Showing posts with label Paul Konerko. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paul Konerko. Show all posts

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Todd Frazier becomes seventh player in White Sox franchise history to reach 40 home runs

Todd Frazier
The "dream" of a .500 season survives for another day. The White Sox (77-81) won their fifth consecutive game Wednesday night, defeating the Tampa Bay Rays, 1-0.

This game featured two rain delays, and cold, wet, windy weather that knocked down its share of flyballs. However, Sox third baseman Todd Frazier connected for a solo home run off Tampa Bay knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa in the bottom of the seventh inning, and that provided the margin of victory.

The home run was the 40th of the season for Frazier, extending a career high, and he became the seventh player in Sox franchise history to reach 40 home runs in a single season. Here are the others:

Sox right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (5-8) concluded a sneaky-good season with his best outing of the year Wednesday. He worked 8.1 scoreless innings, despite having to sit for 97 minutes because of a rain delay in the third inning. Gonzalez allowed just three hits, struck out five and walked nobody. He threw 71 of his 102 pitches for strikes, and that allowed him to get some quick outs in the pitcher-friendly conditions.

Gonzalez finishes his season with a 3.73 ERA. Fifteen of his 23 starts were quality. Like most of the Sox rotation, he pitched better than his record indicates, and I don't think anyone can complain about his performance this year.

His 102nd pitch Wednesday was a hanging slider that Logan Forsythe hit for a single to left with one out in the top of the ninth. At that point, closer David Robertson was summoned. He needed one pitch to record his 37th save in 44 chances, inducing Kevin Kiermaier to hit into a game-ending double play.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Jose Abreu, Carlos Rodon resurgent in August for White Sox

Jose Abreu
There's no sugarcoating it: Jose Abreu has not had a good season for the White Sox.

His struggles are one of the main reasons the Sox are languishing in fourth place with a 60-64 record -- and rank 14th out of 15 American League teams in runs scored.

Nobody saw it coming. After all, Abreu made history in 2015, becoming only the second player in major league history to total at least 30 home runs and at least 100 RBIs in each of his first two seasons. (Albert Pujols is the other).

However, the drop-off has been noticeable this year. Take a look at Abreu's numbers:

2014: .317/.383/.581, 36 HRs, 107 RBIs, .964 OPS
2015: .290/.347/.502, 30 HRs, 101 RBIs, .850 OPS
2016: .285/.341/.455, 17 HRs, 70 RBIs, .796 OPS

With 38 games to play, it's unlikely Abreu will hit that 30-and-100 plateau again. So, what do we make of this? Is Abreu in decline at age 29? Or is it just a bad year? Even good players have bad years. (See Frank Thomas in 2002 and Paul Konerko in 2003.)

I've heard some Sox fans say the team should unload Abreu this offseason because "he's done." I think that's an overly negative view. Quietly, while most people have stopped paying attention, Abreu has had a monster month of August.

Here are his numbers this month: .373/.427/.680, 6 HRs, 14 RBIs, 1.107 OPS in 19 games.

Pretty good, huh?

Abreu went 2 for 3 with three RBIs in Tuesday's 9-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. He homered in his third straight game. For me, the most important thing about that home run was the pitch and pitch location. It was a middle-in fastball from Philadelphia starter Jake Thompson, and Abreu turned on it and ripped it into the left field seats.

For most of the season, Abreu has been helpless against middle-in fastballs. He's been jamming himself, popping up or swinging and missing against that pitch. The Abreu of the last two years hits that pitch hard to left field. That was the Abreu I saw last night, and it's been that way most of August. It's encouraging to see, and it's indicative that his skills are still there.

The Sox need Abreu to finish strong. They need him to show that he still can be the centerpiece of the lineup. If he follows up a good August with a good September, maybe we can dismiss the first four months of this season as a rare slump for a very good hitter.

Speaking of needing a strong finish, pitcher Carlos Rodon also is trying to erase a poor first half. Like Abreu, he also has had a resurgent August. The left-hander fired 6.2 innings of shutout ball in Tuesday's win over Philadelphia.

For the month, Rodon is 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA with 20 strikeouts and only six walks in 24.2 innings, covering his last four starts. Philadelphia is not a good offensive team, so I can't put too much stock in Rodon shutting them down. However, he's also posted strong starts against two clubs that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today (Baltimore, Cleveland), plus another one against a team that is in the postseason hunt (Miami).

For the season, Rodon is 4-8 with a 4.02 ERA in 21 starts. The overall numbers impress nobody, but again, a strong finish from him would make the Sox feel better about their starting rotation looking forward to 2017.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

White Sox will retire Paul Konerko's No. 14 on May 23

There's a conspicuously empty space on the facade where the retired numbers hang at U.S. Cellular Field, a gap between the No. 11 once worn by Luis Aparicio and the No. 16 once worn by Ted Lyons.

You knew the space was left their intentionally, because one day No. 14 would be honored in that spot.

The White Sox will make that official May 23 when they retire the No. 14 jersey of former first baseman Paul Konerko. It's a 3:10 game on a Saturday afternoon against the Minnesota Twins. The first 20,000 fans through the gate will receive a Konerko statue replica.

Fortunately for me, this game is part of my 27-game season-ticket plan. I'll be there early to see Konerko become the 10th former White Sox player to have his number retired.

Konerko, a six-time All-Star, is the franchise leader in total bases (4,010) and ranks second in White Sox history in home runs (432), 16 behind Hall-of-Famer Frank Thomas (448). Konerko also ranks third in franchise history in hits (2,292) and doubles (406). He is best remembered for his grand slam in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series

I've said before Konerko isn't quite good enough to make baseball's Hall of Fame, but he is clearly among the best players in White Sox history. It's fitting and proper that he's being shown this kind of respect by the White Sox organization.

