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Paul Konerko heads off into retirement as Chicago White Sox look to build on modest turnaround

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CHICAGO — The Chicago White Sox have a dynamic power hitter in Jose Abreu. They have one of baseball's best pitchers in Chris Sale and a pesky leadoff man in Adam Eaton.

Then there is the rest of the roster.

Led by Abreu, the favorite for AL Rookie of the Year, Chicago posted a 10-game improvement this season compared to its 99 losses in 2013. It closed the season by dropping three of four against playoff-bound Kansas City in the final series for slugger Paul Konerko, who retired after 18 years in the majors.

With Abreu, Sale and Eaton, the White Sox have three of the most valuable commodities in baseball, but there are several areas of concern heading into another important winter, namely an injury-riddled bullpen and the rest of the rotation behind Sale and Jose Quintana.

"I think we are pleased with a lot of the progress we've made in the last 15 months, but we're by no means, first satisfied, nor operating under the belief that we're by any means finished, in terms of assembling a core and a unit that can contend on annual basis," general manager Rick Hahn said. "That's absolutely the goal as we enter the offseason here."

Another offseason like the previous one, and Chicago will be in prime position to improve again in 2015.

The White Sox landed Abreu last October, handing over a $68 million, six-year contract to the Cuban slugger. He responded with one of the best rookie seasons in major league history, batting .317 with 36 homers and 107 RBIs in 145 games.

Abreu turns 28 in January and could be anchoring Chicago's lineup for years to come.

PHOTO: Chicago White Sox's Jose Abreu hits a two-run home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals in Chicago on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Chicago White Sox's Jose Abreu hits a two-run home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals in Chicago on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

"I think we see great things," manager Robin Ventura said. "Any time a guy gets into his first year and has the impact that he had, you're very excited to see what comes of it."

The White Sox also acquired Eaton from Arizona in a three-team trade last December. He hit .300 in his third year in the majors with 10 triples, tying Cleveland's Michael Bourn for the AL lead. He also played fearless defense in center field, becoming a fan favorite for his willingness to crash into the wall while tracking long flyballs.

"We weren't expected to win, but I think we played better than most people thought," Eaton said before Sunday's 6-4 loss to Kansas City. "But like I said, you don't want to get into that mindset of we're not expected to win so we don't have to win. I think we need to come every day knowing that we're going to win, knowing that we're going to compete, and I think we'll do that next year."

Sale was his usual brilliant self, going 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA, and Quintana had another solid year. But the rest of the rotation was inconsistent, and the bullpen was even worse.

Hurt by injuries to Nate Jones and Matt Lindstrom, Chicago had a major league-high 32 losses by relievers, and its 4.38 bullpen ERA was 28th in the league. It also had 21 blown save opportunities, tied for seventh-most in the majors.

"When you look at our bullpen, you wish that was better," Ventura said. "You don't know if it's going to be guys that are improving or different people. That's just the way the game goes. You look at what you're weak at and try to figure out a way to improve it."

Carlos Rodon, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft, could help the rotation or bullpen next year, and Hahn said the team has some "economic flexibility" heading into the winter. Chicago also could look to upgrade its outfield after the position group produced just 37 homers this year, tied for eighth-fewest in all of baseball, according to STATS.

"You look back at a lot of games you lost; see how you lost them, why you lost them," Ventura said. "I think defensively for us, there's way to improve. Offensively there's ways to improve. There's a lot of different things to it."


Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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