Konerko's big bat could help a contender

Paul Konerko has hit 13 home runs this season, the most in the major leagues.

That may surprise you. Maybe it shouldn't.

Konerko is coming off a season in which he clubbed 28 and didn't spend a day on the disabled list. Despite the balding pate, he looks quite healthy for someone who has appeared in more than 1,700 big-league games.

He is 34, after all. It only seems like he is older, because he debuted in 1997, months after a squeaky-clean Tiger Woods won his first Masters. Konerko was born in the same calendar year as Michael Young and Alfonso Soriano. They aren't ancient, are they?

Konerko may be nearing the end of his prime, but he's proving that it isn't over yet. The trying 2008 season - which included an oblique injury and .240 batting average - is now a distant memory.

"Every guy has that one year when he realizes that, to get out on the field every day, you have to start taking care of yourself a little better," the White Sox first baseman said Tuesday. "It's not as easy to get out there. It's a little bit tougher. That just comes with a little bit of age.

"But a lot of guys older than me are still doing it. ... I don't feel much different now (than) any other time, as far as how I can help the team."

This is a man with a pair of 40-homer seasons. And he's not the type to fib.

So, trust me: Konerko could become one of the most talked about players in baseball in 2010. The telltale signs of a charmed season are there.

"First at-bat, contract year, he hit a home run to right field," teammate A.J. Pierzynski said. "One thing about Paul, he analyzes everything. Sometimes, he overanalyzes. To go out and do that in his first at-bat probably relaxed him."

To recap: Konerko is off to a great start ... His team isn't ... He is going to be a free agent at the end of the season.

You know what that means: Mention of his full no-trade clause will appear in roughly 3,432 news reports and blog postings between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

The White Sox, reports say, have not made their veterans available via trade. No surprise there. What incentive would they have to do so, this early in the season?

It will be another month before the trade market begins to crystallize. And the White Sox, 8 1/2 games back of Minnesota in the winnable American League Central, could make a run between now and then.

Yet, there is no sense in denying the obvious appeal that Konerko would have to other clubs. Contenders always want one more bat . Well, Konerko's lumber has produced seven postseason home runs. You may remember that one of them was a World Series grand slam.

Think of any team that has dealt with injuries/underperformance at first base or designated hitter. The Rays, Rangers, Giants and Red Sox come to mind. Konerko would be an upgrade for any of them.

Not that he's thinking about that now.

"It's got no place in my day," he said, when the subject was broached. "If it doesn't help me be productive today, then it's got no place in my routine."

His agent, Craig Landis, had a similar response when asked whether Konerko would consider waiving his no-trade clause: "We'll cross that bridge when and if we come to it."

So, for now, Konerko's stay atop the leader board must be entertainment enough.

Could he finish the year with the most homers in the American League? It's possible, but not likely.

He plays his home games at hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field. He has finished among the top five on three occasions, most recently in 2007. You can argue that he has a chance and keep a straight face.

Landis, for one, believes Konerko is a better overall hitter now than at any other point of his career. The reason: a consistent, selective approach that has yielded more walks than strikeouts this season - very rare for a power hitter.

"I don't think this is an anomaly," one scout said, when asked about Konerko's early-season production. "You've got to be careful with him. His bat is still quick. He's a threat."

But I don't sense that Konerko is too concerned about a home run title - especially not in mid-May.

And I don't know that it would be much different in September.

Konerko wasn't a "me" player in 2005, when he finished sixth in the MVP balloting and became a World Series hero. And he isn't a "me" player now, when he has all the money he needs and the ring that everyone wants.

That is why he is the captain of the White Sox. A good captain. The kind that will be missed, whenever he moves on.

"Would be weird," Pierzynski said, "not seeing him in a White Sox uniform."

It might be next month. It might be next year. It might be long after that. In the meantime, the home run power is going to be there.