Consider May 23 circled on my calendar.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

White Sox claim J.B. Shuck, reinstate Nate Jones from 60-day DL

With the World Series over, teams are now free to start making offseason transactions.

The White Sox made a couple of minor moves Monday, claiming outfielder J.B. Shuck off waivers from the Cleveland Indians and reinstating relief pitcher Nate Jones from the 60-day disabled list.

Shuck finished fifth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2013, when he posted a .293/.331/.366 slash line in 478 plate appearances with the Los Angeles Angels. Injuries to other players opened the door for Shuck to play 129 games that season, and he did pretty well with the opportunity.

However, 2014 was a different story for the 27-year-old outfielder. He hit .167/.195/.250 for the Angels in April and was sent back to Triple-A, where he stayed until August. Just before the non-waiver trading deadline, he was sent to Cleveland for cash considerations. Shuck had a miserable time with the Tribe, going 2 for 26 in September. He ended up hitting just .145 in 110 at-bats in the majors for the season.

He did, however, bat .320 in 102 minor league games, so perhaps the Sox saw some signs he could regain his 2013 form. He is a left-handed hitter and can play all three outfield spots competently.

Obviously, this isn't the kind of pickup that will excite fans. If you look around the Internet, you'll find the meathead fans screaming at the sky, wondering what Sox management is thinking, asking why they would make such a low-impact move.

Those folks, as always, need to relax. I'm sure this isn't the biggest move the Sox will make this offseason. It's just the first. I'm sure the club knows it needs more impact talent, and I'm sure they know Shuck doesn't fall into that category.

However, while seeking those impact players, it's also important to try to improve your roster around the margins. You want more depth. You want more competition in camp. If you look at the Sox bench last season,  for most of the year it consisted of players such as Jordan Danks, Moises Sierra, Leury Garcia, Adrian Nieto and an end-of-career version of Paul Konerko. That's not a good bench, friends.

If Shuck in 2015 plays better outfield than Danks or Sierra did in 2014, then this is a good acquisition. Maybe this guy turns out to be the fourth outfielder the Sox need. Or, maybe he stinks, in which case he'll be spending the season in Charlotte. However, there's little for the Sox to lose in picking up guys like Shuck.

As for Jones, he's expected to miss most -- if not all -- of 2015 after Tommy John surgery. I wouldn't expect much production from him until 2016.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Looking back on Paul Konerko's White Sox career

The end of an era is approaching.

There will be no games remaining on the 2014 White Sox schedule a week from now. That also means there will be no games left to play in the remarkable career of Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, who will retire at the end of the week after 18 seasons -- 16 of them on the South Side of Chicago.

When Opening Day 2015 rolls around, Konerko isn't going to be at U.S. Cellular Field for the first time since 1998. Isn't that going to be a weird feeling for us all? 

Konerko knows the time is right to walk away. Time, age and injuries have taken their toll. He's not an everyday player anymore. He's not the hitter he used to be, as his .216 batting average this season shows. He hasn't been able to play much the past three weeks after breaking a bone in his hand the first week of September.

Everyone associated with the White Sox would like to see a storybook ending for Konerko, but there's a very real possibility he has hit his last home run in a Chicago uniform. Heck, there's a possibility he's gotten his last base hit in a Sox uniform, too, but even if that's the case, it's OK. We should not spend too much time lamenting the struggles Konerko has had in his final season. Rather, we should celebrate the player Konerko was, and the exemplary career he has had.

Konerko's name is high on a lot of lists in White Sox franchise history. That's no small thing. The Sox are one of the charter franchises in the American League. A lot of players have come through the South Side over the past 113 years, and Konerko has been one of the best. The numbers speak for themselves, but we'll recite them anyway.

Konerko is the all-time franchise leader in total bases with 4,009. He ranks second in home runs (432), RBIs (1,383) and games played (2,264). He is third in hits (2,291), doubles (406), plate appearances (9,244) and at-bats (8,155). He ranks fourth in runs scored with 1,141.

If you look at the franchise's leaders in these categories, the names ahead of Konerko are players such as Luke Appling, Nellie Fox and Frank Thomas. Those are Hall of Famers.

If you've paid any attention to the Chicago media lately, there's been a lot of discussion of some of the great moments in Konerko's career. His grand slam in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series was his finest hour. It was arguably the biggest hit in White Sox history. Earlier that postseason, there were big home runs in Games 3 and 4 of the ALCS, a series in which Konerko earned MVP.

These are moments that are fondly remembered, and rightfully so. However, an outstanding career in baseball is about more than handful of big hits on the postseason stage. There are plenty of players who have had their 15 minutes of fame after one good game or one big moment in a championship series. Konerko is not one of those guys. That grand slam in the World Series will live forever, but his career with the Sox has been so much more than that.

I've been privileged to see Konerko play in person about 200 times over the past 16 years. I've watched most of his 9,244 plate appearances with the Sox either at the ballpark or on television. When I reflect back on all those games, there are two memories that stand out that I'd like to share. It may surprise you that neither of them involve postseason play.

April 16, 2005: White Sox 2, Mariners 1

I'll bet a lot of Sox fans remember this game, but not because of Konerko. This game is famous because it lasted only one hour, 39 minutes. It is far and away the shortest White Sox game I have ever attended. At the time, former Sox ace Mark Buehrle had not yet throw his 2007 no-hitter against the Texas Rangers, or his 2009 perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. This game was perhaps the signature moment of Buehrle's career to that point. He struck out 12. He only gave up three hits. He worked quick. He made the Mariners look foolish.

