Earlier this month Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that Paul Konerko was “telling friends that he definitely wants to return to the White Sox next year and believes he can still be productive.”
However, it now sounds like the 37-year-old first baseman may be having second thoughts, telling Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago:
The last couple of times, and especially in 2005, there was no doubt I would play again. I understand the inquiries about my future and why people want to know. At the same time, it is still about doing my job; I don’t want to get ahead of myself. What is the rush, is the way I feel. There are certain things I don’t feel obligated to give out [or] tell people. There are some things that are private, and some people take it the wrong way.
My immediate reaction to that quote is to think Konerko plans to retire, because if he were simply going to come back for an 18th season would it really be that big of a secret? That’s just me trying to read between some lines, of course.
Konerko has had a miserable year, missing time with injuries and hitting just .248 with 11 homers and a career-worst .674 OPS in 121 games after topping an .840 OPS in each of the past four seasons. He’ll be a free agent this offseason, so even if he plans to return in 2014 it’ll almost surely have to be on an incentive-laden one-year contract and it’d be hard to blame the rebuilding White Sox if they weren’t all that interested.
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.