Let me start by acknowledging that I'm extremely emotionally compromised. Extremely. Hearing that Konerko re-signed felt like Christmas combined with gleeful drunkenness....or just my last two Christmases.
With that out of the way, I can admit...yes....detractors and perhaps other CN bloggers who had their "We should never have re-signed him!" ready for the moment the contract was finalized, definitely have a point.
In a vacuum, signing a big, slow, right-handed masher to a 3-year, $37 million contract...or just a 3-year contract at all, is...well...dumb.
But we don't live in a vacuum; which is good, because we'd be dead.
Outside the vacuum, and in the world, Kenny Williams is the general manager of the Chicago White Sox. With that in mind, when discussing alternatives to re-signing Paul Konerko, they have to be assessed in terms of are these things that the GM would ever do?
Now, it could certainly be argued that Williams needs to be replaced, but that's a discussion best had a few years from now when the incredible hatdance he's been doing of stripping the farm system, re-upping old as sin players, back-loading contracts, and slapping together used parts into kinda-sorta division contenders finally ends in the franchise being talent-dead and too heavily invested to do anything about it. But that's still at least 2 years away.
For now, objections can be broken down into two categories; issues with the goal of the 2011 off-season, and issues with the tactics
Objection #1 - We've gone as long as we could with this old core and have been to the playoffs once (and got waylayed) in the last 5 years. Time to blow up and rebuild.
For me, this is the preferred approach, but Williams has established in his tenure that he's pretty much unwilling to do this. The closest he's come is 2007, and that certainly wasn't the plan going into the year, more of a reaction to abject failure.
Williams claimed to present two options to Reinsdorf at the beginning of the off-season; to go all-in for 2010 or go with the young players, but with his record, it's likely the latter option wasn't pushed with a whole hell of a lot of sincerity. Also, it'd be one thing for Williams to display the patience to commit to a youth movement for a season, but with the way he's stripped the farm system to the bottom of the MLB rankings, it would take a lot longer than that.
Dayan Viciedo not being at all ready for the big leagues also plays a factor
Objection #2 - Re-upping Konerko after his peak season for $12 million a year isn't even the best way to make the 2011 team good. Money is needed in other areas, such as the bullpen
The 2005 World Series win was a watershed moment for a lot of things, and one of the more mundane developments was how the Sox think about the bullpen. They simply do not spend much money on it. Not because they think it unimportant, but because they have confidence in their ability to acquire capable arms on the cheap, and mold them into contributors. They pried away Thornton and Jenks for practically nothing, Sergio Santos and Neal Cotts were converted into relievers after failing into other roles, and the Sox bought low on Dustin Hermanson and J.J. Putz.
Recently when they have ponied up for relievers (Linebrink, Pena, and Dotel), returns have been disappointing. Relievers can be made rather than bought, and the White Sox are in the business of making them.
The question becomes then, is Konerko the best position-player option to help the team right away? Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford would've been nice, but are very clearly beyond the Sox grasp, and Adrian Beltre is headed toward that stratosphere.
With those subtractions, and even before them, Konerko had the best offensive season in 2010 of anyone available. It would have been best to find an outfielder who could move Quentin out of the outfield, but the only real options (Magglio and Johnny Damon) are older and worse than Paulie or CQ.
In a decision between available 1st basemen, it boils down to deciding between Konerko, Adam LaRoche, and Derrek Lee.
Which is another section in and of itself
For Lee, PK was a lot better last season (.415 wOBA, 4.2 WAR to Lee's .340 wOBA, 2.0 WAR), but Lee was a lot better the previous three seasons (12.3 combined WAR to PK's 5.7). That would seem to make Lee the obvious choice over Konerko, if they weren't both 35 with the threat of severe deterioration hanging over them.
If the risk with Konerko is that a big, hulking, power-hitter can break down all at once, than its certainly a bigger risk with Lee. The fact that Derrek was excellent in 2009 before falling off the next season is a sobering tale when pondering Konerko's contract, but you never sign a 35 year-old player after he has a steep decline on the basis that he'll recover.
LaRoche is a younger, and cheaper option, but unlike Derrek Lee, has never been the same caliber of hitter as Konerko. He provides superior defense, another left-handed bat, and could be had for half the money, but has red flags of his own.
His 26 HRs from last season could uptick in U.S. Cellular, but he was already playing in a bit of a hitter's park in Arizona, and was on the decline in a number of categories. His 172 strikeouts were a career-high by 30, and 142 Ks in 2009 was a career-high at the time too. His walks dropped, to the point that his OBP was a very paltry .320 despite the highest BABIP of his career.
In a conflict over three 1st baseman over 30, why in God's name would you pick either of the two who went through obvious actual decline last season over the player that you suspect could decline, and damn near had a 1.000 OPS?
Especially in light of the circumstances
Paul Konerko is signed for three years, but winning in 2013 won't be based around him, not anymore than it will based around Adam Dunn and his $15 million salary in 2014. By all traditional measures, these are not great contracts.
But more than ever before (which is frightening considering how much he's done it before) Kenny Williams is mortgaging the living bejeesus out of the future for the sake of one run with a bunch of oldies but goodies. With such goals in mind, the best offensive player available seems like a must-have.