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Building a Champion: Paul Konerko

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When Kenny Williams took over as White Sox GM in 2001, the Sox has just come off a magical 2000 season winning the AL Central with the best record in baseball. He inherited a farm system that BA ranked as the best in the game. It looked like the Sox were primed for a long run.

That was not the case, however. The pitching staff was in shambles, the farm system was overrated, and the Sox finished behind the Twins for the next 4 seasons.

I thought I would take a look at how Kenny took what appeared to be a perennial division winner in 2000 and turned it into a World Series Champion 5 years later. This will be part of a series.

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Konerko was drafted as a catcher in the first round of the 1994 draft by the LA Dodgers. At the time, the Dodgers had one of the most impressive farm systems in baseball. They had produced a run of Rookie of the Year winners. Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo, and Todd Hollandsworth all won the award in consecutive seasons. Their early success made little room for Konerko, and highlighted his ineffectiveness early in his career.

Konerko showed an impressive bat in the minors. His bat was far more advanced than his defense, however, and required a position change to get him in the lineup. The Dodger tried him at 3B and LF in addition to his eventual position of 1B. Ultimately, the Dodgers had to decide between Konerko or Adrian Beltre at 3B, choosing Beltre. -- I can't fault them for choosing Beltre, knowing Konerko's speed and defense would have been a liability at the hot corner, but they were far too down on Konerko. They traded him in July of '98, after hitting just .215/.272/.306 in 49 games, to the Reds for veteran reliever Jeff Shaw.

The Reds were similarly impatient with Konerko, also trying him at 1B, 3B, and LF. Sean Casey (.272/.365/.417 in '98), also a rookie, was the incumbent 1B. Konerko got just 73 ABs with the Reds, batting .219/.284/.384. In the off-season, they traded Konerko to the White Sox for the services of Mike Cameron. -- I would say that was a good deal for both clubs. The Reds got Cameron and a replacement for Shaw in Dennys Reyes. Cameron would later be included in the deal for Ken Griffey Jr.

The White Sox inserted Konerko into the lineup right away as the starting 1B. He proved that he was indeed worthy of his elite prospect status by posting a .294/.352/.511 line in his age 23 season. He was the White Sox starting first baseman for the Division winner in 2000, going hitless in the 2000 playoff sweep. He is the only starter from the 2000 who made a significant contribution to the 2005 team.

Williams can't be given a ton of credit for Konerko, though he was the Sox #3 man in the front office and had a considerable amount of input in scouting/player personnel decisions at the time, so perhaps I'm discounting his actions a little much simply because he didn't carry the GM tag at the time. What Williams did do was project Konerko as a future start, locking him up beyond MLBs 6-year reserve clause. It appeared as if that contract was going to haunt Williams when Konerko posted a .234/.305/.399 with 2 years and $16+M left on his contract, but Konerko rebounded with back-to-back 40 HR, 100 RBI seasons.

Today, Konerko filed for free agency. He'll be due a substantial (possibly two fold) raise. He is the face of the current franchise. Kenny Williams has until November 10th to exclusively negotiate with Konerko, after that, all teams can negotiate with him.

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2005 Highlights: Game 2 - Back-to-back with JD | Snaring the Division Winner |

2005 Playoff Highlights: World Series - Grand Slam | ALCS MVP | The dagger in Boston