Decision to return sits with Konerko after meeting Hahn
White Sox general manager, Ventura talk with longtime first baseman in Arizona
Paul Konerko could return for a 16th season with the White Sox in what figures to be his 18th and final year as a Major Leaguer.
That decision now appears to rest with the White Sox captain, based on comments made by general manager Rick Hahn to reporters Tuesday afternoon at the General Managers and Owners Meetings in Orlando, Fla. Hahn and manager Robin Ventura sat down with Konerko last week in Phoenix and had a "real good, open and honest conversation," according to Hahn, about Konerko's mindset and his hopes for going forward, as well as the White Sox as a team and their hopes for going forward.
Hahn and Konerko talked again after the meeting, and Ventura saw Hahn this past weekend at Gordon Beckham's wedding. A decision from Konerko could come by the Winter Meetings in mid-December, but there's no date in Hahn's mind.
"At this time, he's still going through his process of deliberating about what he wants to do next year," Hahn said. "All along we've wanted Paulie to get to the point where he was confident that he wanted to play next year and if it were with us, he was comfortable with what that role potentially would be. It's a matter of everyone's comfort level and him getting convinced that that's what he wants to do."
The White Sox began this offseason by agreeing to a six-year, $68-million deal with Cuban free-agent first baseman/designated hitter Jose Abreu. They also have Adam Dunn under contract for one more season at the same positions at $15 million and Jeff Keppinger for two more seasons at a total of $8.5 million, with Keppinger having the ability to play throughout the infield.
Barring a trade, the White Sox would take two of their four bench players from the above mix, and that total would rise to three with a backup catcher. So that last bench spot would need to go to a player such as Leury Garcia, who could serve as both a utility infielder and outfielder, or the White Sox would have to break camp with one less relief pitcher to get another position player on the roster.
Konerko said at the end of the 2013 season that he could see playing a part-time role, but only with the White Sox. He could be weighing how his physical and mental preparation would change by not getting his customary 500 or more at-bats.
After his season batting average sat at .399 on May 27, 2012, Konerko has hit .249 with 27 homers and 96 RBIs over the ensuing 837 at-bats through his fight with a myriad of injuries. Konerko has a profound effect on younger players and veterans alike in the White Sox clubhouse, which stands as an important factor for a team that hopes to contend in '14, but is just as interested in building up young players for a strong and consistent future.
Until Konerko makes his final decision, Hahn doesn't want to discuss how he would fit on the roster. But there does seem to be a spot for Konerko if he chooses to play another season.
"We've had a lot of success the last two times Paulie was a free agent, just keeping this nice and quiet, our conversation, and talking through the specifics of how he fits very respectfully," Hahn said. "And we want to keep it like that this time around. In terms of who plays this, who plays that, let's wait until it becomes more relevant, and then we can talk through it all, if need be."
Improving the 2013 offense remains a priority for Hahn. That improvement could come from moving one of their coveted young pitchers, or it could come through free agency.
Curtis Granderson has been linked to the White Sox, with the outfielder's skill set seemingly a good fit for the South Siders and U.S. Cellular Field, not to mention the quality individual off the field that is the University of Illinois-Chicago product. Granderson rejected a qualifying offer by the Yankees, meaning the White Sox would lose a compensatory round Draft pick if they signed him.
As Hahn has stressed numerous times, the First-Year Player Draft and international spending are priorities for the team with an increased bonus pool in the immediate future. That makes the Granderson pursuit a little less likely, not to mention the years and money Granderson could receive and the fact that he turns 33 in March.
"It's funny, the extremes on that one were, 'He's our No. 1 target,' to 'We're out,' when there was a qualifying offer," Hahn said of Granderson. "So maybe somewhere in between those two extremes would be a little more accurate."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. Paul Hagen contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.