Captain Konerko returns to the fold

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Captain Konerko returns to the fold

Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
Posted 9:54 AM Updated 3:53 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. - Even downspirited Tuesday after a long day of talking loud and saying nothing, Chicago White Sox general manager Ken Williams was clear with one goal: "I want the man back."

'The man' in question was 12-year Pale Hose first sacker Paul Konerko, and indeed the fan favorite did end up coming back, inking a three-year, 37.5 million dollar deal that will stretch his storied White Sox tenure to 15 seasons.

"When I talk about Paul Konerko, I first have to talk about the first-class person that he is," a beaming Williams said from the main podium at the Winter Meetings. "Believe me, that factors into our equation. It's one of the things that Craig Landis, his agent and representative, and I talk about all the time, the type of person this guy is, not just on the field but in the clubhouse, on the team bus and the hotel."

"Definitely, to come back was always first in my mind," Konerko said. "Having said that, I began a yearlong preparation for the fact that it might not happen that way. It was my goal at the end of the last contract to come back and get 10 years-plus with one team, and I thought that was really cool - not to mention having a chance to win while you're doing it. Now to sit here and say it's going to be 15, that's a nice round number."

It wasn't always looking like Konerko would stay in Chicago long enough to see 15 on the South Side.

"We were very, very close to going in a different direction, and I'm sure they were, as well," Williams said. "We had a consistent dialogue throughout the meetings, but I wouldn't say things really started to come together until after I left our press conference at 5 p.m. yesterday - and things just finished up over dinner.

"But Craig probably should have waited a little longer. He might have gotten a little bit more money because assistant GM Rick Hahn and I started to tip a few back after a while," Williams continued, laughing.

On the other hand, Konerko was openly courted by several teams, including his hometown Arizona Diamondbacks.

"Arizona definitely was a possibility, something that was intriguing to me," Konerko admitted. "It was a great option to have, but it didn't work out going that way. But I was thrilled that they were interested in me."

We knew of Arizona's interest," Williams said. "When you hit .300 and 39 home runs and drive in how many, I would anticipate there is going to be some interest in you. And if that were ultimately his choice and he decided to stay home, and took even less money to stay home, I would not have begrudged him one bit. I would be saying the same positive things about who he is and what he's all about that I am today."

Konerko hadn't intended on stretching the Chisox over a barrel, but the strange nature of his second shot at a significant free agent contract caught him off-guard.

"This whole free agent process was a lot different than the last time I went through this," he said. "Last time 2005, we were in contact with the White Sox from early November, and other teams as well. This time, in the last four or five days, that's where everything came in. It became more of a mad rush. It heated up much later but much faster, and it's one of those things that if yesterday was a bad day as far as the White Sox were concerned, I'm probably not wearing the uniform this season."

Konerko recounted being on a beach in Mexico last week and getting word that the White Sox had signed slugger Adam Dunn and immediately thinking, "OK, that was a fun 12 years. It's either me or him."

But GM Ken Williams had stated consistently over the past two months that getting Konerko back on the South Side was his top priority, something that wasn't lost on Konerko.

"I remembered Kenny telling me at the end of the year, "If we go after this next year, we want to win it. I don't want you or Adam. I want both of you.'"

Williams not only bagged both big sticks, but at a nice price, 26 million next season and up from there. Konerko gets 12 million in both 2011 and 2012, 6.5 million in 2013, and 1 million per season after that, until 2020.

Despite buzzing after a flurry of activity in the space of a week - the rush of the Dunn signing, A.J Pierzynski's quick, accommodating re-up, and Konerko's return - Williams was not altogether surprised at how perfectly the Winter Meetings concluded for his team.

In spite of his weary eyes and clearly a desperate need for sleep, Williams will immediately tackle what little is left on the board for his club in terms of personnel, as well as the elephant in the room - the prohibitive pricetag of the franchise's biggest payroll of all time.

"Next on the agenda is figuring out a way to pay for all of this," Williams said, laughing. "We certainly ramped it up here recently and have been very aggressive. We've got some work cut out for us, and we are at a point where we have to get a little creative, because we are about tapped out right now. So we either need to get creative or we need to get a flood at the ticket counter pretty quickly."

Those are concerns for the pencil-pushers, true. For now, and once again: In the end, Williams has succeeded in turning his dreams into action: "You set your sights on your targets and what you want to do, develop your plans, and go full steam ahead toward them."

And part of those plans, for another three years, is the White Sox's folk hero of a first baseman.

"We are just thrilled to have not only the player, but the person," Williams said. "Hopefully, we can one day have him retire as a White Sox."
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

What White Sox 'fireman' Anthony Swarzak has done to increase trade value

What White Sox 'fireman' Anthony Swarzak has done to increase trade value

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Anthony Swarzak held a high-leverage audition for a potential contender on Sunday long before the Kansas City Royals walked off the White Sox.

The nonroster invitee to big league camp continued a stellar campaign as he took over in a critical spot midgame and helped the White Sox escape with the lead. The White Sox bullpen ultimately relinquished the lead and Brandon Moss sent them to their ninth straight loss — Kansas City won 5-4 — with an RBI double in the ninth inning.

