The end may be approaching, but Konerko's career keeps ticking

989725.png

The end may be approaching, but Konerko's career keeps ticking

Paul Konerko isn't afraid to tell it like it is. There's little gray area in his words. What he sees, is what you get, which over the course of his career could fill a library of reporter notebooks.

The White Sox captain arrived at Sox Fest knowing that this could be his last as a player. It may not be the focus of his attention, but in the back of his mind, its there.

He knows the end is near.

When will the retire? Hes not sure yet. But with another year added to the back of his baseball card -- his 16th in the majors -- he says hes prepared to say good-bye.

"A couple years ago, I sat right here and I was ready for that to be the last year," Konerko told CSNChicago.com at the Palmer House Hilton, the site of Sox Fest.

He says he loved the approach of the 2012 White Sox.

"The concentration on the small things last year was as good as any team I've ever been on."

As for him, he admits that his hitting was a season-long struggle.

"I was lucky to do anything I did -- all year."

This is coming from a man who could possess a PhD in hitting. He's Dr. Konerko with a bat instead of a stethoscope. You can also call him Professor Konerko, the academic king of hitting. However, if you asked him to grade his performance from last season, he might give himself a D. Possibly even an F.

"I never felt that good from the get-go, so it was kind of one of those years where it was smoke and mirrors for most of it," Konerko admits. "Looking back on it, I feel like it could have been a disaster if I didn't grind through it probably as much as I can. I just didn't feel like I had it. You have years like that."

Konerko ended the season batting .298 with 26 HRs and 75 RBIs. Not great, but also not good for someone like Konerko, especially considering his red-hot start.

On May 27, he was leading the majors with a .399 batting average. He also had 11 HRs and 33 RBIs. Reporters started asking him about the chances of actually finishing the season batting .400.

But Konerko knew something that we didnt.

"Sometimes balls are falling for you. Things happen and the numbers say you're doing well and you just don't feel good. That happens too," he explains. "I'd say that's more of what was going on during the beginning of the season. I could tell by the way I was hitting. I could just tell."

So now we are left to ask the question: Was 2012 just a fluke year or was it the start of the final downward trend of Konerko's career?

"That's a good question. If I was listening to the interview, I'd say, well, that's called a trend of what's happening," Konerko says. "I understand that. That comes with the territory. I can't think like that."

Instead, Konerko, who turns 37 on March 5, can only think about the upcoming season. Nothing more, nothing less. Where's it all going? He doesn't have the answer. But he remembers how he felt after the 2009 season, another trying year at the plate when he thought about retirement for the first time.

"I wasn't that young then. It was a similar year where I felt okay but the game felt really hard to play all year. Then you come back for a couple years after that and feel like it's very easy to play, so you never really know where it's going to turn."

Here's what Konerko does know:

"I'm still good at this. This is what I do, and I still want to do it. That's another thing. Just because you can't do it anymore, doesn't mean that you don't want to play anymore. I think people should know that. Don't look at the numbers, that if things are going well in 2013, that necessarily means I would play after this season. And the reverse of that is true, too.

It has to start with you having a passion to get ready in the off-season. That commitment from early November all the way until spring training. If it was just playing a six-month season, guys would probably play longer if they could, because that's the fun part. Getting ready for a whole season is a huge commitment. If you say you're going to do it, you can't shortchange that."

Paul has seen many of his teammates from the 2005 World Series squad retire. Three of them -- Jermaine Dye, Joe Crede and Aaron Rowand -- were there at Sox Fest.

Dye says you just know deep down when its time to leave.

Konerko believes hell know too, but hes not there yet. Theres more baseball to be played. Still, he cant help but think about the next chapter in his life, whenever that day comes.

"It's tough not to," Konerko says. "This time in your career there can be some heavy thoughts about that kind of stuff, but at the end of the day my job is no different than it was 10 years ago. That's to go out and do well for the 2013 Chicago White Sox. That is the goal. That's what I'm going to do. If I do that, the other stuff will sort itself out. Whether it's the game and the team sorting me out, or me sorting the rest of it out. Who knows? I have no idea how that's going to go."

Baseball doesn't have a clock. Careers do.

But for now, Konerko is still ticking.

White Sox: Jose Abreu's five-week tear filled with hard contact, fewer strikeouts

White Sox: Jose Abreu's five-week tear filled with hard contact, fewer strikeouts

Jose Abreu has made quite a turnaround from being a guy who was admittedly lost to bashing the ball like Abreu of old.

From April 19th on, Abreu has hit at another level, reminiscent of the performances he put on throughout an eye-opening 2014 campaign in which he was the unanimous American League rookie of the year winner. Over that stretch, Abreu has slashed at an absurd .347/.404/.677 clip with nine doubles, one triple, 10 home runs and 22 RBIs in 136 plate appearances.

