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.