November 30, 2005

Konerko Stays in Chicago

I complained earlier this week that the Twins' complete lack of urgency this offseason was concerning. It is interesting to compare that approach to what the White Sox have done, which is basically make what will undoubtedly be two of the bigger moves of the entire offseason and get them both completed by the end of November.

First they added Jim Thome to the lineup as either a replacement for free agent Paul Konerko or a scary compliment to him, and then yesterday they re-signed Konerko. Unless Kenny Williams has something really big up his sleeve, the White Sox appear to be done tinkering. They've re-signed their best hitter and added someone who has the potential to be an even more dominant offensive force.

For Twins fans, I think that should be a very scary thought considering how good Chicago's pitching and defense was last season. Manager Ozzie Guillen might have them bunting and running again this year, but the fact is that they'll have a 3-4-5 of Konerko, Thome, and Jermaine Dye, which should cruise past 100 homers without much problem. The Twins hit 134 homers as a team this year, and 40 of them came from free agents Jacque Jones and Matthew LeCroy.

I've been critical of Williams' moves in the past, but I think he has done an excellent job this time around. He is showing what a good team can do when it has most of the pieces already in place and the luxury of some money to work with. In the Twins' case, they have most of the pieces already in place and are, as always, bargain shopping. It's a huge difference.

The big criticism of re-signing Konerko will surely be that the White Sox gave him too much money ($60 million) over too many years (five). I can't really argue with that and I doubt that Konerko will be worth that much over the life of the deal, but that won't matter one bit in 2006. Neither will giving up two good pitching prospects for Thome, because neither guy was particularly close to making an impact in the majors.

The only loss Chicago has sustained thus far that weakens the team for next season is Aaron Rowand, who is a very underrated player and one of the elite defenders in all of baseball. His defense in center field is outstanding and his offense, while inconsistent, can be described as "solid." That's a tough combination to replace -- the Twins basically have it in Torii Hunter -- but the White Sox are in a good position to do so with one of their better prospects, Brian Anderson, ready to step right in.

The White Sox's defense will be worse without Rowand, but assuming Anderson can be an average defender the group will still be well above average. After all, they still have the infield entirely intact, with Scott Podsednik and Dye flanking Anderson in the outfield corners. And the offense, which was Chicago's weak spot in 2005, has the potential to be significantly better.

In looking over Chicago's numbers this year, it is interesting to note that aside from Konerko hitting .283/.375/.534 with 40 homers, no hitter had a great season. In fact, it could easily be argued that most everyone else who got substantial playing time hit below par compared to the rest of their career.

Anderson hit .290/.360/.469 at Triple-A, so he should be able to duplicate the .270/.329/.407 Chicago received from Rowand, and adding Thome at designated hitter figures to be a big improvement. Carl Everett started 107 of Chicago's 162 games at DH, and the position ranked eighth in the AL in OPS at .776. Thome's career OPS is .970, and 2005 was the first season since he was a 21-year-old rookie in 1992 that he didn't top .850 and the first season since 1994 that he didn't top .900.

The ante has been upped in the AL Central, which is worrisome because the Twins appeared to be having enough trouble just keeping pace when Thome was in Philadelphia and Konerko was a free agent. This may be odd to say now, a month after the White Sox won the World Series, but it just hit home that for the first time since 2001 I don't expect the Twins to enter the season as division favorites.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Ten Things I Didn't Know, Um, A While Ago (by Dave Studeman)
- Business of Baseball Report (by Brian Borawski)

Pick of the Day (145-124, +$2,045):
Nevada +5 (-110) over Kansas

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