Mike DePilla has written about the White Sox and major league baseball for several formerly-awesome sites that have gone the way of the World Series day game, including the Chi-Town Daily News, the SportsMixed Network and White Sox Watch. When he’s not whining about sacrifice bunts, he’s eating pizza, listening to Wilco and correcting your misused apostrophes.
Despite the noticeable disadvantage of not being able to play baseball well or fill any tangible need for the team, Paul Konerko will be on the White Sox 2014 roster and there’s nothing I can do about it. I know it’s no big deal and I’m not supposed to get worked up about the 25th spot on the roster, but I still have my qualms.
No, I don’t think he is going to take at-bats away from Jose Abreu. I don’t think he is going to preclude the Sox from making a big splash elsewhere. I don’t think he will ruin 2014. But it is just so silly to read the superficial analysis and praise of Konerko’s return to the Sox.
Now, I know I don’t view Konerko in the same esteem that many other Chicagoans do. To many, Konerko is the unassailable captain, the face of the franchise that won the 2005 World Series. To me, he is just a player who has been on the team for a long time. A good player, but not some kind of transcendent figure. To me, the decision to come back in 2014 makes sense to neither side’s point of view.
The Sox already have three other 1B/DHs (Jose Abreu, Adam Dunn and, let’s be honest, Dayan Viciedo) on the team–there is no need to waste a roster spot on another. You know all the arguments. Stalwarts Jim Margalus, larry and James Fegan already made the salient points.
None of that stuff really matters in the long run, as the Sox may end up just treading water in 2014 anyway. But I am still irked by the perceived importance of
Konerko’s alleged clubhouse presence.
Rumors of Konerko’s leadership skills and mentorship seem vastly exaggerated. He hasn’t “brought along” any young stars. The fact that the Sox have developed exactly zero homegrown hitters in nearly a decade falls more on their drafting and development ineptitude, but doesn’t give Konerko any resume-fodder either. Besides, how exactly is he going to talk to Abreu, a guy who speaks no English? Konerko is seen as the guy who makes sure the trains run on time, but has overseen teams that have underperformed for five straight seasons, culminating with the disaster of 2013.
In interviews talking about the signing, everyone has talked up the clubhouse presence Konerko brings. (If this were a Daily Show With Jon Stewart bit, you’d now see a clip show of the phrase “clubhouse presence” spoken by Rick Hahn, Robin Ventura, David Haugh, Phil Rogers, Rick Morrissey, Bruce Levine, etc. ad nauseam as I shake my head patronizingly.)
Here is a partial list of things the 99-loss White Sox needed this offseason:
115. New paint for the lines in the parking lot
116. Wait staff for Bacardi at the Park
117. Clubhouse presence
So besides the fact that his claim to this mythical “clubhouse presence” is flimsy at best, there isn’t much need for it anyway. Allowing Konerko to go for one more World Series with a team like the Red Sox or holding a press conference to announce his retirement seem much more appropriate send off than giving him a ceremonial roster spot.
Now, if you’ll indulge my bitterness for a moment. The two true drafted and developed faces of the franchise, Frank Thomas and Mark Buehrle, were both forced to leave when they would have preferred to stay with the Sox. When the Sox acquired a suitable replacement in Jim Thome, Thomas was shown the door with no fanfare at all. He went on to have a near-MVP season in Oakland. The team didn’t even offer an eager Mark Buerhle a contract after 2011, despite the notable fact that he likely would he re-signed for less money and years if he had been offered a reasonable extension before the season ended.
Granted, both of those scenarios represented bigger commitments than one year/$2.5 million. But at the same time, both were clearly better baseball players. If nostalgia didn’t rule the day then, I am a little bummed that it does now.
Ultimately, the fact that Konerko will essentially be paid 600K more than Tyler Flowers in 2014 (with a deferred million seven years down the line), shows how prominent of a role he will have on this team. This move will be easier to stomach if the Sox find a creative way to unload Jeff Keppinger or Adam Dunn or make a splashy acquisition, but it won’t matter much even if they don’t.
But in a Sox environment desperate for something new, for a changing of the guard, this move doesn’t deliver. It in no way precludes the team from improving elsewhere, but it still represents an eye-rolling, overblown gesture to the past that is mostly a media creation, (a la “Big Game” Freddy Garcia).
Konerko has been part of three playoff teams and one Word Champion in his 15 years in Chicago. He is the guy who caught the championship-clinching ball and publicly gave it to Jerry Reinsdorf. His place in Sox lore is secure.
But despite his reputation, Konerko is and was not owed anything. Hahn just has to smile and pretend this was his idea. One more year.