Paul Konerko’s journey provides reminder that patience pays

As I listened to friends and co-workers fondly reminisce on Paul Konerko’s career, I found myself wishing I had something more profound or exquisite to add.

I probably could have found something deep inside me, but it was difficult.

From 1999 to 2014, Konerko was a worth adversary, posting a .281/.356/.491/.847 slash line with the White Sox to go along with 432 home runs, 406 doubles and 1,383 runs batted in.

Against my beloved Cubs, Konerko was often at his best. He owned a .300 average, .592 slugging percentage, 20 homers, 16 doubles and 59 RBI.

Extrapolate his stats over a season’s worth of plate appearances (I estimated 600 PA) and Konerko would have hit 41 homers and 33 doubles with 122 RBI against the Cubs.

With numbers like that, I should be thankful he wasn’t a Cardinal.

But for me, the thing that resonates as far as Konerko’s career goes is the journey. As a Cubs fan, his plight to become the player he became puts the Cubs’ rebuild in perspective.

Konerko made his first Baseball America top prospects list in 1995, ranking 38th in all of baseball coming up in the Dodgers’ organization as a catcher.

(That’s right, a catcher.)

And that’s when the Dodgers were churning out quality prospects and turning them into productive major league players on an annual basis.

He moved to first base in 1996 with Double-A San Antonio, played some third base at Triple-A Albuquerque in 1997 and dabbled in some outfield (21 games) in 1998 at Albuquerque. In total, Konerko played 166 games at first base, 145 games at third, 131 at catcher and 21 in left field. That kind of positional versatility would make a Cubs fan giddy.

By 1998, Konerko would soar to the top of the charts, becoming Baseball America’s No. 2 prospect — behind A’s outfielder Ben Grieve and in front of Dodgers third baseman Adrian Beltre, Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood and Pirates third baseman Aramis Ramirez.

But as you know by now, Konkerko’s progress wasn’t linear. The former 1st round pick (13th overall)  of the Dodgers in 1994 was dealt to the Reds on July 4, 1998 in exchange for reliever Jeff Shaw.

(Aside: Prospect-for-reliever trades drive me crazy. Always have. Always will.)

Konerko played a whopping 26 games for the Reds before they shipped him to the White Sox in exchange for Mike Cameron. The Reds would later flip Cameron in a deal for Ken Griffey Jr., who played 41 games with Konerko in 2008 on the White Sox’s division winner — which happens to be the franchise’s last postseason appearance.

Trippy.

Konerko is Exhibit A on why I preach patience when it comes to the Cubs’ prospects bubbling in the system.

His tale provides perspective and a reminder that sometimes guys don’t get “it” right away.

Not all prospects pan out. But sometimes, it takes some positional (or organizational) change in order for a player to put it all together.

Konerko wasn’t an All-Star out of the box. He slashed .214/.275/.326/.601 with 7 homers and 29 RBI in his first 81 games (247 plate appearances). More than 2,200 games later, Konerko walks away from baseball having put together a borderline Hall of Fame career.

So, while Sox fans congratulate Konerko on what he did for their franchise, I would like to commend him on his perseverance throughout a remarkable career.

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Derek Jeter: Last of a dying breed

Talking heads might be right when they say, “MLB will never see another ball player like Derek Jeter again.”

Jeter spent 20 years with the New York Yankees and played in 2,747 regular season games (2,674 as the team’s shortstop) and 158 postseason games.

That kind of longevity is rare in baseball to begin with, but couple that longevity with the loyalty shown by both sides to keep Jeter in the Bronx for the entirety of his career is remarkable. Considering baseball is trending toward youth and positional flexibility, it’s hard to imagine another Jeter-like career moving forward from an up-and-coming player.

Not to say it is impossible, but it seems improbable.

Defensive metrics and increased use of spray charts have really changed the game. Taking that into consideration, it is unlikely that Jeter would have played a whopping 97.34 percent of his career at shortstop, especially the 761 games from 2009-14, which took him from his age 35-40 seasons.