But guess what? Buehrle doesn't get the win without Konerko's performance that day. This was a game where the two teams combined for only seven hits. You could count the number of hard-hit balls the entire afternoon on one hand. Two of those hard-hit balls came off Konerko's bat. Both of them landed in the left-field seats. Those were the only two runs the Sox scored. That was the margin Buehrle needed.

Without those two homers, one hour and 39 minutes never happens. Maybe the game goes extra innings and ends up lasting three hours. Who knows? Buehrle got most of the headlines and most of the credit that day. He deserved it. However, you might say the final score was Konerko 2, Mariners 1.

This was an April game with 20,000-some people in the stands. The bright lights weren't shining. It wasn't considered a monumental win in the big picture, but I'll never forget Konerko's performance that day.

August 8, 2006: White Sox 6, Yankees 5 (11 innings)

In this game, the Sox trailed 5-4 in the ninth inning when Konerko stepped to the plate to face New York closer Mariano Rivera, who was the best closer of his generation and a future Hall of Famer.

Rivera is known for having just one pitch - a cutter than moves in on the hands of left-handed batters and away from right-handed batters such as Konerko. During the at-bat, I vividly remember Konerko swinging and missing badly as he attempted to pull an outside cutter from Rivera.

From my seat in the stands, I yelled at the top of my lungs, "C'mon, Paulie, you know it's going to be a cutter away! Go with the pitch and hit the damn ball to right-center field!"

Not that Konerko could hear me, but the next pitch was a cutter away, and Konerko swatted it just over the wall in right-center field for a game-tying home run. The fans seated near me looked at me like, "How did you know?"

The Sox went on to win in 11 innings on a walk-off single by Jermaine Dye, but Konerko's homer was easily the biggest hit of the game. Part of Konerko's genius was his ability to made adjustments from pitch to pitch, even against a tremendous pitcher such as Rivera. That home run that night was perhaps the best example of that I've seen.

There are probably some Sox fans out there who have little or no recollection of these two games, but I'll bet every Sox fan has a couple of Konerko performances they recall vividly like the ones I just described. There has been too many of them to mention.

Maybe your favorite Konerko moment was in the World Series, or maybe it was on a quiet April afternoon in front of a sparse crowd. A great career in baseball is made up of dozens of moments, and Konerko consistently provided them for the White Sox -- in games both big and small -- for the past 16 years. Players like that only come around every so often, and for that reason, we should celebrate Konerko's accomplishments as the book closes on his time as a player.

After Sunday's game against the Kansas City Royals ends, no Sox player is ever going to wear No. 14 again. You can count on that -- just as the Sox have counted on Paul Konerko for big hits every year since 1999.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Red Sox designate A.J. Pierzynski for assignment

The Boston Red Sox on Wednesday designated former White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski for assignment.

Pierzynski, 37, has posted a .254/.286/.348 slash line with four home runs and 31 RBIs in 72 games with Boston this season. He's been slumping as of late (.194 since June 1), and with the Red Sox reeling in last place with a 39-51 record, it's not surprising they are looking to change directions. Pierzynski is being moved along so Boston can spend the rest of 2014 taking a look at 23-year-old catching prospect Christian Vazquez.

I know news of this move will immediately cause some White Sox fans to call for the team to bring Pierzynski back for one last hurrah on the South Side. He and Paul Konerko could retire together, they'll say.

I'll say this much: There is no denying the Sox have a hole at catcher. Tyler Flowers has backed up his .129/.187/.214 June with a .000/.050/.000 start to July. Last year, management excused Flowers' poor hitting because he was playing with a right shoulder injury that required surgery. I don't think there is any excuse this time. Flowers is simply a lousy hitter and nothing more than a backup catcher -- at best. It's time to move on from him as a starting player.

However, that does not mean the Sox should turn to Pierzynski. Nostalgia is fine for fans and media, but front office people need to look forward. The Sox need to find a long-term solution at catcher. With each swing and a miss, Flowers is proving once and for all he is not that guy. However, Pierzynski is not that guy at age 37 either. The Sox would be wasting his time and their own time by bringing him back.

I'm on board with the Sox making a change at catcher, but for me, that change is more playing time for 24-year-old Adrian Nieto. Is Nieto the catcher of the future? I don't know. I say, let's see more of him behind the plate and get some answers.

So far this year, Flowers has appeared in 75 of the Sox' first 91 games, while Nieto has appeared in just 30. It's time to even that playing time out a little bit. If the Sox were to bring Pierzynski aboard, he would just be in the way of what I hope is more playing time for Nieto the second half of the season.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Would the White Sox be able to part with Paul Konerko?

Baseball players rarely make farewell tours. For every Mariano Rivera -- who was still great in his last season -- there are tons guys who want to keep playing, but are told they can't cut it so pack it up.

White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko is adding more and more evidence to the case that he can't cut it. Since Jose Abreu has been out of the lineup, he's gone 2-for-15. Yes, both hits drove in runs, and yes, one of them was a two-run homer crushed to center at Kaufmann Stadium. That still leaves Konerko with a .133/.133/.333 batting line. That's after his .208/.259/.333 start as a part-time DH/pinch hitter.

Maybe it's hard to come off the bench and perform in sporadic duty. And maybe Konerko needs some time to settle back into a starting rhythm again. I think to believe those excuses you really have to ignore the fact that Paulie has been terrible since June of 2012.

If Konerko can't hold up to the rigors of everyday play anymore, and he can't be effective as a part-timer, he's got no value to the team outside of his role of ambassador, clubhouse leader, historical treasure, mascot, or whatever it is he was brought back for.

