Season preview: Infield

Paul Konerko, 35, anchors a young infield for the White Sox this season. Ron Vesely/MLB Photos/Getty Images

If you are only as young as the company you keep, Paul Konerko figures to be in pretty good shape this season. Not only did the coin flip land on Konerko returning to the South Side (he said at the end of last season there was a 50-50 chance he’d come back), the 35-year-old has defied a youth movement around the bases that includes Gordon Beckham at second, Alexei Ramirez at shortstop and now Brent Morel at third. In some ways, Konerko’s return isn’t a surprise.

Baseball’s big spenders were either set at first base or looking to drop their cash on other needs. But his return still almost didn’t happen. The White Sox were close to a youth movement that Konerko wouldn’t have been a part of until a spending spree was approved. Konerko’s last two contract years (2005 and 2010) were among the best of his career. But the first year after signing his just-completed five-year deal he did bat .313 with 35 home runs and 113 RBIs. His .381 on-base percentage and .551 slugging percentage in 2006 were the best of his career until last season. Several observers have remarked that Konerko looks thinner, but he denied that saying that he might be off “a pound or two either way,” from last season.

The White Sox believe that by adding Morel‘s defense at third base to Ramirez’s at shortstop, they have one of the best left sides of the infield in baseball. Ramirez provides the flash while Morel is the steady sidekick. If this was a cop duo, it’s not quite Turner and Hooch, but more like Riggs and Murtaugh, Crockett and Tubbs, Starksy and Hutch, or our personal favorite, Ponch and John. Ramirez combines his defense with a polished offensive game.

Morel is a work in progress with the bat, although it was a brief two-day tutorial this spring that got him on track, showing that he not only can listen but can apply what he has learned. The person happiest to see this duo work together, though, is every single pitcher on the White Sox’s staff.

A less obvious infield duo for the White Sox is Gordon Beckham and Adam Dunn. Sure they might get a chance to play together on the right side of the infield (mostly when the sun is shining as Konerko rests), but where they might do most of their damage is back-to-back in the White Sox’s lineup. If Dunn bats third as expected, look for the No. 2-hitting Beckham to get plenty to swing at this season. Nobody will want to walk Beckham with a potential two-run home run coming to the plate next.

Add that dynamic to Beckham’s workman-like approach this spring and the chances of seeing him struggle in the first half like he did last season are the same as Kenny Williams going to bed early the week of the trade deadline. Dunn’s power displays will earn him affection, but his penchant of striking out (199 times last season) will earn him detractors. The reality about Dunn is this, though: He has delivered 100 RBIs in six of his last seven seasons and has hit at least 38 home runs in all seven of them.