Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010
Updated 11:33 PM
By Brett Ballantini
With rumors, whispers, and team sources ever swirling through the offseason, look to BBQ to provide a bit of a reality check. On Tuesday, the Chicago White Sox offered salary arbitration to Paul Konerko and J.J. Putz, while declining on A.J. Pierzynski and Manny Ramirez. Among the resultant speculation, its assumed Pierzynski will not suit up for the Chisox in 2011. Lets examine the deeper meaning of Tuesdays arbitration decisions:
Does offering arbitration to Konerko and Putz ensure that the White Sox will do everything to bring them back?
Not really. The offers are better than shipping both out COD, but provides little indication otherwise on whether the two will return to the fold. For a rival team willing to break the bank on an offer to the 34-year-old first sackerwho learned he finished fifth (and, inexplicably, was left off of one voters ballot entirely) in AL MVP voting on Tuesday the loss of two draft picks will hardly impede their fever for Konerko. In the case of Putz, the White Sox will receive zero compensation if the ace reliever is signed away, as he is a Type B free agent. For a setup man every bit as good as Joaquin Benoit (who last week the cash-burning Detroit Tigers inked for an astounding 16.5 million over three years), thats not good news for the White Sox.
But the White Sox want Paulie back, right?
Publicly, no one on the South Side will disavow Konerko and do anything less than clamor for his return. Privately, the brass knows there are better buys out there even if the one they should have made just signed with guess who, the Tigs, and for less money than the White Sox were said to offer. Expect desperation for a left-handed bat to strike the Chisox and for GM Ken Williams to go all-in to secure Adam Dunn as a greater likelihood than Konerko coming back. (Dunn and Edwin Jackson on the same team? Take that, Mike Rizzo, you moving target, you.)
So whats the deal, you hate Paulie or something?
Nope. Konerko himself pretty clearly indicated that he had at least one preferred destination in mind in his end-of-season, pre-free agency address to the media, and it wasnt the White Sox. And the fact is in spite 2006 and 2010 seasons worthy of MVP consideration, the middle years of Konerkos just-finished, five-year deal were underwhelming. With his fielding on the wane, theres little reason to believe the Captain will ever match his outstanding 2010. Now recognized as the fifth-most valuable player in the league last season, Konerko quite reasonably wont be looking for a salary cut at least a terribly drastic one and the White Sox dont have excess money to spend, at least not on an aging first sacker. Not to go all Grinch on you, but the numbers simply dont add up for Konerkos return.
The White Sox offered Paul Konerko salary arbitration but declined to do so for A.J. Pierzynski. What does that mean for their futures on the South Side? (AP)OK, thats officially depressing. Will Putz or Pierzynski come back, at least?
Its not a stretch to say the free agent the White Sox most want to re-sign is Putz. He had a phenomenal 2010, and there are numerous reasons why Putz would be eager to return: his BFF Matt Thornton hurls out of the same bullpen; the central location of Chicago makes for less travel for the family-oriented fireballer; and the White Sox and pitching coach Don Cooper took extreme measures to preserve Putzs health by not overworking him until well into the 2010 season.
So, Putz is back?
Not so fast. Putz compares favorably to the new Bengal, Benoit, especially when you consider his short-relief track record as one of the strongest closers in baseball in 2006 and 2007. While Putz has maintained that closing games is not a crucial consideration for him as he approaches 2011, the free agent closer market is thin enough that someone might offer him crazy (6 million, as Benoit received) money to throw common sense to the wind and take the leap.
But overall, there are more reasons for Putz to come back than not. An incentive-laden deal (say, if Putz is pressed into closing and comes through this season, as opposed to his .429 save percentage in 2010) of three years and 13.5 million, with a mutual option for a fourth year, should get it done.
If Putz bolts, does it mean Bad Bobby Jenks is back in the fold?
Youre a big A.J. booster, so what do his future Sox prospects look like?
They certainly dont look optimistic. Pierzynski has given no indication hes had any talks with the White Sox, so the notion that the team is declining to offer him arbitration as some sort of verge-of-contract formality or mechanism to avoid being locked into an arbitrators decision is a stretch. The White Sox could be hoping Pierzynski is left with little choice but to crawl back for two or three million a year, but thats a game of chicken the South Siders will lose especially in a world where the shallow-pocketed Florida Marlins throw 16.5 million at the .722 career OPS bat and 26 percent career caught stealing arm of John Buck.
A.J.s gone, too?
It seems so. In spite of my Pierzynski boosterism, it took the wizened eye of J. Jonas Stankevitz to remind me that on defense Pierzynski yawned his way through the latter half of the season (and undoubtedly a loud chorus of dissatisfied Sox faithful is willing to point out it has always been so).
Sure, declining to offer Pierzynski arbitration theoretically frees the White Sox up to sign the veteran at a discount rate, but theres a sense the White Sox are going to take an even cheaper route with their catching in 2011. A pairing of Ramon Castro and Tyler Flowers, or Miguel Olivo and Castro, seems more likely than a repeat of A.J.-Castro.
Dude, didnt you lobby for Pierzynski as team captain in 2011?
Ive covered the White Sox on the beat for half a year, and written for the team another six and Ive been a fan my entire life. There may be no cheering in the press box, but there may or may not have been a bit of cussing hurled forth from my seat when Delmon Young popped Pierzynski in the chops last August, or when a parade of Pale Hose pitchers politely declined to retaliate after the fact. So yes, on a team run by feistmeisters like Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen yet is curiously void of vocal grinders, Pierzynski occupies a special place in my heart.
Should that earn him a raise on last years generous salary, for the sake of 2005 heroism, fan favoritism, or Punch A.J. nostalgia? Hell no.
Wherefore art Manny Ramirez in the grand scheme of things?
Running for the (northern) border? Ramirez has been linked to the Toronto Blue Jays, if not any number of experimental anti-aging solutions after the flatulent, pinstriped end to his 2010 season. Its still mystifying that the cash-strapped Chisox happily smooched away 4 million for a month of Manny being Manny, but moreso that Williams and Guillen (hardscrabble grinders both) were insistent that Ramirez, maintaining full headdress, was a force for good on the flagging White Sox. (Truth: The most productive words I saw Manny sharing in the clubhouse were comically-loud exhortations whenever female reporters happened by: Hey guuuuuuurls!) Yick, yuck and aaughpor favor, no mas Manny.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.