When this season looked for sure like it would be a lost one for the Sox, that might have been acceptable. But besides the fact that even at two games under .500, the Sox are still nominally in the playoff picture, the team just has better uses for Konerko's at-bats and roster spot than letting him take an extended bow before the fans.

They might want to use those at-bats to give Alejandro De Aza a better chance of righting his ship so he can be traded for something useful. Or the Sox might want to keep Marcus Semien's bat from atrophying on the bench.

If third base prospect Matt Davidson turns his season around at Triple-A Charlotte, he could begin his seasoning at the big league level later this year, and current third baseman Conor Gillaspie certainly doesn't deserve to be pulled from the lineup. 

It's possible the Sox lose 10 in a row, or 15 of 20, or 20 of 25 and put an end to any idea of contending. And maybe that opens the door for trades of De Aza, Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham and even Dayan Viciedo.

By that point, more younger players might have pushed themselves into the picture, like Micah Johnson. And despite their earlier MLB failures, it would probably be prudent of the Sox to give Jordan Danks and Josh Phegley more chances to try adjusting to a higher level with both not having much left to prove at Triple-A.

As unlikely as it might be that Danks or Phegley can stick, there's a chance they might, while one way or another, this is going to be the end for Konerko.

It'd be nice if it didn't come down to another situation like the one the Sox were in 21 years ago when they unceremoniously released Carlton Fisk. Fisk believed up until the end that he could still play, though I don't think many other people believed it. Fisk had played well as recently as Konerko has.

Perhaps Konerko could pick his own spot. As a long-time team fixture, he deserves to do that more than John Kruk did during his season with the Sox.

Maybe the decision is going to be for everyone to not make a decision. To wait for an injury, or just play out the string. And maybe the Sox just want to give Konerko that luxury more than they want to move on.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Best-laid plans (and platoons) going awry for Sox

One of the big ways the White Sox were hoping to improve their offense this season was by taking a group of guys that were each a net-negative when playing full time, and partnering them with someone who could perhaps compliment the other's weaknesses.

Thus Adam Dunn, who has struggled to hit left-handers, would be joined with Paul Konerko as a two-headed designated hitter. Alejandro De Aza's defense would look better in left field than in center, and with his own slight deficiency against lefties, could maybe be combined with the poor-fielding-but-southpaw-mashing Dayan Viciedo.

Things started out well. Dunn is hitting a respectable .246/.388/.458, even with a recent power outage. Konerko has flailed in his new role (.192/.241/.309), but that was somewhat made up for by Viciedo, for now excelling (.291/.352/.447) while being pressed into a bigger role when right fielder Avisail Garcia was lost for the season.

Unfortunately that's left De Aza to struggle miserably (.190/.248/.306). First he was needed in left field, but even with Moises Sierra (.303/.351/.424) added, De Aza was still the best choice to fill in when center fielder Adam Eaton missed time on the disabled list.

Eaton is back, and De Aza with his track record probably remains the best option to play as a fourth outfielder on this team, at least as long as the Sox are on the fringes of contention. He's otherwise having a season that would have him designated for assignment (which might yet happen).

Now a new crisis has emerged. First baseman Jose Abreu -- the team's best and most exciting hitter -- is headed to the DL. In the meantime, it looks like Dunn and Konerko will be pushed back into the full-time roles in which they struggled to produce value a year ago. And if Viciedo and Sierra both cool off along with that surprising catching tandem of Tyler Flowers and Adrian Nieto?

Things could get ugly fast with Abreu gone.

That's not to say it was the wrong idea for the Sox to try cobbling together something from what they had on hand instead of overpaying for a free agent who might not do any better than a healthy platoon pair. They've been one of the highest-scoring teams in the American League by effectively playing a shell game around injuries and the limitations of the guys populating their roster.

There might just be so many injuries now that the Sox are looking at turning over a series of empty shells.

It goes without saying the Sox hope Abreu is back soon, and that Eaton stays healthy, because the chewing gum that's holding together the rest of the offense is getting stretched too thin.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Paul Konerko gets a parting gift, then gives a parting shot

We don't often say nice things about North Siders on this blog, but give the Cubs credit for a classy gesture before Tuesday night's crosstown game at Wrigley Field.

White Sox captain Paul Konerko, playing his last game on the North Side, was presented with a green No. 14 placard from the Wrigley Field scoreboard by Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija. Fans from both teams applauded, and it was nice moment recognizing Konerko's long and successful career with the Sox.

I'll bet the Cubs are glad Konerko is finally retiring at the end of the season. The veteran first baseman has tormented the Cubs with big hit after big hit for years. In 75 career games against the Cubs, Konerko has posted a .300/.361/.592 slash line with 20 home runs and 59 RBIs. That's a pretty good track record.

On Wednesday night, the crosstown series shifted to U.S. Cellular Field, and Konerko received what will probably be his last starting nod in a game against the Cubs. He responded with two doubles, including perhaps the biggest hit of the night in the White Sox's 8-3 victory.

With the Sox leading 4-3 in the fifth inning, Konerko stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and ripped a three-run double into the left-field corner off Cubs starter Travis Wood. Later in the inning, Konerko scored on an RBI single by Marcus Semien to cap a four-run rally, and the Sox coasted from there to their fourth straight win overall and third consecutive win over the Cubs.

For what it's worth, the Sox have clinched the 2014 Crosstown Cup with this victory. The fourth and final game of the series will be Thursday night at the Cell. The Cubs will be starting a right-handed pitcher, Jake Arrieta, so that means Konerko probably will not be in the starting lineup.

