Konerko accepts, embraces White Sox direction

Konerko accepts, embraces White Sox direction

Konerko accepts, embraces White Sox direction
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Being successful without winning.

The idea seems a bit far-fetched, especially coming from a respected professional athlete who has stood on the championship mountaintop in his respective sport.

But when Paul Konerko espouses such an idea about the 2012 White Sox, you can bet it's steeped in logic and wisdom gained from a highly accomplished 15-year career.

"This team, different than a lot of teams we've had recently -- I hope I don't throw anybody off with this," said Konerko in his 16-minute session with the media on Tuesday during the full-roster report date. "But this can be a very successful year without making the playoffs."

OK, Konerko isn't talking about the White Sox finishing the upcoming year at 65-97, exchanging handshakes and hearty pats on the back and then arranging October tee times with collective smiles on their faces because of a job well done. Instead, Konerko expertly analyzed the modified rebuilding process being undertaken.

Don't think for a second that Konerko doesn't want to win this year or in 2013, which marks the end of his three-year, $37.5 million extension. But with young players such as Brent Morel, Addison Reed, Chris Sale and even Gordon Beckham placed prominently in the mix, Konerko understands that their development and approaching the game the right way could be just as important to the franchise's future as winning an American League Central title.

Even in the "sprint" stage of his career, meaning Konerko sees the finish line some two or three years away, he accepts this direction.

"You know, I said at SoxFest I was happy I won a World Series. I'll always have that in my pocket," said Konerko, with the media fanned out around his Camelback Ranch locker. "I would love to get another one, but if I don't, that's cool, too.

"I look at this stage of my career, if that means I have to play two or three years, whatever it is, just so I can leave here and help people and try to get this organization, this team back on track, and then I leave and those guys do the job, then that's fine. I feel that's what I owe the team or whatever."

A rare inactive offseason for general manager Ken Williams, featuring a recent period during which the White Sox didn't agree to terms with a Major League free agent until they signed Kosuke Fukudome on Valentine's Day, certainly didn't catch Konerko off-guard. He equated thoughts on the lack of moves to coming into Spring Training with an individual position change on the horizon, where there was time to prepare for the switch and adjust expectations.

Konerko also didn't like placing any sort of label at all on the 2012 White Sox, choosing to point to the new Robin Ventura regime and seeing where their program leads this group.

"We do have a lot of young guys that are going to be on the field. We have young guys who are going to be in the bullpen," Konerko said. "So the best thing to do is not make any comments about what we're going to do one way or the other.

"Robin and the staff are going to let us know what they want to see, how they want to go about it. Each guy is going to have a different thing in the way they're going to play. He's going to tell Gordon, 'This is what I want to see from you.' You kind of know what they're going to lay out for each guy and just kind of attack that. I don't know why there always has to be a declaration on 'This is what we're doing as a team, we're trying to win this year.'

"It doesn't really matter. You listen to the staff, you take their words on what they want to see you do and you run with it, and then you add it all together and see at the end and hopefully it's good. But we have a lot of young guys. You can't get around that."

What the White Sox have is a number of "ifs" that could make this team a contender if they are answered with more certainty: If Adam Dunn bounces back to his career norm at the plate, if Alex Rios' 2012 closely resembles his '10 effort and if Jake Peavy can regain his form as a top-of-the-rotation hurler.

Konerko's expectations are that these veterans will bounce back. But it doesn't rule out solidifying the future base while trying to win in the present.

"We're starting with a whole new staff, a whole new era here," Konerko said. "You can start building something now. What is happening here is they're trying to build something that's a little more sustainable.

"I'm not conceding anything. In today's game, there are way too many teams, especially now there's another Wild Card spot. There are all kinds of different things that are available to make the playoffs and there seems to be more parity. You go out and play hard. There's a very fine line between those teams that finish in first place and then second or third."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.