Chicago White Sox
If Abreu Starts, What Happens With Dunn and Konerko
It’s no secret that this is a swan song year for Paul Konerko. Since 1999, he’s been a staple at first base on the South Side, putting together some masterful seasons, including two 40-homer years and another five with 30-plus. But all good things must come to an end and age, recurring back problems and a slew of other bumps and bruises over the years have helped mark 2014 as the final season of his esteemed career. But while Paulie wants to play one more, the real question is, do the White Sox even want him to? With Konerko, Adam Dunn and the newly-acquired Jose Abreu all vying for playing time, there’s now a logjam at first base and the designated hitter spot that manager Robin Ventura will have to spend this spring sorting out.
While I wrote in the Prospects section of the 2014 Fantasy Alarm Baseball Draft Guide that Abreu may have trouble finding at-bats, the White Sox brass has since come out and said that he will, in fact, be their full-time first baseman. He impressed hitting coach Todd Stevenson during a three-day mini-camp for hitters in January and his track record in Cuba is impeccable. Translating numbers from Cuba can be difficult and he may need the spring to adjust to major league pitching, but the raw power and talent is going to be impossible to ignore. The team will give him every possible chance to excel.
That leaves Konerko and Dunn as the two competing for playing time as the White Sox designated hitter – two men who are obviously on the decline. Konerko’s drop-off, however, has been much more drastic. While appearing in just 126 games last year, Konerko hit just 12 home runs and posted a .111 ISO, a career-low. His walk rate was the lowest since 2002 and while he still managed to avoid the strikeouts, his contact rate was down and the contact he did make was relatively weak. Dunn, on the other hand, is still mashing (75 home runs over last two seasons), but as he’s gotten old, he’s striking out considerably more, posting a K-rate in excess of 30-percent in each of his last four seasons. With a diminishing walk rate as well, the batting average and on-base percentage are not looking good at all.
It could be an easy fix for Ventura as a simple lefty-righty platoon can be instituted here. Konerko is a career .298 hitter against left-handed pitchers and while Dunn is batting just .246 against righties, 311 of his 421 home runs have come against them. Together, they could form one of the more potent tandems at the DH-slot, even if it’s just for one year. They would be playing to their strengths and it would allow Abreu the opportunity to blossom on his own without having to look over his shoulder should he find himself in a slump of some sort. We’ll know more as the spring progresses, but for now, it looks as if Abreu is the guy to draft while Dunn remains a late-round pick when you’re just looking for first base depth.
As for Konerko, well, not every swan song can be music to your ears.
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