Paul Konerko: Tension cost White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Tension between the front office and former manager Ozzie Guillen cost the Chicago White Sox games last season, according to captain Paul Konerko, who said the team was "just giving away games."

Guillen and general manager Kenny Williams led the White Sox to their first World Series in 88 years in 2005, but the duo's relationship became strained over the past two seasons. The White Sox finished 79-83 last season and in third place in the American League Central. Guillen was granted a release from the White Sox with two games left in the season and took over as Miami Marlins manager two days later.

"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 Tuesday. "Especially toward the end last year we were just giving away games, and you know big-league players should be mentally tougher than to have that stuff bother you ... but then it all came to a head, and I guess that's how things go. If it didn't go that way then no one would see the need to make a change."

With Robin Ventura taking over as manager, the White Sox are getting a fresh start, which Konerko welcomes.

"Going into this year that is what this team has to offer; there are no side issues," said Konerko, who has exchanged texts with Guillen over the past few weeks. "I think we will be approaching it right saying the right stuff and getting after it and the talent will dictate where we end up."

With an influx of players who will start their first full season with the club, a new face to the starting rotation, young arms added to the bullpen and several veteran players looking to redeem themselves, Konerko isn't about to declare the team's 2012 campaign a rebuilding or a must-win season.

Then again, Konerko said declarations mean nothing right now. With Tuesday marking the first full team workout under a mostly first-year coaching staff, Konerko said that now is the time to start developing good habits that will hopefully carry over into the regular season.

"I hope I don't throw anybody off with this, but this can be a very successful year without making the playoffs," Konerko said.

Konerko cited last season's Cleveland Indians as an example of a team that made positive strides without making winning the Central Division title or reaching the postseason, as they entered last season looking to see what they had talent-wise. Cleveland finished two games below .500, an improvement of 11 wins from 2010.

"We're starting with a whole new staff, a whole new era here," Konerko said. "I think you can start building something now. (White Sox 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."

Ventura can see the point his first baseman was trying to make.

"I know what he means," Ventura said. "He's talking about the expectations from the outside of us being young and not even being in contention. If we play well, you play good baseball, it can be, but obviously we're looking for more than that. I guess the way he's looking at it, I get what he's saying."

Bruce Levine covers baseball for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. Chris Silva is a special contributor to ESPNChicago.com.