Chicago White Sox

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

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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.

Joining Hall-of-Fame company the latest feat for Jose Abreu, White Sox model of consistency

Joining Hall-of-Fame company the latest feat for Jose Abreu, White Sox model of consistency

Just how valuable is Jose Abreu to the White Sox?

Well, whenever you join Albert Pujols and Joe DiMaggio as the only baseball players ever to do something, you must be pretty darn valuable.

Abreu joined that elite company Saturday night, driving in both runs in the White Sox forgettable 8-2 loss to the visiting Kansas City Royals. Those RBIs brought his total to 100 on the season, making him the third major leaguer ever to hit at least 25 homers and drive in at least 100 runs in his first four seasons.

“Every year after a season I meet with my family and we review my season and my stats. Last year when we had the meeting, I told them next year I’m gonna hit 30 homers, I’m gonna drive in at least 100 and I did it,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “I was able to do it and that’s something that made me feel proud of myself and proud of my family, too, because they have been the ones who have been supported me through my whole career."

Abreu’s known as an extremely hard worker, a template to follow for many if not all of the youngsters coming up as the future stars of the White Sox rebuild. And so it makes this moment all the sweeter for him and those around him.

“It is especially important not just for me but for my family and my team,” Abreu said. “I think that this is a reward for the effort and all the work you put in for preparation for your season. It’s special when you get this kind of result and consistency in your stats. But the most important thing is it’s a reward for my family. And this organization, maybe we are not in the position we want to be right now as a team, but I know that better times are to come.”

“He works extremely hard,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I think everybody was feeling it for him tonight. He’s been pushing. He fouled a ball off of his left shin the other day, and you see him kind of gimping around there. … He’s not one to do anything to deter from continuing to help the team win first and foremost, but along the way he’s able to collect some individual merit points, so to speak. And put himself in a very special class.”

The big question surrounding Abreu isn’t whether he’s worthy of being the leader the young White Sox of the future need to turn rebuilding mode into contending mode a few years down the line. The question is whether he’ll still be around by then. His final year of arbitration is 2019, meaning if the White Sox are looking at 2020 as the year of true contention, it will take a new contract to keep Abreu in town.

A few things factor into that, of course. No. 1, Abreu could continue this consistently terrific pace and be lured away by another team willing to spend more to acquire his services. No. 2, though, is his age. He’ll be 33 years old when the 2020 season starts, and while that’s not old by most standards, it means he’ll demand a big contract — and likely a lengthy one — as he reaches the latter part of his prime. It’s not to suggest Abreu will dramatically slow down in terms of production, but it will most definitely be under consideration as the White Sox look to keep their window of contention open as long as possible.

For what it’s worth, Abreu is constantly thanking the White Sox organization for the opportunity to do what he’s done over the past four seasons, and he’s said how much he wants to keep playing for this franchise.

What is of no question, however, is Abreu’s worth as a top-of-the-line offensive player. His totals with a week’s worth of games left in the 2017 season: 31 homers, 100 RBIs and a .305/.356/.551 slash line. All those percentages would be his highest since his outstanding rookie season in 2014.

And his worth as a leader, as a guy who could be a rallying point for all these young players, that’s pretty darn valuable, too.

“I haven’t (tonight) made light of what I believe he’s becoming as part of this organization and what he is as far as what he does for the team,” Renteria said. “You got a couple of young men in there that are growing up and becoming a part of what I believe are leaders within that clubhouse. And he’s one of them. He’s certainly deserves it. He’s earned it. He’s worked for it. He’s been in this organization since the inception of his major league career. He’s someone that we all are happy is a part of us.”

White Sox not exactly sure what’s up with Carlos Rodon, but he’s confident he’ll be back for 2018

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USA TODAY

White Sox not exactly sure what’s up with Carlos Rodon, but he’s confident he’ll be back for 2018

It’s been more than two weeks since Carlos Rodon was shut down for the season, one day after he was scratched from a start with shoulder inflammation.

And while we know Rodon won’t pitch again in 2017 — a season with just a little more than a week remaining for the rebuilding White Sox — the team still doesn’t know, or still isn’t ready to say, exactly what’s wrong with the former first-round draft pick.

“We’re just trying to get it right,” Rodon said before Saturday night’s game against the visiting Kansas City Royals. “Still trying to figure everything out and take everything we can and put it all together to get the most information and do what’s best for me and for this team.”

That kind of non-update might raise some red flags in the minds of White Sox fans, curious as to what is the latest ailment for a pitcher who missed three months this season while recovering from biceps bursitis.

Rodon was slated to get reevaluated shortly after that early September injury. He was, but no news came of it, at least not yet.

“Pretty similar to what our doc said,” Rodon said of that follow-up evaluation. “Like I said, we’re trying to still gather all the information and figure out what we’re going to do from there.”

Rodon ended his third season in the bigs with a 4.15 ERA in 69.1 innings of work. And while the White Sox still believe he’ll be a huge part of their starting staff moving forward, it’s plenty acceptable to wonder what kind of effects this season of injuries will have on Rodon as the franchise’s rebuild chugs along.

“He continues to be a big part of what we believe is the future of the organization,” manager Rick Renteria said after explaining several times that the team is still trying to figure out what’s wrong with Rodon. “Unfortunately, this year he's been down quite a bit. So assuming he comes back in a good situation and is healthy and is capable of going out and performing, he fits into one of the five guys that are going to be out there for us next season.”

For his part, Rodon is 100-percent confident he’ll be good to go for next year’s campaign.

“I just know that I’ll be ready for next season,” Rodon said. “The goal is to be ready for next year and be healthy through all of next season.”

That, though, will be the million-dollar question as the White Sox starting rotation of the future begins to take shape. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez are already penciled in for 2018, and Michael Kopech’s 2017 campaign in the minors was so sensational, he could potentially pitch himself into that starting five, too. With younger names like Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning also doing work in the minors, someone’s going to be the odd man out.

Rodon still has the confidence of his organization. But will he have the health to make that confidence pay off?