Earlier this week, Abreu said the run is the product of trusting his tireless preparation.

"I struggled in the first few weeks of the season but I kept working," Abreu said through an interpreter. "Now I'm at this point where I feel very good and confident with my offense and things are going well for me. That's part of what you work for and if you work hard, you know the results will be there at the end of the day."

Two numbers that have improved significantly during Abreu's five-week tear are his average exit velocity and strikeout rate.

Abreu entered Wednesday 39th in the the majors with an average exit velocity of 90.5 mph this season, according to Baseball Savant.

But Abreu wasn't hitting the ball nearly as hard early this season, which was littered with weak contact. Abreu stumbled out of the gate with a .157 average, one extra-base hit and only five RBIs in his first 54 plate appearances. Through the first two weeks, Abreu's average exit velocity was 89.0 mph on 31 batted-ball events, which was slightly down from last season's 89.6 mph average and significantly down from 2015, when he averaged 90.9 mph.

Since then, however, Abreu has seen a significant increase in hard contact. Over his last 92 batted-ball events, Abreu is averaging 92.6 mph, a total that would qualify for 15th in the majors this season. Included in that span is 35 balls hit 100 mph or more.

But Abreu's success isn't just related to how hard he has hit the ball. He's also made much better contact this season and is striking out less than ever. Abreu struck out 14 times in his first 54 plate appearances (25.9 percent). But since then, he has whiffed only 17 times in 136 plate appearances, good for a 12.5 percent strikeout rate.

His season K-rate of 16.3 percent, according to Fangraphs.com, is down from a career mark of 19.6 percent.

"You have started to see him heat up a little," manager Rick Renteria said earlier this week. "He's given us solid at-bats. He's in a good place right now."

Actually, it's a great place and one Abreu hasn't done with consistency since 2015. He once again looks like the hitting machine he was for most of his first two seasons and the final two months of 2016.

Abreu is on pace to hit 36 home runs this season, which would match his 2014 total. His current wRC+ of 138 is his highest since he finished 2014 at 167.

Last season, Abreu didn't hit his 10th home run until June 18. He hit his 11th homer on June 23 and then didn't hit another until August 4. That stretch raised myriad questions both inside the organization and externally about whether or not Abreu would return to prominence as a hitter. Perhaps inspired by the August arrival of his son, Dariel, Abreu finished 2016 with a flurry, hitting .340/.402/.572 with 14 home runs in his final 241 plate appearances.

General manager Rick Hahn said last September that the stretch was important for White Sox evaluators to see.

"It certainly makes you more confident as you see him over the last six weeks, projecting out that he's going to be that same player that he was for the first two years of his career," Hahn said. "Earlier, when he was scuffling, you looked at some of the things he was doing from his approach or some of the mechanical issues he might have been having and you felt confident he was going to be able to get back. But in all candor, you like seeing the performance match what you're projecting and we've certainly seen that over the last six weeks."

The White Sox offense has benefitted from Abreu's leap back into prominence. The team has averaged 4.53 runs per game this season and is 9th in the American League with 204 runs scored and 17th overall in the majors. But the increase in offense still hasn't helped the White Sox improve in the standings. While Abreu is glad to be on the roll he is, he'd prefer if his team is along for the ride.

"We're are passing through a tough moment, a rough stretch," Abreu said. "For me as I've always said the team is first. I want to thank God for how I've performed through this rough stretch. But it's not something makes me feel happy because we didn't win as many games as we wanted to win. It's tough."

Has Jose Quintana's slow start to the season affected his potential trade value?

Has Jose Quintana's slow start to the season affected his potential trade value?

 

Jose Quintana has not started his 2017 campaign as many White Sox fans had hoped or expected.
 
Through nine games the 2016 All Star has posted just two wins and watched his ERA climb to 3.92 after Wednesday’s loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. 
 
This past offseason, Quintana was frequently mentioned as a possible trade piece for the White Sox who if moved might have brought in other key pieces for the retooling South Siders, much like Chris Sale and Adam Eaton did. 

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]
 
Have Quintana’s early season struggles impacted his trade value?
 
White Sox play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti weighed in while appearing on Wednesday’s edition of SportsTalk Live.
 
“Somebody's trade value isn’t contingent necessarily on what he’s doing right now,” Benetti said. “I mean general managers are smart enough to know Jose Quintana is worth X over the course of time and a lot of what trade value has to do with, is what other teams need. So as injuries continue to pile up to other pitchers, if we’re talking about the value of a starting pitcher, the market has as much to do with that as his performance in one specific game.” 
 
Listen to what else Benetti had to say in the video above.