Veteran White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko arrived at spring training Tuesday and had some interesting things to say. The headline on the Sun-Times sports site this afternoon reads, "White Sox fans will not like this prediction from Paul Konerko."
Hmmm .... I'm intrigued.
Anyway, here's what Konerko said, as reported by Sun-Times beat writer Daryl Van Schouwen:
"I hope I don't throw anybody off with this, but this can be a very successful year without making the playoffs.
"I think you can start building something now. Teams the last handful of years, it's been try real hard to win and you fail, then come back next year and try again from a totally different angle. I think what is happening here is they're trying to build something that's a little more sustainable.
"My point is, if we go out there and compete this year and it doesn't happen -- you see this with some other teams in the league -- that they kind of pick up the next year with that momentum that they built from the year before. That's why I said it could be successful. I'm not conceding anything. In today's game, there's way too many teams especially now that there's another wild card spot.
"There's a lot of 'ifs.' But again I don't think you have to sit there and say, 'We're trying to win, we're trying to rebuild.' Who knows? Cleveland last year, not that they won the division, but all in all I think it was a very successful year. Cleveland just came in looking to see what they had. But I think this year, this team is different than a lot of teams we've had recently.''
Konerko says he doesn't want to throw anybody off, but it seems like he might have thrown off at least one headline writer. Can anyone find the prediction in there? Me neither. In fairness, I write headlines, too, and sometimes you say something just to get people to click on the link. I don't think Konerko predicted anything, nor did he concede anything.
I don't believe White Sox fans will be upset by these remarks. Expectations haven't been this low going into a season in over a decade. I'm not sure I know anyone who is expecting playoffs. I know people who are hoping for a surprise, but there is a difference between hoping and expecting.
In addition, these remarks by Konerko are spot on. The Sox will be providing opportunities for a number of younger players this year: Dayan Viciedo, Brent Morel, Gordon Beckham, Alejandro De Aza, Tyler Flowers, Chris Sale, Addison Reed, Zach Stewart, Dylan Axelrod -- these guys all have a chance to establish themselves as MLB players this year. If a good number of these youngsters do just that, it will be a successful season for the White Sox regardless of the won-loss record. I think a lot of White Sox observers are astute enough to recognize this fact.
Konerko also had some interesting comments about the malaise that was the 2011 season:
"There was definitely some times late in the year last year where there were probably games and days given away because of people worrying about things that were not related to the game of baseball,'' Konerko said. "I don't see that being an issue. I have a good feeling that no matter what happens this year, whatever our records winds up being, I think you can look at that record and say that's what this team did. That's the true measure of this group of guys.
"The last couple years and especially toward the end last year we were just giving away games. Big league players, you should be mentally tougher than to have that stuff bother you. And I think for the longest time we were as a group. And it's not the same group every year. I think it just all came to a head. But that's how things end. If it didn't go like that then no one would see a need to make a change. Some stuff like that has to happen to make a change.''
Again, spot on. The atmosphere around the White Sox last year was poison, and many of us suspected that was the case at the time. New manager, new year, it shouldn't be that way this season. How much of a difference will it make in the win-loss column? Hard to say, but it's refreshing to know the Ozzie Guillen soap opera has gone south not just for the winter, but south for good.