CHICAGO – The White Sox envisioned big things. Instead, they were a big flop.
Paul Konerko could be gone and some other key figures might be on the way out after one of the worst seasons in franchise history.
They went 63-99, a year after finishing second in the AL Central and leading the division most of the way. The only thing they were in contention for this year was 100 losses, and the fact that they fell just short might be the only bright spot this season.
“At the end of the day, I feel personally responsible, there’s no two ways about it,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “I’m not in uniform, I’m not hitting the ball or throwing the ball, but I’m the one that’s heavily involved in deciding who’s out there and in what role. This is my responsibility to maximize the number of victories this club can have, albeit over an extended period of time and not just in one season.
“But the way I see it, it’s been a very disappointing season in which we’ve underachieved. I know there’s a lot of players, coaches and in the front office who feel responsible,” he said.
The question is where they go from here. And along those lines, what happens with Konerko? Does he retire? Does he return?
At 37, with an expiring contract and coming off one of his worst seasons, there’s a good chance he just played his last game for the Sox – or any team for that matter.
He said Friday he plans to take a month to decide if he’ll try to play next season. He hasn’t formally talked to the Sox, and he wasn’t sure if they even want him back.
While his future remains unclear, it looks like Robin Ventura will return to manage a third season.
Hahn expects him back, and Ventura said he’s “motivated” to turn the team around and get back to winning.
To that end, there’s plenty of work to do, plenty of issues to address.
The Konerko situation tops the list, and if he does wind up back with the Sox, it raises another question: How effective can he be?
Acquired from Cincinnati in 1998, Konerko ranks second on the franchise list to Frank Thomas in homers and RBIs. He dealt with a back issue this season and batted .244 with only 12 homers and 54 RBIs. Then again, it’s hard to quantify his value in the clubhouse.
It wasn’t only Konerko who struggled, either. Just about everyone in the lineup did.
Adam Dunn hit 34 homers but batted only .219 while striking out 189 times. Dayan Viciedo made little progress. Tyler Flowers didn’t do much with his opportunity after replacing departed catcher A.J. Pierzynski.
The Sox hit just .249 as a team and their home run total dropped from third in the majors at 211 a year ago to 19th this season at 148. With their lack of speed, there was no way to make up for the power outage, and hitting coach Jeff Manto wound up losing his job on the next-to-last day of the season.
Their defense was horrendous, too.
They went from leading the majors in fielding percentage a year ago to ranking 29th this year, with Alexei Ramirez committing 22 errors and tying the Cubs’ Starlin Castro for the major league lead among shortstops.
The pitching remains solid, with Chris Sale leading the rotation, despite the Jake Peavy trade, and that’s one reason Hahn has said he doesn’t envision a major overhaul. For that matter, the Sox landed one of their most promising players in outfielder Avisail Garcia from Detroit in the three-team deal that sent Peavy to Boston.
“I don’t think there’s one guy in this room that has any doubts coming into next year and doesn’t think we can produce,” closer Addison Reed said. “I’m sure it’s going to be exciting and I’m sure this offseason will help us get better and come to spring training and get ready to win the division.”
The Sox thought they had a chance to do just that. Instead, they weren’t even close.
“I don’t know of any guy on our team that hasn’t been eaten up by this team,” Konerko said.
Notes: The Sox’s Double-A affiliate, the Birmingham Barons, won the Southern League championship in their first season at widely acclaimed Regions Field. Barons GM Jonathan Nelson was chosen the league’s executive of the year.