Paul Konerko's career is coming to a close.
He didn't make a decision about playing this season until December, and the Chicago White Sox are preparing to use him in a much smaller role than in years past. In all likelihood, he'll platoon at both first base and designated hitter with the likes of Jose Abreu and Adam Dunn, respectively.
From 2001-2012, Konerko was one of the most intimidating hitters in the American League. When healthy, he was always a threat for 25-plus home runs and close to 100 RBI.
It will be difficult for him to match those numbers this season, especially when considering the fact that his on-field time will be limited. Konerko will likely play around 100 games (maybe fewer) and serve more as an in-dugout mentor to the younger players on the roster.
This will be the 38-year-old's 18th season in the bigs. Last season was his worst as a regular, hence why it likely took so long for him to make a decision about 2014.
In 126 games, Konerko batted .244/.313/.355 with 12 home runs and 54 RBI. A lower back issue nagged him throughout the entirety of the campaign, and it showed.
Assuming that Konerko calls it quits after the season, there will be a very interesting debate as to whether or not he'll earn consideration for the Hall of Fame.
Via Twitter, I reached out to Scott Merkin, the White Sox beat reporter for MLB.com, to see what he had to say. Merkin thinks Konerko has a chance:
@kennydejohn Konerko says no, but I think when you look at his whole body of work, there's definitely a chance ~— Scott Merkin (@scottmerkin) March 6, 2014
When examining his career marks, it's clear that he's on the cusp. Entering the season, he has 434 homers, 1,390 RBI and a line of .281/.356/.490 over the course of his career. Doug Padilla of ESPNChicago.com breaks down where some of those marks rank in team history:
Konerko is second on the White Sox's all-time list in home runs (427), RBIs (1,361) and total bases (3,944), trailing Frank Thomas in all three categories. He is second in games played for the White Sox at 2,187, behind Luke Appling's 2,422. He also played for a limited time at the start of his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cincinnati Reds.
Frank Thomas just earned his entry into Cooperstown, but his numbers are a bit more impressive. Comparing the two would be unfair. There are four players that it is fair to compare him to, however. Using baseball-reference.com's "similarity scores" feature, I pinpointed three Hall of Famers and one potential future Hall of Famer to compare him to—Orlando Cepeda, Willie Stargell, Jim Rice and Carlos Delgado.
Here's how the players look when stacked up against each other:
|Player||Service Time (Yrs)||Slash Line||Hits||Home Runs||RBI||Accolades|
|Paul Konerko||17||.281/.356/.491||2,297||434||1,390||6x All-Star|
|Willie Stargell||21||.282/.360/.529||2,232||475||1,540||6x All-Star, 1979 NL MVP|
|Orlando Cepeda||17||.297/.350/.499||2,351||379||1,365||7x All-Star, 1958 NL RoY, 1967 NL MVP|
|Jim Rice||16||.298/.352/.502||2,452||382||1,451||8x All-Star, 1978 AL MVP|
|Carlos Delgado||17||.280/.383/.546||2,038||473||1,512||2x All-Star|
Prior to the upcoming season, Konerko's stats seem to mirror Stargell's and Delgado's the most. All three hit for respectable averages and got on base at high clips. The difference is that Stargell and Delgado flashed slightly more power.
Konerko has a few small kickers that might help to boost his resume, however.
For one, he'll retire as a player that essentially played his entire career with one team during the height of player free agency. Sure, he began with the Dodgers and Reds, but he didn't make a name for himself until he went to Chicago.
The fact that he has no ties to performance-enhancing drugs during the height of the steroid era will also help his case. While players like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds were allegedly cheating, Konerko was cleanly going about his business hitting homers and driving in runs.
Konerko also has the support of his team. He has been the White Sox's captain since 2006, after helping them win the World Series against the Houston Astros in 2005. These are intangibles that might help his case.
Is Konerko a Hall of Famer?
Of course, there are a few negatives about his resume as well. He likely won't finish with 2,500 hits (2,297 entering 2014), 500 homers (434 entering 2014) or 1,500 RBI (1,390 entering 2014). These things will probably hold him back a bit.
If I was able to vote, I would likely vote for Konerko. His numbers are very good, and he always went about the game with class. Playing in the steroid era makes his achievements even more impressive, as he was never once tied to PED's or other controversy.
The debate will rage on even stronger after he officially calls it quits, but it's something worth discussing now. I think Konerko is deserving. His numbers, and his way of going about things, speak for themselves.
Follow me on Twitter if you'd like to debate Konerko's candidacy: @kennydejohn