Wednesday, December 8, 2010

White Sox Bring Back Paul Konerko

It had been apparent throughout the off season that the White Sox wanted to retain their free agent first baseman Paul Konerko. General Manager Kenny Williams wasn't shy about this, nor was team Owner and President Jerry Reinsdorf, with whom Konerko is said to share a very good relationship. Even so, everyone knew that payroll was going to be tight and that the team had other holes to fill. But today, with the other holes having been filled - notably at DH with the acquisition of Adam Dunn - the Sox resigned Konerko.

Good relationship with management and ownership aside, this wasn't an easy sign and Kenny himself said that this nearly didn't happen. Williams has put his club in a tough fiscal position with a number of expensive contracts on the books for a lot of questionable players, be it Alex Rios, Jake Peavy, Mark Teahan, or until recently, Scott Linebrink. Even with back-loading the contracts recently given out to Dunn and AJ Pierzynski, non-tendering long-time closer Bobby Jenks, and trading off 2m of Linebrink's 2011 salary to the Braves - my payroll estimate still put the Sox at 112.2m - already a team record. So to bring back Konerko the team needed some help from ownership, and they obliged in the form of a three year, $37.5m deal that will pay Konerko 12m in 2011 and 2012, and 13.5m in 2013.

In Konerko, the White Sox have signed more than just a very good hitter, they secured a player who should wind up in their teams Hall-of-Fame after spending the past 11 seasons in white and black. Aside from that however, this is a risky signing. The Sox are now committed for the next three seasons to a player in Dunn who should be kept as far away from a defensive position as possible, and another in Konerko who has generally ranked around league average at first, but whom all three of the major advanced defensive metrics rated his 2010 very poorly. His +/- was -17, his defensive runs saved (DRS) was -18, and his UZR/150 was -14.7.

It's perfectly possible that this was an aberration - defensive metrics can be hit-and-miss sometimes - but it's equally possible that Konerko has begun that defensive slide that all players eventually do. Given that he was 34 last year, that would hardly be surprising. If so, the White Sox will be carrying two players who are both better suited for DH roles, and they'll be ding so for the next three years. That's not a particularly heart-warming prospect.

It's also unlikely that Konerko's offense of 2010 will be replicated. That's partly because he's past his prime, and partly because, well, he'd never been THAT good before. If Konerko hasn't found the fountain of youth as I expect, it's far more likely that he'll perform closer to his 2009 and 2007 seasons where he posted OPS marks of .841 and .842. If we assume that his defensive decline is a fluke and he continues to perform offensively at past levels, lets say an .850 OPS, that would make Konerko a consistent 2.5 WAR sort of player.

Of course, that assumes a lot of things that are, in general, really difficult to project for an aging player. That said, we have a lot of history to look at to suggest that Konerko should be capable, at least offensively, of providing consistent production for the life of his deal. So for 37.5m dollars, the White Sox have not only locked up a solid everyday bat, they've locked up someone who, along with starter Mark Buehrle, has been the face of the Franchise for the past decade. And yes (as much as it pains me to admit it), there is some value in that which can't be measured purely by a players production statistics.

Kenny Williams still has some work to do - namely, trying to figure out who the four guys in his bullpen not named Matt Thornton and Sergio Santos are going to be. But, with some considerable help from ownership, he's accomplished his biggest goal - fortifying his lineup and bringing back a fan favorite and White Sox icon.

No comments:

Post a Comment