But Swarzak continues to thrive in the opportunities handed to him and could make for an interesting trade chip before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.

“He’s been excellent,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s become for us, with (Nate Jones) going down and (Jake Petricka) going down he’s actually become a fireman. He’s come in in some of the highest-leverage situations we could possibly get. And then we use him for multiple innings.”

A free agent after the season, Swarzak has 50 strikeouts and a 2.30 ERA in 47 innings for the White Sox this season. He also has only allowed nine of 33 inherited runners to score (27.2 percent), including two on Sunday. The American League average for inherited runners scoring entering Sunday was 30 percent, according to baseball-reference.com.

All this has come in a season where Swarzak went to camp with the White Sox with no certainty of making the 25-man roster. The right-hander not only thrived in camp, he came out strong in April with 19 2/3 scoreless innings to start the season. Combined with early injuries to Jones and Zach Putnam, Swarzak’s performance helped him climb the totem pole in the White Sox bullpen from the outset. His stature has grown even more of late with the injury to Petricka as well as the trades of Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson.

“As far personal expectations, I’m right where I want to be,” Swarzak said. “More to accomplish for this year, absolutely. But I like what I’ve done so far and I like the opportunity that I have to accomplish even more.

“That’s the situation we all work so hard. That’s the situation we want and it’s why we all work so hard in the offseason in general is for situations like that.”

Swarzak took over for starter Derek Holland in the fifth inning with the White Sox ahead 4-3 and runners on the corners. He threw three straight sliders to Jorge Bonifacio and struck him out to strand the pair.

“It was huge, what he did coming in right there,” Holland said.

As significant as it was, it only held off the Royals for the time being. And as much as Swarzak has enjoyed things on a personal level, it isn’t making what the thinned-out White Sox roster is experiencing any easier to handle.

“Everything going on around here right now is pretty hard to swallow,” Swarzak said. “We’re going out there losing 8-0, 6-0, we’re up 6-0 and we end up losing. We lost a 1-0 game against the Dodgers and the next night we lose 10-1. We’re kind of losing all types of ways right now, which is really hard to swallow because as a bullpen guy we take pride in holding the lead and right now it seems like we’re not getting it done at all, any aspect of it, as a group.”

With eight more shopping days left before the deadline, chances are high that Swarzak may not be part of the current group much longer. He has already seen the departures of Robertson and Kahnle and knows his impending free agency could result in a trade elsewhere. But the veteran reliever is doing his best to keep his focus on the mound.

“It all comes back to quality pitches and getting guys out,” Swarzak said. “If you’re getting guys out, you’re going to get some attention from the league and if you’re not they’re going to close the book on you. It’s very straight forward for a pitcher, for a major league baseball player in general: Do better. Get it done and you’re going to play for a long time and you’re going to have the success that goes along with getting it done. That’s really all I’m worried about is continuing to make good pitches and hopefully get the results I’m looking for.”

White Sox: The big-picture reasoning behind Rick Renteria and bunting

White Sox: The big-picture reasoning behind Rick Renteria and bunting

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Rick Renteria wants his players to be able to execute a bunt regardless of how much it drives White Sox fans crazy.

The White Sox manager wants to win now, but he’s also looking at the big picture.

Even though he knows how much a team’s chance of scoring decreases when an out is surrendered via the sacrifice bunt, Renteria is using the opportunity to see what abilities his players have. He wants to know what they can do.

Renteria is well aware that his calls for sacrifice bunts aren’t popular with fans (see: Twitter’s reaction to Yoan Moncada’s bunt tries on Saturday). But he also thinks there’s no better time to work on bunts than during a game. So as much fury as it brings, Renteria will continue to ask his players to work on a skill he’d like to see remain part of the game.

“Listen, (Moncada’s) a plus runner,” Renteria said. “He’s going to be able to use that as a part of his arsenal. I see a whole lot of home run hitters dropping bunts right now against shifts and things of that nature. I don’t think that art should disappear. We’re in the era of quote-unquote the long ball, but like I’ve said, sometimes you need to do certain things to kind of put your club in a better position.

"If you think that’s one of the things that’s available to you, you use it. I don’t think you’re necessarily giving it up in terms of an out, because when you’ve got guys who can run anything is possible. You end up loading the bases possibly. I know our guys are very cognizant of just playing the game. If they feel like they want to get two guys in scoring position on their own, they do it. It’s not something I want to take away from them. I think they read the defenses. Sometimes we talk about other ways of dealing with the defenses, but I think they’re understanding that we’re going to want that to be a part of all their abilities.”

As for the team’s execution, Renteria isn’t satisfied with the results. That means you can expect to see more bunts the rest of the way.

“It’s still a work-in-progress,” Renteria said. “I think that would be a falsehood to say we’re at the point where I go, I’m very, very happy with the way we lay down bunts. It’s still a work-in-progress, something that we’re going to continue to emphasize. Something we’re going to continue to work on. And then again, the only opportunities you get in real time are games, and that’s when you need ‘em.”