Paul Konerko's return -- for a hometown discount, for a team captain's financial courtesy for both his teammates and a boss he likes -- sets things in order in more ways than one for the White Sox.
Most obviously, Konerko now teams with Adam Dunn to give the Sox perhaps the American League's best one-two power punch. And the Sox retain their league-leading stolen-base potential to make things happen in front of the strongmen via Juan Pierre and Alex Rios.
Konerko's financial flexibility -- he's deferring about half of his 2013 salary beyond the expiration of the contract after that season. If ever a player, baseball or basketball, won over Jerry Reinsdorf's heart that way, it has to be a man who could be a White Sox as long as Frank Thomas.
And Konerko's leadership will squarely be planted in the Sox clubhouse probably 'till the end of his career. His teammates don't call him "The King" for nothing. He's worth every cent of his contract even if his skills decline in his final year, a real possibility. Konerko has taken on the burden of pre-game media briefings before every home game, relieving pressure on his teammates to analyze the ups and downs of the long season. He knows his streams of consciousness, which are remarkably devoid of baseball cliches, go over well in sound bites.
But the most important factor of his return for the fortunes of the 2011 Sox is that Konerko prevents a domino's effect of moves to add a hitter and move Chris Sale out of his comfort zone at the end of the bullpen.
With Konerko's return uncertain weeks ago, early projections had Sox GM Kenny Williams trading a pitcher, say a Gavin Floyd, to get a hitter. But the signing of free agents Dunn and A.J. Pierzynski along with their own salary-deferral programs permitted Konerko's deal and enables Williams to not rip apart the pitching staff to add the much-needed bopper in the middle of the order.
If anything, Williams needs to add two pitchers, one in the rotation and one in the bullpen. One of them is not Sale as a starter. Too much danger exists of 1) Sale not having the endurance to overpower hitters for more than five innings this early in his career and 2) hurting his elbow or shoulder with too many pitches thrown as a starter. So if he stays in late relief and blows away hitters for an inning -- Sale's already got lefty hitters all over the American League intimidated -- he's in the right place, with minimal risk for injury.
But the spectre of an unhealthy Jake Peavy hovers over all Sox plans. Using Sale to replace Peavy if he's not ready on Opening Day is not the answer. An orthopedic specialist of my acquaintance cast doubts on Peavy's ability to come back as a hard thrower after his one-of-a-kind surgery to re-attach his torn "lat" muscle. So Williams needs to cast about for a starter as insurance. Mark Buehrle is in apparent decline, so the need is even more acute.
With Konerko and Dunn in the fold, Williams could even go out on a limb to dangle Carlos Quentin to an outfielder-challenged team in exchange for pitching. He can always used Mark Teahen, displaced from third, as part of the solution in right, or finally give Jordan Danks his first shot.
The Sox don't lack severely in any area now. Williams doesn't have to make a big splash. He just to fill in. That's the greatest gift Konerko, the ultimate team man, gave the Sox in the holiday season.