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11/08/11 6:00 PM EST

Buehrle breakdown: Will he stay or will he go?

Left-hander weighing multiple factors in free-agent decision

CHICAGO -- Sometime around the moment Michael Vick threw his final incompletion of Monday night's exciting Bears victory, a strange feeling of angst began to hover over Chicago.

It seemed to be centered on the city's South Side.

As first reported by FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal and confirmed by MLB.com, free-agent hurler Mark Buehrle met with the Marlins on Tuesday to discuss possible future employment. Meetings are commonplace in the world of free agency, a world that Buehrle is entering for the first time in his 12-year career, and certainly don't necessarily indicate an impending deal.

But with great interest around Major League Baseball already moving in Buehrle's direction, White Sox fans can't help but think Buehrle's seven shutout innings thrown against the Blue Jays at home on Sept. 27 just might be his last effort in a White Sox uniform.

Let's try to answer a few questions surrounding the Buehrle situation, which figures to play out as the White Sox biggest free-agent gain or loss during this present offseason.

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Has Buehrle simply grown tired of the American League Central?

Not necessarily, as he has dominated division opponents to the tune of an 82-58 career mark. Only Cleveland, at 17-15, has a winning record against the southpaw.

When he talked to MLB.com back in late September about a possible switch to the National League, though, they were serious comments and not simply posturing for future negotiations.

"I've thought about that," said Buehrle, speaking about the league switch to MLB.com after his last road start in Cleveland. "One, just to see how another organization is run. This is all I've known. But yeah, it's one of those things where it would be kind of an interesting challenge to switch leagues and see how the National League is.

"Plus, an extra bonus is you get to hit. Not that it's a good thing, but you will just be a little bit more involved in the game."

Jeff Berry, Buehrle's long-time representative, talked about the move to the NL based on it being more pitcher-directed without a designated hitter. Buehrle focused on going against guys who hadn't already faced him 75 or 80 times during the course of his career, giving the advantage back to Buehrle.

Ironically, Buehrle used Michael Cuddyer and their 104 career head-to-head at-bats as an example. Buehrle potentially could face Cuddyer regularly if he ends up in Philadelphia after meeting with them Tuesday and Buehrle goes to the Marlins.

If it's a move to the NL, then wouldn't it be St. Louis?

Buehrle never has been shy about his support of the Cardinals and his desire to pitch in St. Louis. But with Kyle Lohse, Jake Westbrook, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia all under contract, there doesn't seem to be a spot for a starter even as consistent as Buehrle. A move to the Cardinals could be more viable after this next contract, with Buehrle wanting to finish up close to his St. Charles, Mo., home, close to his wife, Jamie, close to his two children and his tight-knit family.

Does Ozzie Guillen then hold a deciding edge for the Marlins?

Guillen has a special bond with the entire Buehrle family, and that feeling is mutual from the Buehrle family toward the new Marlins manager. Guillen also has gone on record saying that if he had a team filled with Buehrle-type players, he would feel confident going after a championship.

In order to contend with the Phillies in the NL East, let alone eventually win a title, Guillen knows the importance of having a strong pitching base. Buehrle is not an ace along the lines of Justin Verlander or Roy Halladay, but few pitchers are. With 11 straight seasons of at least 200 innings pitched, 30 starts made and double-digit victories, Buehrle is the sort of starter almost essential in putting together a winner.

Are the White Sox even in the picture?

Without a doubt. You know that mutual bond of respect shared by Guillen and the Buehrles? It's the same for the Buehrles and the White Sox. Buehrle deserves most of the credit for the 161-119 career he has put together, but Buehrle appreciates the fact it was the White Sox giving him the chance for this success and to more than support his family.

This market for Buehrle basically will be set, and then the White Sox will decide if the 32-year-old hurler fits into their plans and budget. A lack of a return doesn't mean a lack of respect on either side.

What does Buehrle's camp want in terms of money and years?

In an interview at the end of the season, Buehrle indicated a desire for three years. But to be honest, Buehrle didn't know what to expect from his first free-agent foray. The money will be there, so ultimately the years might make the difference. It's safe to say Buehrle wants more than two in what could be his last major contract.

Will the Yankees or Red Sox be players for Buehrle?

Reports have both teams interested, but it's not certain whether they ultimately will be fits for the true Midwesterner and his family. It's not about pitching in major-market pressure. Buehrle has thrown a perfect game, a no-hitter and started and saved World Series games.

His confidence and his pitching knowledge allow Buehrle to thrive in big games. As much as the years and money will play into the equation, a feeling of comfort for him and his family might be Buehrle's primary guide post. Buehrle played for the White Sox, at a stadium located just 10 minutes from downtown Chicago, but lived 35 minutes away in a suburb with plenty of land for his family to enjoy, including their beloved canine members, and where he could see grass and trees and birds chirping. That sort of allure might not be found in New York or Boston.

"Whatever teams are out there, I'll find a suburban place to live that's comfortable for my family and go from there," Buehrle said back in September.

Can the White Sox survive without him?

Any team suffers without Buehrle's steady presence. But with Chris Sale becoming a starter, the White Sox won't have to overpay to fill out a quality rotation. Of course, they need Jake Peavy to be healthy, John Danks to bounce back from an up-and-down 2011 and Philip Humber to pick up where he left off.

So what team signs Buehrle?

Buehrle knows what he wants, but isn't the type of player to hold out for the highest bidder. Ultimately, it looks like a move to the NL or a return to the White Sox.

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.