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For the first time since winning the World Series, the White Sox will have a serious question regarding the team’s first baseman following the 2010 season.
When Paul Konerko signed his five-year, $60 million contract in November of 2005, it gave the White Sox continued stability at a position that had been a strength for the better part of the previous 15 years. Despite the annual Konerko-to-the-Angels for Chone Figgins/Casey Kotchman rumor, Konerko was, for better or for worse, entrenched as the Sox’ first baseman.
Konerko’s contract will expire after the 2010 season, although he is willing to stay with the team for the rest of his career. He’s roughly in the same position as Jermaine Dye was after 2009—that is, the player wants to stay with the team, so it’s up to the team to decide if they want to bring him back.
There are still a whole lot of games to be played before the Sox have to make a decision on Konerko, but it’s never too early to start thinking about the team’s options after this season.
1. Re-sign Konerko to a one or two-year deal.
This would be the most obvious option, as right now, the White Sox don’t have an advanced first base prospect in the minors. For argument’s sake, let’s say Konerko roughly fills out his CHONE projection (found at FanGraphs) and is a two-win player in 2010.
If teams are still paying heavily for a win, then bringing back Konerko would probably cost about two years and $12-$14 million. I would have to assume Konerko would settle for a two-year deal that would cover ages 35 and 36. There’s a pretty decent crop of free agent first basemen set to hit the market next winter (Adam Dunn, Lance Berkman, Derrek Lee, Lyle Overbay, and maybe Nick Johnson), so it’s unlikely Konerko could find a better contract on the open market.
Would it be reasonable for the White Sox to give Konerko two years and $12-14 million? I would have to think so despite his declining offensive skills. Barring some unexpected setback, Konerko still should be good for 25 home runs and an above-average OPS while playing passable defense.
It’s unlikely that Konerko would play 150+ games a year at first base for the duration of this deal. While that might mean a Mark Kotsay-type player would get more playing time than he deserves, allowing Konerko to DH more frequently would, in theory, help him avoid a nagging injury that could really hinder his offensive numbers (see: 2008).
With nine and a half months until the Sox have to make a decision on Konerko, re-signing him for $6-7 million per year would be reasonable. Obviously, a lot can change from now until November, and that’s where the next few options come in.
2. Promote Dayan Viciedo to the major leagues and either let Konerko walk or retain him as a 1B/DH.
The chances of this happening are slim, but the chance does exist now that Viciedo will play some first base in the minors in 2010. There have been some to call Viciedo a bust, but it’s easy to forget the challenges of adjusting to an entirely new culture for a 20-year-old.
That’s not saying Viciedo’s 2009 numbers (.279/.317/.390 with 12 home runs in 505 at-bats) can be explained solely by culture shock—his swing is long and he’s incredibly aggressive at the plate.
This season will be very important for the future of Viciedo. He can’t blame poor performance on culture shock or getting used to facing far superior pitching to what he saw in Cuba, so if he repeats the same numbers he had in 2009, then it’ll be time to get concerned over his future.
But if Viciedo starts to show some power and a little more patience, there’s a good chance the team will begin to consider him as the first baseman of the future starting as early as 2011.
However, a Viciedo promotion should not signal the end of Konerko’s run with the White Sox. Instead, keeping him around as a sort of safety net in case Viciedo tanks would absolutely be the right move. Plus, having Konerko and Viciedo on the roster in 2011 would allow the two to alternate between first base and DH, hopefully avoiding the potentially-nightmarish DH situation the team faces going into 2010.
3. Let Konerko walk and sign or trade for a first baseman.
If the Sox let all their 2011 free agents go and keep the same budget, the team would have about $25 million to spend on free agents and arbitration for Carlos Quentin, Tony Pena, and potentially Bobby Jenks (if he isn’t traded) and John Danks (if he doesn’t sign an extension before then).
Lyle Overbay would be a somewhat realistic option if the Sox went the free agent route. However, while Overbay gets on base a lot, he wouldn’t be able to replace the home run power of Konerko, so the team would probably better off spending the money they would give to Overbay on Konerko.
4. Move Mark Teahen to first base and find a new third baseman.
The chances of this happening are far lower than any of the other three options, but if the Sox exhaust all other avenues or Brent Morel develops faster than expected, it would be an option. Teahen hasn’t played a ton of first base—just 34 games—but he’s also not foreign to the position.
However, it’s unlikely Morel forces the team’s hand so soon and third base free agent crop for 2011 doesn’t have the reasonably-priced mid-range talent the Sox would covet to fill the position.
The most likely scenario I see would be Viciedo not proving to be ready for the majors in 2011 and the Sox bringing Konerko back for two years. That would give Viciedo more time to develop, and it’s not like the team couldn’t call him up in 2011 to play in a 1B/DH platoon situation with Konerko.
So, unlike Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko may get his wish and stick around with the White Sox past 2010.
Topics: 60 Million, adam dunn, Angels, Brent Morel, casey kotchman, Chone Figgins, Dayan Viciedo, derrek lee, Fangraphs, First Baseman, Free Agent, Jermaine Dye, Lance Berkman, Lyle Overbay, Mark Teahen, Nick Johnson, Offensive Skills, Paul Konerko, Sake, Season 1, White Sox, Whole Lot, World Series