No matter. He delivered his parting shot to the Sox's crosstown rival with that laser-beam double on Wednesday night. It was a fitting end to a career spent beating up on Cubs pitching.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Rounding up Jose Abreu's record-breaking April

White Sox rookie first baseman Jose Abreu went 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs on Sunday to lead the South Siders to a 9-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

Abreu became the first player in Major League Baseball history to record four games with four RBIs or more during the first 26 games of his career. Abreu has a modest .262 batting average, but as Ken "Hawk" Harrelson might say, "It's a hard .262." Abreu leads the league with 10 home runs and 31 RBIs. Even with three games to go in the month, those figures are for the record books.

The 10 home runs and 31 RBIs in one month are both MLB rookie records. The 10 home runs are the most by a White Sox rookie in any month. The 31 RBIs are a new record for the opening month of the season by any Sox player -- the previous record was 28, set by Paul Konerko in 2002. The 31 RBIs are also the most by any Sox player in the first 26 games of a career. The 10 home runs tie the team record for the most by a Sox player in the first 26 games of a career -- Zeke Bonura accomplished the same feat in 1934.

This indeed has been an historic month for Abreu. He has homered off two former Cy Young Award winners in Justin Verlander and David Price, which shows that he isn't just pounding on mediocre pitchers. He's won a few battles with elite pitchers, too. The cynic would say, "Let's see what happens when the league adjusts to Abreu." And the cynic isn't completely wrong. Opposing pitchers will change their pattern to try to slow Abreu down, and he will have to adjust.

But, let's also remember that Abreu is putting up these monster numbers in the miserable, cold April conditions at U.S. Cellular Field. The ballpark plays smaller and becomes more hitter-friendly when the weather warms up in the summer. Abreu isn't going put up 10 homers and 30-plus RBIs every month. That's just not realistic, but I'd wager he has a pretty fair chance of continuing to produce runs when the ball starts flying in June and July.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bunting with two strikes ... sometimes that works

I was watching a White Sox-Reds spring training game last week when I saw Sox center fielder Adam Eaton bunt for a base hit on an 0-2 pitch. The Cincinnati third baseman was so stunned that he threw the ball away on the play. Even with an accurate throw, Eaton would have been safe.  

I thought to myself, "I haven't seen a Sox player try something like that in quite a few years."  

Fast-forward to Wednesday afternoon: With the score tied 6-6 in the bottom of the 11th inning, Sox infielder Leury Garcia lays down a perfect bunt on an 0-2 pitch. He beats the play out without a throw.  Later in the inning, he scores the game-winning run on a wild pitch as the Sox defeat the Minnesota Twins, 7-6.  

It would be a refreshing change if the Sox can find a way to score some runs this season without the benefit of the long ball. On Wednesday, only one of their seven tallies came on a home run -- a solo shot by Adam Dunn in the eighth inning.  

The Sox scored three runs in the second inning on three singles, a double and two sacrifice hits. They rallied to tie the game with two runs in the ninth on three singles and a fielder's choice. It was encouraging to see some manufactured runs with the game on the line.

Speaking of that ninth-inning rally, Paul Konerko got off to a good start in his new bench role. He led off the inning with a pinch-hit single off Minnesota closer Glen Perkins, who is left-handed. Konerko, for all his struggles in 2013, hit .313 against left-handed pitchers a year ago. He can still be effective for the Sox if he is spotted in matchups that are favorable for him.

'Don't want to get picked off here in this situation'

Good news for the Cubs: Their new leadoff man, Emilio Bonifacio, is swinging the bat exceptionally well out of the gate. He's 9 for 12 through the first two games of the season.  

Bad news for the Cubs: Bonifacio has been picked off base two of the nine times he's reached, and he would have been picked off a third time if the Pittsburgh first baseman had not dropped the ball.

I don't know if I've ever seen a guy get picked off three times the first two days of the season. Would that be some kind of record? It's hard to come down too hard on Bonifacio, though, because he's one of the few Cub hitters off to a good start. The North Siders are 0-2, having lost a pair of extra-inning contests in Pittsburgh. They've scored only three runs in 26 innings against the Pirates pitching staff.

On Wednesday, the Cubs rallied from a 2-0 deficit with a run in the eighth and another run in the ninth. They even took a short-lived 3-2 lead on Anthony Rizzo's solo home run in the top of the 12th. But new closer Jose Veras failed in his first save situation. He gave up the lead and was fortunate to escape a bases-loaded jam and with only one run allowed in the bottom of the 12th. Veras was taking forever in between pitches and seemed to have no confidence in his stuff. It's only one outing, but that performance cannot be encouraging for the Cubs, who went on to lose 4-3 in 16 innings.  

Buerhle turns back clock in first start of season  

Former White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle had an up-and down year in his first season in Toronto in 2013, but on Wednesday, he looked like the pitcher he was five or six years ago.

Buehrle allowed only four hits over 8.2 innings and picked up the win as the Blue Jays defeated Tampa Bay, 3-0. The southpaw struck out 11 and walked just one.

It was just the second double-digit strikeout game of Buehrle's career. The other came during the Sox' World Series year. He fanned a career-high 12 in a 2-1 win over Seattle on April 16, 2005.

I still root for Buehrle, as long as he isn't pitching against the Sox.  

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The White Sox can't be 'Paul Konerko's team' any longer

Paul Konerko's leadership skills will have only a minimal impact on the success or failure of the 2014 White Sox.

There, I said it.

It won't be a popular opinion, especially among lazy reporters who plan to spend the spring and summer beating the "Paulie as mentor" story to death because they can't think of anything else White Sox-related to write about.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad Konerko invited center fielder Adam Eaton over to his house for some batting practice, a couple beers and a shoot-the-bull session. Sox management has asked Konerko to take the young players on the roster under his wing, and to try to pass on some of the wisdom he has gained during his 21 years in professional baseball.

