Ruminations on supposedly saving Paul Konerko a roster spot

Ronald Martinez

Perhaps the front office is posturing in order to afford the White Sox legend a more graceful exit. If not...

So it turns out that the White Sox checked in with Paul Konerko before the general managers meetings after all. They didn't give any indication it happened last weekend, which seemed strange, because it's one of the few decisions they could make before the open market opened up.

Then again. it's never that simple, huh? Rick Hahn described where things stand, and it may not be resolved anytime soon:

"At this time, he's still going through his process of deliberating about what he wants to do next year," Hahn said. "All along we've wanted Paulie to get to the point where he was confident that he wanted to play next year and if it were with us, he was comfortable with what that role potentially would be. It's a matter of everyone's comfort level and him getting convinced that that's what he wants to do."

I'm allowing the possibility that the Sox are giving Konerko the luxury of the illusion of control. Maybe they have already decided that it's a logical time to part ways, but by phrasing it this way, they'll afford Konerko the option of calling it to the public himself. That seems like an unnecessary extension and opens the possibility of goodwill backfiring, but the Sox are sentimentalists. Here's hoping this merely keeps good vibes afloat into an appreciative goodbye with a page in the paper and a Paul Konerko Day on the 14th day of some month in 2014.

(Hahn did set something of a precedent at the trade deadline. While trying to build a market for Jake Peavy, he reportedly told other teams he could keep Peavy and retool a contender around him. Everybody knew that made no sense, but he did end up finding a trade to his liking.)

But if we take Hahn's words at face value, then it's highly problematic, because saving a spot for Konerko takes the teeth out of previous and future calls to action. If the Sox were truly embarrassed about the events of 2013, and if Hahn is leaving the door open for an overhaul .... why would they want to retain a player whose lack of production was among the biggest reasons the Sox lost 99 games last year?

And there is no baseball reason to save Konerko a spot in November. There are potential baseball reasons to kick the proverbial tires in February -- a sudden injury, or you still need a platoon bat for DH or first base after exhausting all younger and external options. When the options are that limited, sure, maybe roll the dice with a guy who hit 400 homers for you.

As it stands, Konerko is redundant two times over, and saving a spot for him would only limit their options. If the Sox and Konerko were to announce a one-year, $1 million contract on Thursday, that would necessitate the removal of a better player -- either Adam Dunn or Conor Gillaspie at the moment, with potential trading partners knowing the Sox have handcuffed themselves.

And for what? Konerko's generally accepted importance in the clubhouse is the easy answer, but there needs to be something tangible when there's no evidence that intangibles make a difference. Konerko and his captain's "C" presided over the team as they tripped over themselves into a 99-loss season that supposedly embarrassed everybody involved in the baseball operations, so ... what am I missing? Maybe it was an extremely classy 99 losses, but at that point, you're grasping at straws if you want to try drawing lines between degrees of "disastrous."

I wonder if I'm looking at this differently from Hahn (at least his words at face value) and some of the media contingent because I watched the games on TV last year. If you're watching with no rooting interest from the press box, an out is an out.

But from the center-field cam last year, Konerko often carried himself like a Category 5 Mope. When I consider the possibility of Konerko returning, the first thing that comes to mind isn't a legitimate challenge of the franchise home run record, but this:

That's sad. I'm not saying that figuratively or judgmentally sad, but observationally sad. He looked like a self-loathing baseball player on a pitiful baseball team. His mannerisms on the field could be described as "giving in," and the numbers -- which resulted in a WAR valuation calling Konerko the league's worst qualifying position player -- back up the body language.

Moreover, the post I pulled that GIF from was back on May 20. In the comments, Secret Chimp posted a link to this Rotographs article analyzing the quality of Konerko's contact on balls hit in the air:

One spot below Moustakas is Paul Konerko. Thanks to a 13% increase in FB%, Konerko owns the 2nd highest FB% in the league so far (min. 80 BIP). He’s actually hitting line drives more than he did last year and more than he has in his career, but he’s hitting significantly fewer balls on the ground. The extra fly balls have certainly contributed to his .238 BABIP and .215 average. But his career-high 18.8% K% isn’t helping either. And thanks to a below average batted ball distance, Konerko’s HR/FB is just 7.7%. If you were looking at that .238 BABIP and considering buying low, you shouldn’t. Turn out the lights; the party’s over.

That article was posted on May 17, and the author was correct to write him off, even with four-plus months left to go.

  • Before May 17: .217/.276/.341
  • After May 17: .255/.329/.362

Everything about this screams "WALK AWAY," and that's why I'm holding out hope that Hahn is merely throwing Konerko a bone to set up a more dignified announcement. It doesn't make any sense otherwise -- not desirable for a decision-maker nor enjoyable for a consumer. It's only appealing if you're terrified of the unknown, but it should be a lot easier to proceed without a captain when his last ship was so utterly rudderless.

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