Jeter is one of only five players to make at least 3,000 plate appearances after age 35 and be a team’s regular shortstop (for at least 75 percent of games played). He joins Omar Vizquel (2002-12), Ozzie Smith (1990-96), Luke Appling (1942-50) and Honus Wagner (1909-17).

The Captain won the last of his five Gold Gloves in 2010 at age 36, a season in which he only committed six errors and posted a career best .989 fielding percentage. But according to baseball-reference.com’s defensive Wins Above Replacement number, Jeter checked in with a -0.1 — which is just hovering around replacement level. Jeter hasn’t been better than a replacement level defensive infielder since 2009, which was one of three years in which he was above the replacement level line.

It is hard to imagine modern baseball minds in power keeping Jeter at a premium defensive position with his defense in decline in this era. It is a testament to stubbornness and loyalty for why it didn’t happen with the Yankees.

I wonder if Jeter was to start his career now, I’m not sure he would be a shortstop to begin with.

Prospect watch is at a fevered pitch now, as scouting and development of young players has taken center stage for a majority of baseball’s most competitive organizations. With that has come more scrutiny from fans and media alike.

At rookie ball, Jeter played 57 games and made 21 errors. In his first full season at the minor league level, Jeter made 56 errors in 126 games. In his last season as a full-time minor leaguer, Jeter committed a whopping 29 errors in 123 games.

Jeter was the 1996 AL Rookie of the Year, but probably no thanks to his defense as he made 22 errors, posted a .969 fielding percentage and owned a -0.2 dWAR. He was charged with 18 more errors in 1997.

His defensive imperfections were only a blip on the radar back then, but in 2014, 40 errors in two seasons probably would have resulted in some internal (and external) discussions on whether or not Jeter was the long-term solution at short or whether he was better off moving to second base or to the outfield.

Much has been made about Jeter’s leadership skills over the years and highlighted even more as he made his way toward retirement.

And while I’m inclined to agree that there might not be another player to achieve the kind of accolades Jeter did, all while keeping his nose clean in New York City, I’m more inclined to believe that we will see another great field general. Baseball, with its grueling 162-game schedule and lengthy road travel slate, is a sport that lends itself to creating on-field/clubhouse leaders.

There have always been great leaders on the diamond and there always will be. Baseball is cyclical in that way.

Derek Jeter will go to Cooperstown on the first ballot and my guess is he will receive the highest vote total in Hall of Fame voting history. But for me, and possibly others, Jeter will also go down as the last of a dying breed.

Chicago Cubs 2014 In Review

Well, that was certainly a pleasant end to a homestand, wasn’t it?

Wednesday’s 3-1 win marked the end of the Cubs’ home schedule, which they finished at 41-40, and represented the team’s first winning season at home since 2009.

They’ll finish the season with three against the Brewers at Miller Park beginning Friday, but since much of your attention will be focused on Bears-Packers on Sunday, I figured there was no better time to review the Cubs’ season than now.

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Starlin Castro’s bounceback year is worth a blog post

Hate to say I told you so, but…

…wait a minute. No, I don’t.

I held firm in my opinion that Starlin Castro’s 2013 was fluke-ish.

I simply couldn’t believe that a two-time All-Star who was a hit machine since debuting at age 20 was going to put forth another .245/.284/.347/.631 slash line. It simply didn’t pass the eye test.

Less than a year later, it looks like Castro’s lame-duck 2013 was nothing but a blip.

Just check out what Castro did before a season ending injury.

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Does anybody want to win the NL (or AL) Central? And other baseball thoughts

The National League Central Division is a mess.

The Brewers started out 20-7, but are 53-56 since and 20-20 since the All-Star break.

You’d think the Cardinals would have run away with the division by now, based on talent and organizational depth, but their manager is a dolt. They enter September tied for first and are coming off a productive August in which they averaged 4.41 runs per game, a pretty significant increase considering they were averaging 3.63 runs per game entering August.

The American League Central Division is a mess, too.

On the topic of managerial dolts, the only thing that might keep the Royals from winning this thing is Ned Yost.

Sound familiar?

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