Friday, Dec. 3, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
Its one thing for Chicago White Sox GM Ken Williams to bring in Adam Dunn with a full cannonball splash after laying the weeds for a full two months since a late-season session of hand-wringing over an anticipated thin budget.
Its entirely another to have Dunns four-year, 56 million-dollar deal be just the tip of the iceberg.
But thats just what Williams promised on Friday, as the White Sox welcomed their new lefty slugger to the South Side in a celebratory news conference.
Things are rolling so fast on the South Side that the White Sox couldnt even find time to issue a press release announcing that A.J. Pierzynski had re-signed with the club before the Dunn extravaganza began.
But this day was devoted to Dunn, and the press conference broke out in jovial fashion as manager Ozzie Guillen called, I get to ask the first question, prompting Williams to broker an on-the-fly introduction from the podium, Adam Dunn, meet Ozzie Guillen. Dunn and Williams also both quickly agreed that Dunn looks good in black.
Dunn explained in spite of the White Sox being his first choice in free agency (I wanted to sign right after the season ended), the deal that brought him here happened fairly quickly and adding for me in a humorous allusion to his storied lack of foot speed.
I love the city, my wife loves the city, Dunn said. The team is already proven, and Im joining a team that doesnt just want to win, but win a World Series. This is like an early Christmas gift. Its gonna be a great fit.
Although self-effacing when it comes to his foot speed, Dunn proved himself a dancing bear when it came to wit, complimenting his new managers beret and admitting, Im kind of a loud guy, too, so me and Ozzie will get along. I actually dont have a lot of Ozzie stories or have heard many. I want to make my own.
Where Dunn plays is also a sensitive subject, but one that Dunn pushed aside. The longtime outfielder just switched to first base in 2010, where he proved a patient and eager pupil of teammate Ryan Zimmerman.
Williams admitted he was straight up with Dunn, promising only that he might play first base once or twice a week and if I lose you because of that honesty, so be it. Id want it to be for an honest reason and not lie about his position to him.
That honesty was not lost on Dunn: He's great. You dont meet a lot of people who are straight shooters. Moreover, on the topic, Dunn was succinct and earnest: I dont care where I play. Id catch, but I see A.J. signed, so forget that.
What Dunn is most eager to do what he was brought to the South Side to do is slug.
While Dunns otherworldly power numbers say a lot of things, the new acquisition ascribes it to a couple of simple things. One, being healthy a lot of people have success, but cant stay healthy. Ive never had any major injury.
Natch, Williams made sure to follow that pronouncement with a sound knock on the wooden press conference table.
Consistency with getting on base, the power and driving in big runs, all of that impresses me about Dunn, Williams said. Hes done it consistently for eight years. We need that offensively, period but to get it from the left side is a bonus.
Second, the slugger takes a straightforward and simple approach: Youve still gotta see it and hit it.
False modesty? Perhaps. Dunn had 38 homers and 103 RBI for the Washington Nationals in 2010, with a career-best 36 doubles and a .917 OPS. He also saw action in 158 games, his seventh straight season of 150 or more.
For his career, Dunn has 354 home runs, 880 RBI, 865 runs and a .902 OPS in 1,448 games. He snapped a five-season streak of at least 40 home runs, but those five seasons are something only Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Ralph Kiner, Alex Rodriguez, Babe Ruth, Duke Snider and Sammy Sosa had previously accomplished.
The 31-year-old has a career isolated power (batting average subtracted from slugging average) of a riotous .271. Bill James projects 39 homers and an .884 OPS for Dunn in 2011, but you can bet your fanny such projections will nudge skyward with the prospect of Dunn treating U.S. Cellular Field as his own personal bandbox.
Still, Dunn honestly had little idea the treat hes in for, playing in the heaven for flyball hitters that is U.S. Cellular Field.
This is actually the first time Ive ever been at this ballpark, Dunn said. When I asked other guys about it, they just start laughing, because this is one of the better hitting parks in all of baseball.
Williams focused on re-signing Konerko
Nearly concurrent with the Dunn announcement came two additional moves, the Pierzynski signing and a trade of beleaguered reliever Scott Linebrink to the Atlanta Braves, a move that is reportedly costing the White Sox no more than half of the pitchers 5.5 million salary.
Such payroll savings are essential for Williams and the White Sox right now, but the GM was positively thrilled that both Dunn and Pierzynski were willing to backload their contracts in order to accommodate a pending offer to Paul Konerko.
Adam moved a little of his first year salary back so we could put a better offer out there for Paul, and AJ did the same thing, he said. Thats really something. These guys want to play here and play together, and when it was suggested that moving some salary could help with that, they were all-in. What else can you ask for but people wanting that badly to play here.
As for Pierzynski, who signed a two-year, 8 million deal that will pay out 6 million of his salary due in 2012, Williams noted that the veteran catcher was in dialogue all day Thursday with assistant GM Rick Hahn. A.J. ultimately said, Whats it gonna take to get something done? and as soon as that, we were done.
Dunns contract calls for 12 million in 2011, 14 million in 2012, and 15 million in both 2013 and 2014.
Thus room remains to add the remaining big gun missing in the prospective 2011 lineup, Konerko, who finished fifth in AL MVP voting this past season.
I would love to play with Paul and dont think anyone on this team wants to enter next season without him, Dunn said. I dont think I need to call him and tell him that.
In an uncanny parallel, the last time Konerko was a free agent and Williams made an aggressive acquisition, it was another lefty slugger, Jim Thome. When informed that in fact Thome made a number of calls to Konerko, begging him to return because it would be so fun to hit in the same lineup and that the lobbying worked, Konerko acknowledging it was a big part of his return to the White Sox, Dunn changed his tune.
That actually worked? he asked. Well then, somebody give me his number, Im calling.
While Dunns fingers do the walking and his redwood legs try to outrun the impending snowfall in Chicago, its been an exhausting, whirlwind 24 hours for Williams but ones he wouldnt trade away for any amount.
Very few people who will spend as much before Christmas, Williams joked. But I love this time of year. Youre optimistic youll be competing toward a championship.
While the Linebrink deal is a clear salary dump, Williams said while the deal was made because I needed to find a couple million dollars, there were no such other deals in the offing: We dont have to get rid of salary unless its a good baseball deal.
Williams noted that he was due to talk with Konerko on Monday down at the Winter Meetings in Orlando, and that a contract extension for Alexei Ramirez was in the offing, but way down the line after all the other junk we have to sort through, not until Spring Training.
On a day when the White Sox could celebrate their biggest true free agent acquisition in years, Williams was giddy, but looking to reload and look for more deals.
When you fire as many bullets as we do, youre going to miss your target sometimes, he said. It doesnt mean youre going to stop shooting.
In the GMs sights: Konerko and some bullpen reinforcements. His chances of hitting his targets next week, considering the roll hes on these days: immaculate.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.