With Abreu's arrival, still room for Konerko to return
Both newly acquired Cuban slugger, White Sox veteran fill first base/DH role
CHICAGO -- Paul Konerko was not in attendance at U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday during the press conference to present Jose Abreu as the newest member of the White Sox.
The White Sox captain was probably in Arizona, serving in his most important role as husband and father. But the presence of Konerko -- the team leader and a highly accomplished player for close to two decades -- was certainly felt as the six-year, $68-million deal with Abreu was announced.
Will Konerko retire? Will he come back for an 18th and final season, his 16th with the White Sox? With Abreu, another first baseman/designated hitter, is there even room for Konerko?
General manager Rick Hahn wasn't about to address Konerko's thought process, but he did make clear once again that Abreu's addition doesn't mean the end for Konerko on the South Side of Chicago.
"This signing does not preclude us from bringing Paul back," said Hahn during Tuesday's press conference. "It's October 29. You don't evaluate an Opening Day roster at the end of October."
Hahn spoke with Konerko in September, specifically about the team's interest in Abreu, and Konerko was one of the first calls Hahn made when the deal with Abreu was finished, so he heard the news directly from the team. Konerko expressed a desire to step away from baseball for a month after the '13 season before making a decision on his career, and the White Sox plan to meet with him in November to discuss his future.
About the only near-certainty presented by Konerko was that if he plays, 2014 will be his final year. Much like the last two times in which he was a free agent and returned -- after the '05 World Series title run and after the '10 season -- the club's dialogue with Konerko will be kept confidential until they reach a decision.
The addition of Abreu will likely stand as Chicago's sole major foray into the free-agent market. The goal for the White Sox in this reshaping process is to add players who can help in the present and future, as opposed to serving simply as quick fixes.
"We're not going to rule out any avenue," Hahn said. "Obviously, we have a number of areas where we need to improve, and we will explore all of them, whether it's free agency or trade.
"It's probably more likely that trades are next. But at the same time, we haven't even hit true domestic free agency yet, so it's not anything we're ruling out until we do our similar due diligence on some of the players that are available there."
If Konerko decides to return and the White Sox decide there is a fit, one of those trades could involve infielder Jeff Keppinger or left-handed slugger Adam Dunn. The White Sox would seemingly need to move one of the two to maintain flexibility on the bench and provide enough at-bats for everyone in the first base/DH mix.
Then again, the White Sox would probably have to eat a sizable amount of money on either deal to make a move. So if Konerko takes one final run, it will be up to Hahn and manager Robin Ventura to make the roster work.
Ventura understands the situation. And the White Sox know that Konerko has more than earned the right to take his time on this tough call.
"As tough as last year was, you give [Konerko] time to do that, and if we meet and we feel that's going to be a thing he wants to do, you figure out a way to do it," said Ventura during a Tuesday afternoon conference call. "I can't sit here and say exactly how it would work, but if they're on a roster, you find a way to make it work and keep guys sharp and playing."