Konerko realistic, but not conceding anything

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Konerko realistic, but not conceding anything

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When the doors to the White Sox clubhouse opened to the media Tuesday morning, every single reporter and camera went straight to Paul Konerkos locker, waiting to hear what wisdom the intelligent, thought-provoking captain would share about the 2012 season.

He did not disappoint.

Konerko offered his opinions about the franchise, the direction its going, the loss of Mark Buehrle and the distractions of 2011 -- saying more on that subject than anyone has publicly verbalized.

With the White Sox entering the first year of a rebuilding phase, Konerko says he knew it was coming, when last season ended. Now seeing the moves that Williams made -- trading Sergio Santos and Carlos Quentin, not re-signing Buehrle -- he issued a message to White Sox fans that will certainly make news around Chicago.

I hope I dont throw anybody off with this, but this could be a very successful year without making the playoffs, said Konerko.

Its a statement that, coming from the long-time captain, certainly raised eyebrows.
For the last seven years, the team has had a playoffs-or-bust mentality. Now, theyve been forced to take a step back with their roster, with a blend of players for the present and future -- not always the greatest way to go about winning a title. Unfortunately, this happens to be where theyre at.

Asked to elaborate on the topic, Konerko verbalized the plan the White Sox have put in place.

Whats happening here is that theyre trying to build something a little more sustainable. My point is, if we go out and compete this year, and it doesnt happen, you see this with other teams in the league, they kind of pick up the next year with that momentum the year before and I think thats why it could be successful, Konerko said. Im not conceding anything. In todays game theres way too many teams, especially now with possibly another wildcard team theres all kind of different things that are available to make the playoffs and there seems to be more parity.

If we dont make the playoffs but we do it right, and we compete well, and you look up at the end of the year and Brent Morel has had a really good year and Gordon Beckham has had a good year, and Addison Reed, those are all good signs that its moving in the right direction, so that can be in my mind a success. But again, you dont concede anything because anything can happen.

Konerko is entering the second year of a three-year deal with the White Sox. When I asked him at SoxFest last month if 2013 might be his last in the majors, he said, No doubt it could be.

Knowing that, does he want to stay with a team that might not be ready to contend during the remainder of his contract? He does have a no-trade clause, but could waive it if given an opportunity to win another World Series.

But Konerko says he doesnt want to go anywhere.

Im happy I won a World Series. Ill always have that in my pocket. Id love to win another one, but if that doesnt happen thats cool too, Konerko said. I look at this stage of my career, that if it means Ive got to play a couple more years, 2-3 years just so I can lead here and hopefully get this organization, this team back on track, and then I leave, and those guys do the job then thats fine with me. I feel like thats what I owe the team.

Konerko and Buehrle had been teammates since 2000. Its a bond that goes way back.
Not having Buehrle in the clubhouse for the first time in 12 years was tough for Konerko to verbalize -- even for him.

Not seeing Marks locker...I dont know what to say about that. It doesnt seem right.

One of the reasons Buehrle isnt here is because so many things went wrong in 2011.
From Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham, and Alex Rios struggling to Jake Peavys health to the feud between Williams and Guillen -- it became a non-stop soap opera.

By the time September came around, instead of chasing the Tigers, the Sox were chasing their own tails. Players and coaches have repeatedly said that the off-field distractions did not affect their play. Tuesday, Konerko came out and said the opposite.

There was definitely some times, late in the year especially where there was probably games and days given away because of people worrying about things that were not related to the game of baseball, Konerko said. We were just giving away games. As a big league player, you should be more mentally tougher than to have that stuff bother you.

Now with a new season ahead, with a new mix of coaches, and the dust from the Williams-Guillen fight completely wiped clean, Konerko says, I dont see that being an issue.

As for the end of the finish line? Konerko knows hes getting close to it.

At this point, its kind of a sprint. I can see the end. Im trying to battle and get out there and leave it all out there.

If Konerko leads and his teammates follow. That might be the best plan of all.

The last White Sox rebuild: Bobby Howry remembers aftermath of '97 'White Flag' trade

The last White Sox rebuild: Bobby Howry remembers aftermath of '97 'White Flag' trade

Bobby Howry wasn't aware of the fact he was part of one of the more infamous transactions in White Sox history until a few years after it happened. 