I have no doubt Konerko will perform this task to the best of his abilities, and his efforts can only help these young guys. I don't see how it can hurt.

That said, there's only so much a veteran player can say or do to help age 20-something players who are trying to prove themselves at the big-league level. If it were as simple as having a guy like Konerko pull a young prospect aside for some chit-chat and sage advice after a batting practice session, you wouldn't see so many once-promising players wash out in the major leagues.

Take the case of second baseman Gordon Beckham, who is good friends with Konerko. The two are close enough, in fact, that Beckham's teammates give him a hard time about Konerko being his "dad." Heck, Konerko stood up in Beckham's wedding over the offseason. Think Konerko hasn't been generous with the "fatherly advice" when he's talking with Beckham around the batting cage or in the clubhouse? I'll bet you he has, but that hasn't stopped Beckham from struggling. Despite Konerko's help and good intentions, Beckham has posted a disappointing .249/.314/.380 slash line in five seasons with the Sox. He has never lived up to the potential he had coming out of the University of Georgia as a first-round draft pick.

And you know what? That's not Konerko's fault. Beckham is a grown man and a professional baseball player. He's responsible for his own performance.

That's one thing that is getting lost amid all these stories of Konerko helping out the young guys. He can share what he knows, and he will. But he can't get in the box and hit for these guys. He can't make them establish themselves as major league hitters. He can't make them accept leadership roles. He can't make them take responsibility for their own futures or the future of the White Sox. They have to do that themselves.

It's also worth noting that Konerko can only do so much "leading" from the bench. He's only going to play two or three times a week. We all hope there are a few more big hits in his once-mighty right-handed bat, but he's no longer the cornerstone middle-of-the-lineup presence that he was from 2004-12. He knows it, too. Konerko is still playing to erase the bitter taste of 2013. Hopefully, he'll go out on a decent note, and it will be one last season for the fans and the White Sox to thank him for all he's done for the organization. 

However, his activities both on and off the field are really just a sidebar to what is going to be most important for the White Sox in this 2014 season. This is the year the torch needs to be passed from Konerko to somebody else.

Konerko won't be around to be the "leader" in 2015, so now is the time for other guys to get used to the idea that it's going to be their team for the next several years. Guys like Chris Sale, Beckham, Eaton, Avisail Garcia, Jose Abreu, Jose Quintana, these are the guys the Sox are counting on to be those cornerstone players in coming seasons.

They cannot and should not sit around deferring to Konerko's leadership any longer. If something needs to be said in the clubhouse, in the dugout or on the field, one the younger guys shouldn't be afraid to say it. Moreover, if something needs to be done on the field, one of the younger guys needs to do it.

Why? Because Konerko is going to be 38 years old, and he's not physically capable of doing it day in and day out anymore. His time is past. For some of these other guys, their time is now. It's their responsibility to seize the day, not Konerko's.

The White Sox have been Paul Konerko's team for the last 15 years. It can't be his team anymore. It's Chris Sale's team now. It's Gordon Beckham's team. It's Adam Eaton's team. It's Avisail Garcia's team.

I just hope they all realize it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Paul Konerko re-signs with the White Sox ... for cheap

It turns out Paul Konerko really does want to play one more season with the White Sox.

One of the faces of the franchise over the last decade on Wednesday agreed to a one-year deal to return to the South Side. This is definitely a team-friendly contract. Konerko is used to making eight figures, but he's coming back for just $2.5 million, and $1 million of that is deferred to 2021.

The six-time All-Star batted just .244 with a career-low slugging percentage of .355 in 2013. There probably wasn't a full-time first baseman's job available for him on the open market. Konerko has said he would only accept a part-time role with the Sox, and that is what he will get for 2014.

I wouldn't be surprised if we see a DH platoon between Konerko and Adam Dunn next season.

Despite his 2013 struggles, Konerko still hit lefties at a decent clip last year:

vs. LHP: .313/.398/.525 with 5 home runs and 16 RBIs in 99 at-bats.

Against righties, he was not good:

vs. RHP: .226/.290/.310 with 7 home runs and 38 RBIs in 368 at-bats.

That makes him a natural platoon fit with Dunn, who hit righties much better than lefties in 2013:

vs RHP: .226/.327/.459 with 28 home runs and 64 RBIs in 403 at-bats.
vs. LHP: .197/.296/385 with 6 home runs and 22 RBIs in 142 at-bats.

Hopefully, the Sox will be smart enough to use Konerko and Dunn in this fashion. Barring an injury to Jose Abreu, neither man figures to see much time at first base.

The best thing to come from this signing is it will allow Konerko to have one more year in the sun and have a proper sendoff before he retires.

The negative is it limits roster flexibility for manager Robin Ventura. He's going to have a DH (either Konerko or Dunn) on his bench every day. One of the other four bench spots will be taken up by a backup catcher. That means your other two bench players better have the ability to play multiple positions. If the Sox can find a reserve who can play both the infield and the outfield, all the better. I figure Leury Garcia might be the player they have in mind for that role.

In any case, Konerko is back for one more year as a fan and clubhouse favorite. If used properly, he may still have a little left to give the White Sox.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rick Hahn: Door is open for Paul Konerko to return to White Sox

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn and manager Robin Ventura visited with free agent first baseman Paul Konerko last week at Konerko's Arizona home, according to media reports.

Hahn says he told Konerko the door is open for him to return to the Sox in a reduced role for 2014, despite the team's decision to sign first baseman Jose Abreu.

