Maybe Paul Konerko has been worth it this year? Kinda?

I like eating my own words. It's a fun exercise. No special interest group ever writes huffy emails about the severity with which I went in on my previous self, It's an excuse to make the post even more about myself, and since everyone on the baseball internet is the aggrieved representative of the cruddy player they were personally excited for, usually I only have to eat my words for happy reasons. Someone was vaguely more productive than I though they would be--I must commit hari-kiri.

This post...almost qualifies? It gets very close to a lot of things and doesn't quite meet the threshold. It's a lot like most of the White Sox teams Paul Konerko has been on.

Paul Konerko was brought back this year to be a bench bat against select left-handers. A third 1B/DH that only covers the short side of the platoon? I was dubious on the concept, even though Konerko had just come through with a .923 OPS season against lefties. If I only wear wingtips to weddings, I'm not going to have much interest in employing the best shoe-shiner in the world.

Konerko is, as I predicted, not replicating those numbers from 2013, but at 38 years of age, is still an above-average hitter when handed the platoon advantage. He's hit .290/.323/.462 for a 116 wRC+ against lefties this year. It's good, but not special, and more of a nice ability than a singular quality to justify ones whole roster presence with. But the Sox, strangely enough, would be kind of be lacking for spare potent at-bats against lefties without him.

This seemed unlikely at the outset of the year, when if anything Konerko seemed to be directly sapping away at the role of Dayan Viciedo, who was already going to be platooning with Alejandro De Aza and providing lefty-mashing thunder off the bench. With Matt Davidson potentially floating around the roster near the later part of the year, Konerko had a high likelihood to encroach upon swings against lefties better spent elsewhere.

Instead, Viciedo got a full-time job, and hasn't retained any of the skills that made him an interesting part-time worker (94 wRC+ vs. LHP), Davidson has had a lost year in Triple-A, and the Sox offense has become surprisingly dependent on platoon stud, Conor Gillaspie. Their best bats against left-handers, aren't particularly flexible. Jose Abreu is aces against lefties, but also can never really be taken out of the lineup ever, same for Adam Eaton.

Other than that:

-Avisail Garcia was 2-5 with a homer and a walk before he got hurt.

-Adrian Nieto has been surprisingly capable in 20 plate appearances.

-Gordon Beckham (GORDON BECKHAM!?!?!) is .312/.353/.462 against lefties--underscoring how truly awful he's been against righties--but is also kind of rooted to the spot at a premium defensive position.

Which leaves Konerko as the top lefty-smashing spare bat, during a year where Adam Dunn badly needed a platoon partner (62 wRC+ vs. LHP). He's even been 8-23 as a pinch-hitter. He's had some clear uses on the roster, even if it wasn't enough to make him an intrinsically valuable player who would be pursued on the open market. All he's actually accounted for is 99 plate appearances against lefties and the less said about the other ones and the nicer the tone of this piece will stay.

About that, though. They probably could have just gotten this year out of Moises Sierra, a toolsy mess with a passing notion of a plate approach that was kicked out of Toronto with no regrets after a month. Sierra has used batted ball luck (and, I donno, actual speed, probably) to hit .288/.315/.481 (117 wRC+) against lefties, while also pinch-running frequently, defending a position, and not being a dead body against righties. His avenues toward meaningful play might totally dry up when Avisail comes calling in under two weks, and the Sox will have wasted most of their last chance to see him play regularly on a Viciedo homer-binge, but he was a useful bench player who stumbled in and provided what Konerko was to provide in a limited situation off the scrap heap. It's not quite a scandal, but it's been telling.

Yet this situation has steered clear of embarrassment--the Sox wanted to bring back a franchise hero for a peaceful and happy farewell, and give him a small job to do to steer clear of any feelings that he was a free rider. For the most part, he's been useful against lefties and flinging pinch-hit singles, and we've been able to applaud him a few times. When bringing back a 38-year-old first baseman who has basically been done as a regular MLBer for a year and a half, the possibilities are far worse. He basically brought store-bought cookies from the drug store to the potluck and we all clapped because it was from him.

There's a balance to strike between an unfeeling franchise that ultimately cares for nothing except value maximization and self-romanticizing lunacy where we cheer our heroes even as they mold before our eyes. The Sox were always erring toward the latter side when they even entertained this farewell season, and submitted themselves to self-imposed positional roster crunches for the whole season. But at least--in the twisted logic of the original premise for the deal--Konerko delivered, as much he could expected to, and having that little sliver of leaving on his own terms is more than most get to cling to. I'm sure the Sox are overjoyed to have given it to him.


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