Dismantling Done Right
Ken Williams has set a deadline for the Winter Meetings. The Angels have apparently offered Paul Konerko a five-year, $60 million contract. The Orioles are talking about adding a sixth year onto their offer. The Red Sox remain interested.
The writing is on the wall. And Sox fans, don't worry, it's not bad. At this point, signing Konerko would be a bad mistake.
Many Sox fans will tell you that the key to the 2005 season was trading Carlos Lee. Yes, they lost one of their most powerful sluggers, who would move to Milwaukee and post an .811 OPS. But, in return, the White Sox landed sparkplug Scott Podsednik, a 65-game reliever in Luis Vizcaino and enough money to sign Tadahito Iguchi, Orlando Hernandez and Dustin Hermanson. At the time, we hated the trade. At the time, we undervalued the importance of money.
We learn history to avoid repeating our mistakes. To sign Paul Konerko, the White Sox will likely have to pay the slugger at least $13 million for the next five seasons. This is a price that is simply too high for a player with such a limited skillset.
Pardon me, I don't want to do Konerko any injustices. As a hitter, Konerko is well above-average. In 2005, he led the White Sox in both slugging percentage and on-base percentage, in both extra-base hits and walks. Since coming to the Sox in 1999, there has been only one season in which he did not post an OPS higher than .840.
However, when factoring in regression and age, it's not hard to see a decrease in Konerko's offensive skills. At that point, surely his bat will not be able to make up for the other facets of the game, in which Konerko is a burden on the White Sox.
Another 2005 key, as we have heard time and time again, was the Sox improvements on defense and the bases. In both of these areas, Konerko hurts the White Sox. First, we'll start with fielding. In the last five seasons, Baseball Prospectus has found PK to be above average just twice. In 2004, MGL's great UZR stat had Konerko at an abysmal, and league low -17. Without question, Konerko's defense improved in the 2005 season. Unfortunately, he will never possess good range, and as he ages, any improvements will likely be lost.
Onto the bases. Again, I don't really have 2005 numbers yet, as I couldn't find Konerko in the Bill James Handbook, and have not yet received the Hardball Times Baseball Annual, with Dan Fox's baserunning numbers (feel free to leave numbers from either in the comments). We do, however, have numbers from the past seasons. Fox's Incremental Runs stat has been compiled from 2000-2004, in which Konerko ranks low. His IR was just -3.73 in those seasons, and from the looks of things, 2005 could not have been much better.
Good on offense, bad in the field and on the bases. And in all cases, adding five years to a body that turns 30 in Spring Training will only hurt Konerko in all facets of the game.
So, assuming the Sox lose Konerko (as Will Carroll opines), what comes next? Surely, the Sox wouldn't dare use Jim Thome, the one player worse than Konerko in 2004 UZR (-21) at first, would they? Let's hope not. In fact, I would propose the White Sox look to solve their problems in the same way they did a year ago: from the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Sox need someone to play first base who will help both offset the damage done by losing Konerko in the lineup, and Aaron Rowand in the field. They need someone who will be solid offensively, but help the White Sox improve both defensively and from a baserunning perspective. They also don't want to overpay.
Lyle Overbay. The left-handed first baseman for the Brewers, soon to be pushed out by Prince Fielder, who has posted OPS numbers of .863 and .816 each of the last two seasons. The former Diamondback farmhand that will turn 29 in January, but will only enter arbitration this year. The player who was, by Bill James' measures, as good a baserunner as Aaron Rowand in 2005, and better than average (by Dan Fox's measures) in 2003 and 2004. The fielder that David Gassko mentioned fell second to Nick Johnson in his 2005 Gold Gloves, and who Baseball Prospectus has given positive remarks on in each of the last three seasons.
In 2005, Paul Konerko posted a VORP of 56.4, more than 20 points better than Overbay. In 2004, Overbay was about five points ahead. Going forward, you have to like Overbay's chances to compete, especially in a stadium in which James ranked the second easiest for left-handed home runs from 2003-2005. And remember, Overbay probably is about 10-20 runs better per season than Konerko in the field and on the bases.
So, what would I do in Williams shoes? Announce that Konerko has been priced out of your budget at the Winter Meetings, shortly before acquiring Overbay for Brandon McCarthy, Damaso Marte and a prospect (Jerry Owens? Robert Valido?). Then, sign Overbay through his arbitration years, a four-year, $25 million contract, with annual numbers of about $5M, $6, $7 and $7 million.
First, why would the Brewers not make this trade? In the trade, they likely free a bit of payroll by losing Overbay for Prince, and landing a $300,000 starting pitcher. Oh, and not just any starting pitcher, but Brandon McCarthy, who would look really good alongside Ben Sheets, Chris Capuano and Doug Davis in the Milwaukee rotation. They also get Damaso Marte, who appeared in 60+ games in 2005 for the fourth straight season. Last year, just one Brewer (Derrick Turnbow) appeared in more than 50 games. Finally, on top of all that, they land a B- offensive prospect, someone who could likely fill a bench role down the road.
For the White Sox, this would be a great trade. In 2005, the White Sox production from the first base and Designated Hitter spots combined was about .260/.335/.475. By making this trade, Ken Williams would be asking Lyle Overbay and Jim Thome to beat that line, which they probably could by adding almost thirty runs. And, as another reminder, don't forget what replacing Konerko and Frank Thomas on the basepaths will do.
Yes, in this proposed trade, Chicago would lose its penciled-in fifth starter, as well as a back-end reliever. However, this is where the dollars saved by acquiring Overbay pays off. Without including Marte, the Sox have ten returning members to their pitching staff next season. They could also choose to add Jeff Bajenaru, one of the International League's most dangerous relievers in 2005. For the twelfth spot, Williams would have the money to sign nearly anyone, who would likely (along with El Duque) straddle the fifth starter/seventh reliever spot next year.
Ken Williams had the audacity to trade Aaron Rowand, despite his presence on the World Championship roster. In that trade, Williams saw both the opportunity to acquire Thome, as well as giving Brian Anderson a shot at out-producing Rowand (offensively) in center. Williams must use the same methodology when considering Konerko, who at this point does not deserve to return to the South Side.
After winning the World Series, a front office must remember what got them there, not who; loyalty can only go so far. While it might not look as sexy to the sportswriters, Lyle Overbay is this offseason's answer, not Paul Konerko.