“We had a real good open and honest conversation about where his mind is at and his hopes for going forward, and a good talk about the club and our hopes for moving forward,” Hahn said. “At this time, he’s still going through his process of deliberating about what he wants to do next year.”

Konerko has offered no timetable on his decision, but I suspect we'll know within the next month whether he intends to play next year.

I would be surprised if we see Konerko back with the Sox. Resigning him would create a logjam of first baseman/designated hitter types. Are there enough at-bats to go around for Abreu, Konerko and Adam Dunn? I don't believe so, and Abreu and Dunn are already under contract for next season. The Sox aren't paying Abreu $68 million to start the season in the minors. He's going to be on the club. Dunn is going to be on the club, too, unless Hahn can find a taker for his $15 million salary. Unlikely. So where does that leave Konerko? Probably elsewhere or retired.

In this day and age where clubs carry 12 pitchers, it's really hard to go into a season with three 1B/DH types. You only have four position players on the bench, and you'd really like to have some speed and versatility there. Neither Konerko nor Dunn provide you with those things. In my mind, it's impossible to justify keeping both of them around when neither of them is going to play every day.

For now, we are in a holding pattern.Will Konerko take a reduced role with the Sox? Will another team offer him a full-time job at first base? Will he just retire? We'll see.

Four 'untouchables'

In other news, rival executives say Hahn is willing to trade anyone except these four players: Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Abreu and Avisail Garcia.

I agree with three of the four, but I'm a little surprised to see Quintana's name on that list. Not that I don't like Quintana. He's a tough kid, a good competitor, an above-average pitcher in the American League. As an added bonus, he's left-handed. I'm just not sure his skill set ascends him to the level of "untouchable," especially since the Sox have so many other holes to fill.

I would never trade Sale, because I think he's a special talent that only comes along every so often. As effective as Quintana is, he's not in that class. If Hahn could fill two or three other holes by trading Quintana, wouldn't he have to consider that?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

White Sox decline to make qualifying offers to Paul Konerko, Gavin Floyd

The White Sox on Monday declined to give qualifying contract offers to first baseman Paul Konerko and pitcher Gavin Floyd.

I was a little bit surprised to see the story splashed across the top of the Chicago Tribune sports section on Monday morning. I think the decision on this was pretty obvious. It really wasn't big news.

Qualifying offers are for one year and $14.1 million. Why $14.1 million, you ask? Well, that's the average of the highest 125 contracts in baseball. That's how they arrive at that figure, and obviously, neither Konerko nor Floyd is worth that kind of money at this stage of their respective careers.

Konerko, 37, is mulling retirement after a lackluster 2013 campaign in which he batted just .244 with a career-low 12 home runs and 54 RBIs.

Floyd, 30, is recovering from Tommy John surgery after going 0-4 with a 5.18 ERA in just five starts in 2013. It has been assumed for months that Floyd has thrown his last pitch in a Sox uniform.

Both players are free agents and are now able to sign with any team. If they do, the White Sox will not receive draft pick compensation as the result of their decision not to extend a qualifying offer.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Paul Konerko's future: The speculation mounts

The White Sox have 45 games left in the 2013 season. The question is, are there 45 games remaining in Paul Konerko's fine career on the South Side of Chicago as well?

Nobody knows for sure, but the beat writers and columnists are starting to speculate. Gordon Beckham was asked Monday about filling the clubhouse leadership void if Konerko either retires or signs with another team this offseason. The Sox second baseman didn't want to address the possibility of Konerko's departure.

“If Paul wants to play, he’ll play,” Beckham said. “Obviously that’s a decision for him after the season. He’s got a lot more left in the tank, so I wouldn’t rule him out of playing next year. If he doesn’t, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But I think he’s got a while yet.”

But does he? One of the more painful things about being a baseball fan is watching a player who has been good for a long time struggle or hang on too long in the twilight of a brilliant career. Sox fans went through it in the early 1990s with Carlton Fisk. The Sox ended up releasing the future Hall of Famer in June of 1993 because the proud catcher couldn't admit to himself that he was done.

This season, we've seen a steep decline in Konerko's production. The lifetime .281 hitter is batting just .243. Over the course of Konerko's career, his 162-game averages have been 31 home runs and 100 RBIs. This season, he has but 9 home runs and 40 RBIs. His OPS is a career-worst .664, well below his career mark of .850.

Konerko, 37,  had wrist surgery last offseason and has spent time on the disabled list this year with back problems. Are the declining numbers the result of injuries, advancing age or both?

Nobody can say for sure, but I know this: I've never seen Paul Konerko take more defensive swings than I have this season. I've never seen Konerko get himself out by swinging at bad pitches more than I have this season. We're talking about a guy who has played 15 years with the White Sox. He's appeared in 2,148 games and made 8,887 plate appearances with this team. I've had the privilege of watching most of them. I feel like I know when Konerko is locked in, and I feel like I know when he's going bad. I'm that familiar with his approach.

And I'm afraid we've reached a point where it is no longer reasonable to expect Konerko to be a big-time run producer in the middle of the lineup. The bat speed isn't quite where it used to be. Konerko isn't trying to drive the ball in a lot of situations the way he did in the past. Often, he's just trying to slap a base hit into right field. There are certain times where that is good strategy, but this Sox team needed Konerko to produce more. He hasn't been able to do that, and I think that's evidence that Father Time is starting to knock loudly for the Sox captain.

So, what do you do if you're the Sox at season's end? We know Frank Thomas is the greatest hitter in team history. But Konerko is clearly in that next tier with Fisk, Harold Baines and Luke Appling, et al. There's no question No. 14 will one day be retired by the team. It's hard to say goodbye to a player like this, one of the best the franchise has seen.

