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.

David Robertson, Nate Jones return to White Sox after WBC victory

David Robertson, Nate Jones return to White Sox after WBC victory

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Having experienced a playoff-like atmosphere at the World Baseball Classic, David Robertson and Nate Jones already feel prepared for the regular season. 

The two relievers returned to White Sox camp on Friday morning bearing gold medals from a Team USA WBC title run that concluded on Wednesday night with an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Robertson, who recorded the final three outs of the clinching victory, said he's glad to be back and won't need much of a tune-up to be ready for the April 3 season opener.

"Back up to speed?" Robertson said. "More like slow down and get ready for the season. I'll probably play catch (Friday). I didn't throw (Thursday), I spent the day traveling. Probably play catch today, and be ready to throw (Saturday). If I needed to throw today, I could. I feel like I'm season ready right now."

"It feels good to be back. It's been a long trip doing this WBC, so it's good to be back and relax a little bit. Have a couple days before we start the season."

Both Jones and Robertson appeared four times each for Team USA with similar results. Each allowed a solo home run but nothing else. Jones said he brought his gold medal back to camp because he isn't yet ready to put it in his safety deposit box. His favorite moments of the tournament were brought on by raucous crowds.

"Once you get a crowd chanting USA that was a pretty cool moment," Jones said. "You're proud of representing your country, and once they did that, it all kind of set in, like, ‘Wow, this is happening.'

"It's just pure excitement, everybody going crazy."

Jones and Robertson said they're pleased to have returned to the relative tranquility of White Sox camp after they lived out of a suitcase for the previous 18 days. Both were set to meet with pitching coach Don Cooper and manager Rick Renteria to discuss their upcoming schedule. Jones said he expected to throw a side session on Friday in front of Cooper to have his mechanics reviewed. Robertson last pitched on Wednesday and didn't know when he'd throw again.

"They've been busy, obviously, with Robbie finishing up the last game," Renteria said. "We'll see how the schedule lines up in terms of their usage for the remaining 9-10 days."

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Robertson is pretty sure he won't need much work. Whereas the team's closer normally waits until the first week of March to appear in a game, Robertson has pitched in plenty this spring. Each of the last four has had a ton more intensity than any normal Cactus League work.

"It felt like playoff baseball really early in the year," Robertson said. "Just coming from Miami, trying to win a couple days in there was really hard. Fans were really loud. That place was a very intense environment, and it didn't feel like you were the home team at all.

"It felt like (a home game) when we were in San Diego We were the home team there, and when we got to L.A., same thing. Although, I will say that when we were playing the Japanese, it erupted a couple times when they had some big moments in their game. It was just a lot of fun to play in this whole event. It was definitely more than I expected."

Jose Quintana gets the Opening Day start for White Sox

Jose Quintana gets the Opening Day start for White Sox

 

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jose Quintana has been named the Opening Day starter — for the White Sox.

While many are surprised he still hasn't been traded, few should be shocked by the news manager Rick Renteria delivered on Friday, when he announced Quintana would pitch the April 3 opener.

With Chris Sale gone to Boston, Quintana, a first-time All-Star in 2016, has been the odds-on favorite to take over as the team's ace. The only question seemed to be whether or not he'd still be in a White Sox uniform when the season began. But the club made it clear Friday that Quintana is their guy and he'll face the Detroit Tigers in the first game of 2017. The only one who seemed a little taken aback about the news is Quintana.

"I was surprised," Quintana said. "I knew I may get the ball for that day, but they didn't say nothing, so you didn't know. I just kept going and doing my workouts and all my stuff. I'm really, really happy with this opportunity. It's huge for me. I can't wait for that day to come.

"I'm excited to have this opportunity. It's a huge honor for me to have the ball for Opening Day the first time in my life. And I think it's a once-in-a-life opportunity."

Asked about the announcement earlier in the week, Renteria said he needed more time. Many speculated that it meant the White Sox were continuing to listen to offers for Quintana, who has drawn constant interest since the team began its rebuild in December.

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Quintana, who went 13-12 with a 3.20 ERA and 181 strikeouts in 208 innings last season, has looked fantastic all spring. Pitching in front of more than a dozen scouts on Thursday, Quintana made his first Cactus League appearance in a month and allowed two hits over seven scoreless innings. The left-hander also put on a brilliant performance for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic on March 10 as he retired the first 17 Team USA hitters he faced before allowing a hit.

"He's very happy about it," Renteria said. "He has obviously earned it.

"I don't know if he was surprised as much as he was elated and proud to be given the opportunity to be the Opening Day starter. It's a privilege."

Quintana's resume of consistency made him a clear-cut choice for the nod. He heads into 2017 having pitched at least 200 innings in each of the past four seasons. In that span, he's produced a 3.32 ERA and 18.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to fangraphs.com. That figure represents the seventh-highest WAR total among all big league pitchers in that span.

Even though he's viewed as the staff ace, Quintana — who potentially has four years and $36.85 million left on his current contract — said he was surprised by the news because the club hadn't yet informed him of the honor.

"It means a lot for me, especially after last year when you make the All-Star team and this year the opportunity to play in the WBC and now you have the opportunity to pitch on Opening Day," Quintana said. "That's a lot of things happening for me now and I'm happy. And really blessed. You just try to do all my things every time.

"Maybe they don't know what it means for me, but it's a big thing."