In a span of four months, the discussion involving Paul Konerko went from his Hall of Fame candidacy to what happened after May 27 — including a frustrating final two weeks of 2012.
Despite his mercurial season, Konerko finished with a .298 batting average. Only Prince Fielder (.313) and Adrian Gonzalez (.300) had higher averages among American League first basemen. And with 26 home runs, Konerko was fourth at his position in the AL behind only Edwin Encarnacion (42), Albert Pujols and Fielder (30 each).
Konerko was one hit away from hitting .300 for the third consecutive year, yet his batting average was 15 points higher than his career average, and he hit at least 26 home runs for the fourth consecutive season and for the eighth time in the last nine seasons.
Konerko was quick to undergo surgery on his left wrist to remove a loose particle that had nagged him infrequently the last two seasons. The procedure, performed last week, was deemed a success, and Konerko should be ready for the start of spring training in mid-February.
That will be about three weeks before Konerko turns 37 as he enters the final year of his contract with the Sox. Konerko said last week he hadn’t given any thought to his future past 2013. He already has won a World Series, earned three consecutive AL All-Star selections and six overall, and likely will have a statue erected in his honor at U.S. Cellular Field down the road.
But 2013 could determine how much longer Konerko wants to play and at what level he can be productive at in the future. He batted .265 after May 27 and hit only 15 home runs in the final four months. He batted only .253 in the final four weeks and .227 with six RBIs in his final two weeks.
In his defense, the floating debris in his wrist might have bothered him more than he led everyone to believe. He missed three games in early June to have the loose particle flushed from his wrist, and soreness from the procedure caused him to bat only .241 with three home runs and seven RBIs in June.
His efficiency in the clutch also tapered off. From June 1 to the end of the season, Konerko batted .229 with runners in scoring position and .186 with runners in scoring position with two outs.
Despite his late struggles, there’s a better chance Konerko will continue to give the Sox another overall consistent season in 2013. In fact, they might need it more than ever should No. 6 hitter A.J. Pierzynski depart.
Manager Robin Ventura wisely gave Konerko more rest as a designated hitter and gave Adam Dunn more playing time at first base. That switch could be employed more frequently because of Konerko’s age and the fact the 6-foot-6 Dunn was more agile than he was in 2011.
Konerko arguably is the best in the AL at picking low throws out of the dirt, but Dunn represents a bigger and more agile target for infielders. He committed two errors in 52 games at first, and he could play more in left field in National League parks against right-handed pitchers as well.
But Dunn, like Konerko, faded late in the season, and his 23 strikeouts in his final 12 games put him within one of tying Mark Reynolds’ record of 223 strikeouts in a season. Dunn’s rebound from 2011 was remarkable, but the Sox would welcome fewer strikeouts and continued improvement against left-handed pitchers (15 homers in 2012).
Dan Johnson hit three home runs in his final game and is arbitration eligible. He can play first, but he is 33 and never received an extended look at third base or the outfield last spring.