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Dunn a big X factor in White Sox planning process

MILWAUKEE – Adam Dunn is a large man with a very large contract who presents a huge problem in the White Sox planning process for 2012.

His $56 million, four-year contract, which has three years left on it, is too big to be moved. A sad reminder of last season’s “all-in” campaign gone all wrong, it stands in the way of the Sox going all young next season.

As bad as his .159 batting average and 11 home runs stunk up U.S. Cellular Field, Dunn’s Ruthian streak of seven consecutive seasons with 38 home runs or more is too staggering to dismiss. The Sox hope the time he is taking off now, playing golf, playing with his kids at home in Texas and watching his Longhorns play football on Saturday afternoons is clearing his head and preparing him to arrive at spring training a new man.

Having a new hitting coach, Jeff Manto, can’t hurt. And Dunn will arrive, for the first time in his career, general manager Ken Williams said at the general managers meeting here this week, with offseason at-bats under his belt.

“He does work out but he did not swing the bat,” Williams said of Dunn’s past offseason idea of work. “That’s expected to change.”

Dunn is a feel hitter who typically finds his swing during the last week or so of spring training. That scenario unfolded during his first spring with the Sox this past season, and Dunn hit one out of the park in Cleveland on Opening Day. It looked like he was on his way to making the hefty investment in him look sound.

But things quickly went south. An appendectomy took him out of his groove, and a slump followed that would not end. Theories as to why Dunn had one of the worst years ever by a major leaguer outnumbered answers about 12-0.

“I don’t know,” Williams said with more than a trace of annoyance in his voice at the question. “If I could tell you the answer to that we would have done that in June in July. It has to come from within, it has to come from him. It doesn’t disappear overnight.

“We’re talking about a guy with a long track record of success. I’m hopeful he clears his head and comes back ready to go. He started the season – before he had that surgery – and looked like he was going to have a big year. It may be as simple as that tripped him up at the beginning of the season. Maybe it’s something as simple as that, getting him in a rhythm, in a little bit better shape where maybe he can play the field a little bit more. And we’ll see what we got.”

… Williams’ plan of action, which will come into focus at the winter meetings in a couple of weeks, will likely be a “retooling” plan that leaves the Sox somewhat younger with a somewhat lower payroll and the flexibility to go one of two directions when the trade deadline rolls around in July – cut more payroll if the team is out of contention or, if Dunn rediscovers his swing and puts them in it – add.

That’s putting a lot on Dunn’s big shoulders. But that’s he signed on for — life in the big city.