fans' trust to come back out and see us. The whole thing," Konerko said. "We're kind of just starting out at square one again, but that doesn't mean that you're conceding anything. I just think it means you're looking to get a fresh change, and just start everything all over again."

That means taking baby steps forward, starting with Opening Day in Texas on April 6. For the White Sox to make it back, Konerko believes it will have to be a slow, methodical climb throughout the season.

"I think for us, I think we should focus more on small goals. We're going to start off playing meaningful games Opening Day and let's just see how long we can be playing meaningful games. Not say that we're going to make the playoffs, not say we're going to do this or that. Let's just see how long we can play the game right, and stay in the mix, and if it gets to September or August, and we're in the mix, then great. Just start off with more smaller thoughts about how we're going to do everything is my opinion."

You wonder why Kenny Williams actually considered making Konerko the White Sox player-manager this season? This is why.

So what did Konerko think when he heard that idea? He chose to take the humorous, sarcastic route.

"I know that when they hired Robin Ventura everybody was like, 'Robin was a great big league player,' and what I'm hearing about his experience is that he coached his son's high school team for a while. That's his experience at managing or coaching. And then it comes out that they were considering hiring me as playermanager. Then you look at Robin and you say, 'That was a great choice,' because if I was one of the options, then Robin was a heck of a hire!"

But would Konerko ever consider managing?

"I'm probably going to be like Robin 10 years ago and say I'll never manage," Konerko said.

And then you'll manage?

"I don't know about that."

What we do know is that Konerko's playing time is running out. Knowing Paul, he's going to make the best of what's left and walk proudly into the sunset.

Few players leave the game just before their expiration date. Konerko seems poised to be one of them.

White Sox sign Enoy Jimenez, the 17-year-old brother of Eloy Jimenez

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USA TODAY

White Sox sign Enoy Jimenez, the 17-year-old brother of Eloy Jimenez

One Jimenez just isn't enough for the White Sox.

The White Sox signed the younger brother of top prospect Eloy Jimenez this weekend. Enoy Jimenez is a 17-year-old infielder, and the 21-year-old outfielder ranked as the No. 3 prospect in baseball was on hand for his brother's big moment.

Eloy figures to hit the big leagues early next season, though it will likely be a while longer before his teenage brother could do the same. Still, they're likely hoping for the chance to play together one day.

According to this pretty exhaustive list from MLB.com, four sets of brothers have played together on the White Sox: Homer and Ted Blankenship in the 1920s, Dick and Hank Allen in the 1970s, Roberto and Sandy Alomar in 2003 and 2004 and John and Jordan Danks in 2012.

Should we be getting ready for the fifth pair?

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

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USA TODAY

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

This season, Matt Davidson became the fourth player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a season opener. It definitely raised a few eyebrows, especially after Paul Konerko noted during spring training that a 40-home run season and an All-Star selection isn’t out of the question for the California native. After clobbering nine home runs (seven of them coming at Kauffman Stadium) in his first 21 games, anything seemed possible.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out that way, though he did rack up his second straight 20-homer season. But it’s hard to argue that 2018 wasn’t a success for Davidson — mostly because of the swings he didn’t make.

Everything else aside, Davidson walked as often as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in 2018.

OK, the more meaningful comparison would be Davidson to himself.

What stands out is his walk rate. One hundred fifty three players had at least 400 plate appearances in both 2017 and 2018. Among them, Davidson had the second-highest increase in walk percentage this past season.

Consider this: In 2017, Davidson and Tim Anderson became (and still are) the only players in MLB history with 160-plus strikeouts and fewer than 20 walks in a season.

Davidson, while logging 20 more at-bats in 2018, had the same number of strikeouts, 165, but he increased his walk total from 19 to 52. Give him credit for that. It’s a tough adjustment to make at the minor league level let alone in the major leagues. The increased walk rate brought his on-base percentage from .260 in 2017 (well below the AL average of .324) to .319 in 2018 (a tick above the AL average of .318) and pushed his overall offensive production from 16 percent below league average (as measured by his 84 weighted runs created plus, or wRC+) to four percent above league average (104 wRC+).

And I haven’t even mentioned the most fun aspect of his 2018 season: He pitched! And he pitched well.

Thirty pitchers took the mound for the White Sox in 2018, all of whom made at least three appearances. And only one of them didn’t allow a run: Davidson.

He topped out at 91.9 MPH and had as many strikeouts, two, as baserunners allowed in his three innings of work. The two batters he struck out, Rougned Odor and Giancarlo Stanton, combined for 56 home runs in 2018. They combined for 89 home runs (and an MVP award) in 2017.

In his career, Stanton had a combined 16 plate appearances and zero strikeouts against Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Edwin Díaz. He struck out in his one plate appearance against Davidson.

Davidson is one of just three players with 20 or more home runs and at least three mound appearances in a season in MLB history:

— Babe Ruth (1919): 29 home runs, 17 games on the mound
— Davidson (2018): 20 home runs, three games on the mound
— Shohei Ohtani (2018): 22 home runs, 10 games on the mound

Facts are facts. Davidson is actually serious about expanding his role on the mound.

“To be honest, I would love to maybe explore that idea,” he said in July. “Pitching was a dream. As a young kid, everybody wants to hit that walk-off homer, right? I was the guy striking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. My favorite player was Randy Johnson and doing that.

“So, it’s something I would be interested in. I don’t know if the game would necessarily allow that or something like that. It’s something that is really close to my heart is pitching.”

Whether or not it ever happens, Davidson’s 2018 was all about finding ways to increase his value. For the White Sox, that’s a good problem to have.