Konerko, White Sox stay together with new deal
Team captain ends free agency, agreeing to three-year contract
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Paul Konerko was sitting on a beach last week in Mexico, lying in a chair and looking at the ocean, when he started receiving text messages concerning the White Sox four-year, $56 million agreement with Adam Dunn.
And what was the White Sox captain's initial reaction?
"My first thought was, 'OK, that was a fun 12 years. That's it. It was an either him-or-me situation,'" said Konerko with a laugh during a lunch-time conference call Wednesday to announce his official return to the White Sox with a three-year, $37.5 million deal.
Konerko, who turns 35 in March, will receive $12 million in 2011 and '12 and $13.5 million in '13. Of that $13.5 million, Konerko will receive $6.5 million in '13 and the remaining $7 million will be deferred -- $1 million per year from 2014-20.
Although the man known as "King" was fully expected to continue his South Side reign in Chicago to what will total a nice round 15 years, this deal looked to have hit a major snag on Tuesday evening. White Sox general manager Ken Williams told the media how his level of optimism wasn't nearly as high as when he arrived in Florida for Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings with the No. 1 target of bringing back Konerko.
Williams even spoke of moving on to Plan B. That pessimism quickly turned positive after Williams left the Chicago media contingent, with a deal being arrived at later that evening.
"Again, we had a consistent dialogue throughout the entire time," said Williams. "But I wouldn't say that things really started to come together until after I left our press conference yesterday. And we had one more meeting headed by Rick Hahn just prior to dinner, and things just finished up over dinner and sushi -- good sushi."
"It's one of those things that if yesterday was a bad day as far as the White Sox were concerned, I'm probably not wearing the uniform this season," Konerko said.
Going through this free-agent process is not new to Konerko. Actually, the veteran first baseman should write a primer on how to handle walk-away years as a Major Leaguer. Konerko hit .283 with 40 home runs and 100 RBIs during the 2005 season, helping the White Sox win a World Series title. He then rejoined the team through a five-year, $60 million deal, shortly after the White Sox traded for left-handed slugger Jim Thome.
While the scenario played out very similarly this time around, with Dunn's free agency replacing Thome's trade, Konerko said it was very different.
"Last time, we were in contact with the White Sox from early on in November, and other teams as well," Konerko said. "Things were much steadier, and numbers and offers were coming in much earlier the last time -- almost at the conclusion of the World Series.
"This time around, the month of November was just a kind of feeling-out process -- talking to a bunch of teams -- and in the last four or five days, that's where everything came in. It became more of a mad rush. It heated up much later, but much faster."
White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, as loyal of an employer as they come, let alone professional sports owners, holds a special bond with both Konerko and catcher A.J. Pierzynski, the fellow free agent who returned via a two-year, $8 million deal last week. Reinsdorf had two talks with Craig Landis, Konerko's representative, but the heavy lifting in the deal was left to Hahn and Landis.
In the end, everyone got what they wanted.
Both Konerko the player -- who hit .312 with 39 home runs and 111 RBIs in 2010 -- and Konerko the classy and even-keel leader were wanted back. White Sox fans didn't want to lose their heart and soul of the franchise for the past 12 years.
Despite preparing himself for a potential departure since the end of the 2009 season, Konerko wanted to return. He turned down overtures from the D-backs, where Konerko makes his home in Arizona, to stay in Chicago.
"If that were ultimately his choice and he decided to stay home and took even less money to stay home, I would have not begrudged him one bit," Williams said. "I would be saying the same positive things about who he is and what he's all about that I am today."
"My goal was to come back when my last contract expired," Konerko said. "That would give me 10 years-plus with one team, and I thought that was really cool, not to mention a chance to win while you're doing it. Now to sit there and say it's going to be 15, that's a nice round number, that's intriguing as well. I was prepared and had options to do other things. You've got to take all the steps necessary if it goes to the free-agent process, and I think I did a pretty good job of that."
As for the Dunn news interrupting his vacation, Konerko quickly recalled an end-of-the-season talk with Williams giving him hope for staying in Chicago.
"When you're going through a situation like this, it kind of wears on you day in and day out," said Konerko. "It would have been closure to that saga and then I could have moved on.
"Then I remembered Kenny telling me at the end of the year, 'Listen, if we go after this next year, we want to win it. I don't want you or Adam, I want both of you.' That was in my mind as well, where I was able to say, 'OK, maybe they will make a push to get both of us.'"
Landis put forth a simple question to the White Sox on the day of the Dunn signing: Are they still interested in Konerko? The White Sox said yes then and made it official one week later.