In 1997, with the White Sox only 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Cleveland Indians, general manager Ron Schueler pulled the trigger on a massive trade that left many around Chicago — including some in the White Sox clubhouse — scratching their heads. Heading to the San Francisco Giants was the team's best starting pitcher (left-hander Wilson Alvarez), a reliable rotation piece (Doug Drabek) and a closer coming off a 1996 All-Star appearance (Roberto Hernandez). In return, the White Sox acquired six minor leaguers: right-handers Howry, Lorenzo Barcelo, Keith Foulke, left-hander Ken Vining, shortstop Mike Caruso and outfielder Brian Manning. Only Foulke had major league experience, and it wasn't exactly good (an 8.26 ERA in 44 2/3 innings). 

Howry was largely oblivious to the shocking nature of the trade that brought him from the Giants to White Sox until, before the 1999 season, he was featured in a commercial that referenced the "White Flag trade."

"I don't even know if I knew it was called that before then," Howry recalled last weekend at the Sheraton Grand Chicago at Cubs Convention. 

The trade was a stark signal that youth would be emphasized on 35th and Shields. Both Alvarez and Hernandez were set to become free agents after the 1997 season, and the 40-year-old Darwin wasn't a long-term piece, either. With youngsters like Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee rising through the farm system, the move was made with an eye on the future and maximizing the return on players who weren't going to be long-term pieces. 

Sound familiar? 

It's hardly a perfect comparison, but when the White Sox traded Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox in December for four minor leaguers — headlined by top-100 prospects in Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech — it was the first rebuilding blockbuster trade the organization had made since the 1997 White Flag deal. Shortly after trading their staff ace at the 2016 Winter Meetings, the White Sox shipped Adam Eaton — their best position player — to the Washington Nationals for a package of prospects featuring two more highly-regarded youngsters in Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. 

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And there still could be more moves on the horizon, too, for Rick Hahn's White Sox (Jose Quintana has been the subject of persistent rumors since the Winter Meetings). But for those looking for an optimistic outlook of the White Sox rebuilding plans, it's worth noting that the club's last youth movement, to an extent, was successful.

Only Howry (3.74 ERA over 294 games) and Foulke (2.87 ERA, 100 saves over 346 games) became significant long-term pieces for the White Sox from those six players brought over in 1997. And it wasn't like Schueler dealt away any of the franchise's cornerstones — like Frank Thomas, Albert Belle and Robin Ventura — but with future starters in Lee, Ordonez and Chris Singleton on their way the White Sox were able to go young. A swap of promising youthful players (Mike Cameron for Paul Konerko) proved to be successful a year and a half later. 

And with a couple of shrewd moves — namely, dealing Jamie Navarro and John Snyder to the Milwaukee Brewers for Cal Eldred and Jose Valentin — the "Kids Can Play" White Sox stormed to an American League Central title in 2000. 

"It was great," Howry said of developing with so many young players in the late 1999's and 2000. "You come in and you feel a lot more comfortable when you got a lot of young guys and you're all coming up together and building together. It's not like you're walking into a primarily veteran clubhouse where you're kind of having to duck and hide all the time. We had a great group of guys and we built together over a couple of years, and putting that together was a lot of fun."

What sparked things in 2000, Howry said, was that ferocious brawl with the Detroit Tigers on April 22 in which 11 players were ejected (the fight left Foulke needing five stitches and former Tigers catcher/first baseman Robert Fick doused in beer). 

"About the time we had that fight with Detroit, that big brawl, all of a sudden after then we just seemed to kind of come together and everything started to click and it took off," Howry said. 

The White Sox went 80-81 in 1998 and slipped to 75-86 in 1999, but their 95-67 record in 2000 was the best in the league — though it only amounted to a three-game sweep at the hands of the wild-card winning Seattle Mariners. 

Still, the White Flag trade had a happy ending two and a half years later. While with the White Sox, Howry didn't feel pressure to perform under the circumstances with which he arrived, which probably helped those young players grow together into eventual division champions. 

"I was 23 years old," Howry said. "At 23 years old, I didn't really — I was just like, okay, I'm still playing, I got a place to play. I didn't really put a whole lot of thought into three veteran guys for six minor leaguers." 

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins discusses staying at catcher

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins discusses staying at catcher

White Sox 2016 first round pick Zack Collins joins the podcast to talk about his future with the White Sox, when he hopes to make the big leagues and the doubters who question whether he can be a major league catcher.   He discusses comparisons with Kyle Schwarber, his impressions of Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, why his dad took him to a Linkin Park concert when he was 6 years old and much more.