On a personal level, I'm hoping Konerko hangs 'em up at season's end. He has nothing left to prove. He's won a World Series and been to six All-Star games. And that would be the easiest thing for me as a Sox fan. I don't want to see Konerko in another uniform, nor do I want to see him hang on as a shell of his former self.

His contract is up at the end of the year, and if he wants to play in 2014, I just can't see the Sox bringing him back. How big of a market is there for a soon-to-be-38-year-old singles hitter with no speed anyway?


Friday, July 5, 2013

White Sox call up Josh Phegley; Jordan Danks optioned

The White Sox made two roster moves before embarking on a brief three-game weekend road trip to Tampa Bay.

Catcher Josh Phegley, 25, has been called up from Triple-A Charlotte, while backup catcher Hector Gimenez was designated for assignment.

Phegley, the 38th overall pick in the 2009 draft, was hitting .316 with 15 home runs and 41 RBIs for the Knights. He was chosen to play in the July 14 Futures Game in New York and the July 17 Triple-A All-Star Game. Instead, he'll be the new starting catcher for the White Sox.

This move relegates Tyler Flowers (pictured) to the bench. The Sox had hoped Flowers would fill the shoes of veteran A.J. Pierzynski, who signed as a free agent with the Texas Rangers last offseason. Instead, Flowers has struggled both offensively and defensively. He is batting a measly .208 with eight home runs and 22 RBIs in 65 games. He also has seven passed balls and has thrown out just 25 percent of baserunners who have attempted to steal against him.

Flowers will probably play a little more frequently than Gimenez as a backup, but it's unlikely he'll be in the lineup anymore than twice a week moving forward. It is possible Phegley will see time at DH on days he's not catching, at least until veteran 1B/DH Paul Konerko comes off the disabled list after the All-Star break.

In a second move, outfielder Jordan Danks was optioned to Charlotte and outfielder Blake Tekotte was recalled. Tekotte, 26, was hitting .249 at Charlotte and is not considered a prospect anymore. Danks was 5-for-37 at the plate in limited playing time with the Sox. What would be the point of this move? The Chicago media asked manager Robin Ventura that question:

“We’re just making a different move,” Ventura said. “It’s nothing he’s done. We’ve got to go give him at-bats. It’s not easy sitting around and expecting to do well with one hit every two weeks. That’s the tough part of the game.”

In other words, the team is getting ready to trade right fielder Alex Rios. Somebody will have to play right field once that happens, and that somebody is Danks. So, he needs to go to Charlotte and chip the rust off his bat in preparation for the opportunity that awaits.

Is Danks part of the Sox future plans? I doubt it. He's a backup outfielder in my estimation. But sometimes you need placeholders while you're looking to acquire or develop somebody better.

Welcome to rebuilding, Sox fans. Ain't it fun? 

Friday, June 28, 2013

White Sox ready to make trades, report says

Jon Heyman does not know Alex Rios plays right field for the White Sox. I'll forgive him and give him a link anyway, because the rest of his article on CBSsports.com is worth discussion.

Heyman reports Sox GM Rick Hahn is open for business. The entire roster is on the trading block with the exception of two players: ace left-hander Chris Sale and franchise icon Paul Konerko.

Rival GMs say Hahn is taking "a reasonable approach" in terms of where the White Sox stand this year. In other words, Hahn knows his team is screwed, and he knows it is time for change.

The Sox are nine games out of first in the AL Central -- hardly an insurmountable deficit with over half a season to play -- but that 32-43 record doesn't lie. This team is bad. The Sox can't make routine plays in the field, as evidenced by their 55 errors and 34 unearned runs allowed through 75 games. Further, they can't hit, as evidenced by their .242 team batting average and .295 team OBP.

But that doesn't mean the Sox don't have some attractive pieces to trade. At the top of that list is Rios, who brings both power and speed (11 HRs, 13 SBs) and the ability to play anywhere in the outfield. Heyman lists the Yankees, Rangers, Giants and Royals as possible destinations for Rios. The Phillies could also enter the picture if they decide they are buyers.

Shortstop Alexei Ramirez is another player who could be on the move. Ramirez has been the primary culprit in the Sox defensive struggles. He has 13 errors on the season, including six in his last 13 games. Ramirez is a much better fielder than that, and his issues seem to be mental. Perhaps he's having trouble handling the trade rumors swirling around him. That's not something he's dealt with previously in his career. His power is way down; he hasn't homered since the second game of the season. But some team out there could use a .280-hitting shortstop with speed and a track record of playing good defense. The Dodgers and Mets are listed as possible destinations in Heyman's article. I would not rule out the Yankees, either.

Interestingly, Heyman says John Danks is drawing interest from other clubs. That's a little surprising given Danks' hefty contract, and the fact that he's less than a year removed from shoulder surgery. The starting pitcher most likely to be traded has to be Jake Peavy, who is on the DL right now with a broken rib. If he returns to the active roster before the July 31 deadline, he immediately becomes the best starting pitcher available on the market. (Sorry, Matt Garza)

The Sox also have three veteran relievers who are prime trade candidates. Jesse Crain, Matt Thornton and Matt Lindstrom all have manageable, expiring contracts. In other words, they are as good as gone. Hahn is fortunate Crain is having a career year (0.52 ERA, 46 Ks in 34.2 IP). His value might be at a high point, especially if some contending team (Detroit?) sees him as a possible closer.

Indeed, it is about to get interesting on the South Side, and that has nothing to do with the results on the field. The Sox have 87 games to play, and not a single one of them matters. All that is important right now is for Hahn to maximize his return on veteran assets. The process of putting together a better roster for 2014 starts right now.