"I really don't understand it right now," Thomas told MLB.com on Saturday at the Chicago Holiday Fest he emceed in South Suburban Tinley Park. "I've got to be honest: I don't understand it.
"They just went out and spent $70 million on [Jose] Abreu, and they tell Paulie his position is still there. I don't get that. I know Paul wants to finish here, but the writing is on the wall, basically, that, 'You are going to play one day a week.' Or 'You are going to pinch-hit.' And that's not Paulie."
No definitive role for Konerko has officially been presented for 2014 as the captain weighs his options for a potential 16th and final season on the South Side, but the White Sox have clearly laid out the options to him, and it certainly figures to be less playing time with Abreu and Adam Dunn under contract for the same first base/designated hitter rotation.
Making a decision to return -- a decision the team has left up to Konerko at this point, with a roster spot guaranteed -- means Konerko clearly understands the part-time role. It's an on-field and off-field job the consummate leader talked about with the media at the end of the '13 campaign, pointing out that Chicago is the only team for which he could see playing sporadically.
But Thomas, who was teammates with Konerko in Chicago from 1999 to 2005, feels that a bench role doesn't suit Konerko and isn't right for what he has meant to the franchise.
"He's a timing guy, and his timing has to be right so he can be an effective ballplayer," said Thomas, who does work for Comcast SportsNet Chicago as a pre- and postgame White Sox analyst. "I tell people he was driving the bus. After I left he drove the bus every day. Now, to be told by the front office, 'You are going to be a passenger.' It's hard on star players."
Thomas fully comprehends the internal fight to extend a highly accomplished career vs. retiring, not to mention wanting to stay with the White Sox. Thomas played his first 16 years with the White Sox, finishing with 448 homers, 1,465 RBIs, 1,327 runs scored and 1,466 walks among his 10 franchise records before the White Sox paid a $3.5 million buyout after he exercised his $10 million mutual option following the 2005 World Series championship.
The greatest hitter in franchise history and potential first-ballot Hall of Famer come Jan. 8 was limited to 108 games over the 2004 and 2005 seasons because of issues with his left ankle before moving on to Oakland, where he hit 39 homers and drove in 114 runs in 2006.
Konerko has dealt with a concussion, soreness in his back and neck, a loose body in his left wrist and being hit in the face with a Jeff Samardzija pitch over the past two years. But none of his maladies appeared to be as serious as Thomas', and Thomas firmly believes Konerko isn't finished.
"I'm not saying Paulie is done. I think he's done in Chicago as an everyday player," said Thomas, who retired after the 2008 season and sits 21 homers ahead of Konerko's 427 with the White Sox. "That's what he's weighing right now, I'm sure: 'If I want to play some more, I might have to go elsewhere so I can play every day and be effective.'
"If he comes here and just plays off the bench, I don't think he's going to be effective. He's not a Jason Giambi right now. ... Paul still can play first base. He still can be productive for another team if he's not going to be the everyday first baseman here. That's a decision the team already has made. They are sugarcoating it right now."
As for a White Sox team coming off a 99-loss performance, Thomas points to pitching and even defense as reasons for optimism.
"Their defense is going to be better. It was an off year for the defense, but the pitching is there," he said. "Starting staff is there, bullpen is there. I think [with] the addition of Avisail Garcia, and if this Abreu kid is as advertised, this team will score runs.
"You need to give [Dayan] Viciedo a shot to play every day. I think they are not using his talent properly. He might be better this year with Abreu here. I really believe that this is going to be a special year for them. I think they are going to contend."