Konerko, offering a helping hand. // Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
During a marathon session of roster speculation with Nick Schaefer and Matt Adams as we try to push out Southside Showdown’s attempt at an offseason plan, the White Sox roster jumped out at me in a new way. Previously, I had looked at it to see if there was a way to squeeze Paul Konerko onto it, and reasoned that a lefty-mashing bench bat (he still hit .313/.398/.525 vs. southpaws in 2013) –while extremely limited in scope–wasn’t a completely useless thing to have on a 25-man roster.
But now, looking at the roster and trying to find ways to improve, it’s apparent that such a contortion is counterproductive, or just nuts.
The White Sox position player group is not good enough to carry an extraneous player who doesn’t fill a basic need. They will anyway, since Jeff Keppinger is under contract through 2015, but they certainly do not need another. Plugging the roster with three designated hitters (if we’re being honest), two of which exist to account for one another’s failings (Konerko and Dunn are an obvious platoon), impedes the ability to take on offense in other areas.
Shifting Dayan Viciedo to the infield or DH to accommodate a corner outfield bat, adding an offensive catcher who needs days off from behind the plate, taking an offensive contributor in a trade who is devalued due to a lack of a position, or even adding another right-handed entry to the third base platoon all would be troubled by the Sox spending two roster spots to try to form one passable designated hitter. Even if they were to opt for that alignment, there are better options than Konerko.
Corey Hart‘s 31 year-old surgically repaired knees are a better risk and his performance against lefties over the last three years blows Konerko out of the water. Carlos Ruiz crushes lefties as a specialty too and actually catches while he does it. Jeff Baker crushes lefties to a comparable degree and can be DFA’d in the middle of the season without regret, because he’s a journeyman player, like many other right-handed hitters who possess this unremarkable skill. And that’s assuming age doesn’t take come and take that ability from Konerko next yeat oo.
Konerko’s not a particularly remarkable free agent option, but if Phil Rogers’ MLB.com piece is any indication, the push to bring him back is not driven by qualitative analysis, but concepts like “what he means to the franchise” or “mentoring” or “doing things the right way and leading by example.”
This means more than we on the outside can properly appreciate, but the things that were always the most appealing about arguments that guys like Jonny Gomes (another lefty-masher) or Brandon Inge were just “winners” was the actual winning. The White Sox haven’t been winners. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2008. Fledgling playoff campaigns in other years were punctuated by pathetic, doomed efforts in critical late-season series against division rivals. The young, highly-touted draft pick who was primed to take over as the face of the franchise and modeled his approach after Konerko in every way, is struggling to scratch out a major league existence centered around playing defense at an up-the-middle position and not costing much.
Listing these failures is not meant to pick away at the greatness of Konerko, whose diligent and rigorous approach to the game clearly worked for him, but casting him as an all-inspiring force who improves everyone with his presence is one Bill Brasky story too many. And Rogers’ notion that Konerko, who has admitted being not a particularly interactive leader in the past, will have exclusive wisdom to impart to Jose Abreu, a 27 year-old man who speaks scant, if any, English and just escaped from Cuba, seems especially borne of how I first approached the 2014 White Sox; looking for a way to cram Konerko on it before stopping and considering all the things that would be better.
Having a coach on the field sounds like a great thing, but only because it’s assumed that he’s a player as well.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan