White Sox player wrap-ups - Paul Konerko

White Sox player wrap-ups - Paul Konerko
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Aahh, it's the main event, and at strangely perfect timing.  By the time I finish this sucker, it'll be November 23rd, the deadline for teams to offer arbitration will be at hand, and we'll be significantly closer to finding out what the hell the best player on the 2010 White Sox is going to do.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that 2010 was the best season of Paul Konerko's career, but it was also the most remarkable, because it drastically changed so many things about the 2010 season. 

-Paulie propped up what had the chance to be a really bad offense, and dragged the Sox into contention. 

-For whatever reason (one camp might say 'random chance', the other would cite "testicular fortitude"), Konerko found himself hitting a glut of 'clutch' home runs, making this perhaps his most memorable regular season.

-Konerko transformed what would have probably gone down as a very good, very long, and very distinguished White Sox career into a great one.

-Previously absurd notions of a Hall-of Fame entrance now have credence

-Paulie's fate of spending the next few years being a veteran bat for hire will instead feature one more big contract

-The rather easy decision to say goodbye to our old, creaking and deteriorating former World Series hero at the end of his big emotion-driven contract has transformed into the biggest dilemma of the off-season

Stat Line: .312 BA, .393 OBP, .584 SLG, .977 OPS, 89 R, 30 2B, 39 HR, 111 RBI, 72 BB, 110 SO, -13.4 UZR, .415 wOBA, 4.2 WAR

What did we expect?: Nothing rash.  PK is great and all, but he had spent the last three seasons in some sort of slow state of decline just gradual enough that no one was feeling particularly regretful about his $12 million salary....provided he left after this season and rode off into the sunset...in Arizona

"PK had a
nice bounce-back season last year, and seemed to have an outside shot
at a 30-HR, 100 RBI season before the all-encompassing late-season
swoon swallowed up him along with the rest of the roster. This is a man
who has hit over 300 HRs and knocked in 1000 RBIs over his 11 seasons
with the Sox, but is also 34 and has had two season-long slumps. I have
no idea what to expect."

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Maintaining previous levels would've sat just fine with Sox fans the way the past three seasons looked for Konerko

If anything, Konerko had become the dirty secret White Sox fans didn't like to discuss.  We fully supported the long-term re-signing of a World Series hero, only to have him become a fairly average starting first basemen after a fantastic first year on his new deal.

The result: It took a long time for me to stop rationalizing Konerko's torrid start.  He's always been prone to streaks (mostly good, and certainly some bad), so while 11 HRs in May was incredible, thinking it might lead to a 39 HR season, an All-Star appearance, or even Konerko slugging over .500 for the first time since 2006, felt like getting carried away.

Paul returning to Earth hard during the middle of the White Sox May swoon, coupled with Alex Rios looking like the next star of the team, really put any notions of Konerko having a renaissance, or the Sox as a remotely relevant ballclub to bed.

Konerko responded with a 4-month stretch of a lifetime.  In that 101 game stretch, Konerko hit .333/.406/.595 for a 1.001 OPS, with 25 HR, 78 RBI, and 126 hits as the White Sox went 59-42.  What's interesting, and perhaps most encouraging for the future, is that there isn't a big outlying factor to explain Paul's sudden surge.  His BABIP was very high (.326) but merely equaled his 2006 total, his groundballs were low and his flyballs were up, but nothing exceeding previous peaks.  Konerko was certainly very fortunate with a 19.5% HR per fly balls, but that is still below what he recorded in '04 and '05.

The only thing to possibly point to, is pretty counter-intuitive.  Konerko struck out more often than at any time in his career, suggesting that just maybe, he was more aggressive than ever before.  Otherwise, the man was simply more locked in than he's ever been in his life, at age 34, when the combination of Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin around him in the lineup didn't exactly ooze protection.

Defensively, the UZR stat wasn't very fond of Konerko at all, which seems overblown.  Never blessed with much more than fall-on-your-face range, Paulie has retained the position with his reputation for being sure-handed.  While I'd be willing to admit he's far from a great defender, the idea that he's 15 runs worse than the 33-year old who played the position in '09 seems pretty preposterous.

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True to the 2010 White Sox, their best player Konerko's lasting image is grit and toughness in the face of certain defeat

This isn't tangible, and certainly isn't smart, but perhaps the reason that my fondness for Konerko is at its highest is that he was the pride of the White Sox in 2010.  As a holdover from the aging core of 2005, Konerko represented one last gasp from the period of time that every Sox fan cherishes over all others.  As ill-fated as it was, Paul's career year at age 34 registered as a stubborn rebuke to the presumption that the White Sox were too old and poorly invested to compete anymore.  And even if they truly were, the way Konerko ferociously fought against it drew weary smiles from the fan base even as the ship slowly eased under the surface as September drew to a close. 

The signature moment of 2010 season for the whole team naturally came from the bat of Konerko.  In the process of being brutally erased from playoff relevance at home by the superior Minnesota Twins, Konerko was hit in the face by a pitch from renowned Sox-obliterator Carl Pavano.  Bloodied, Konerko vehemently resisted attempts by Trainer Herm Schneider to remove him from the game, eventually trotting to 1st base with significant amounts of cotton up his nose.  His next plate appearance, Konerko took the first pitch out to left field to raucous cheers.  It wasn't so much about sticking it to Pavano, who very doubtfully threw at Konerko, but the grit that Paulie showed during the team's darkest hour against a flat-out better opponent gave us all something to hold onto in a season that otherwise offered little reward in the end.

Love him or leave him?: Well now that I've gone and gotten myself all worked up I have to write this section.  The connection to Paul is tremendous, as is the hole he leaves in the offense.  If he were the most cost-effective option to fill it, and guaranteed to be capable of doing so, then the choice to bring him back is pretty easy.

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If the Sox fans can embrace A.J. Pierzynski, embracing Adam Dunn's chunky cuts for the moon probably won't be that hard

But even after career year, expecting Konerko to continue to produce at a high level at the age of 35 and above is a rather risky prospect, and definitely a short-term solution.  Should Kenny Williams look to make a bigger splash by offering a longer deal to burly left-handed power-hitter Adam Dunn, it would be a worthy alternative.  I'm not a fan of Dunn's defense, molasses-speed, or massive strikeout totals, but if the Sox want to bring in a guy who's hit 38 HRs or more 7 seasons in a row to tee off in hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular, it certainly wouldn't rank as one of their worst ideas.

With complaints of a tight budget, and some tossed off talk of trying to become younger, it's still possible that the Sox embrace a youth movement spearheaded by free-swinger wunderkind Dayan Viciedo taking over.  Dayan isn't ready, and it would almost assuredly be a rough season, but comprehensive organizational rebuilding is so long overdue, arguing with turbulence of the transition seems unnecessary.

My fear, in the wake of this year's Jim Thome debacle, is of the White Sox letting Paulie go because he's too old, they wouldn't want to overpay, or they're not sure it's the right move, instead of because they have a better plan.  Replacing an aging great with just replacements is pointless, and any fan of the Pirates will tell you that investing foolishly, or with your heart, is a far better fate than not investing at all.  It may not be the most prudent or rational move, but if the White Sox find themselves with a hole at first base that they can't decide how to fill, then they know a pretty good guy to call.

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