Konerko agrees to five-year deal with White Sox
CHICAGO -- Paul Konerko promised to be meticulous and explore all the options as a free agent. And he did, jumping into a stressful monthlong journey that landed him back right where he started.
Chicago White Sox
Having received a $60 million, five-year offer from the Chicago White Sox, Konerko decided the proposal was fair and agreed Wednesday to return to the World Series champions.
"It's a simple as where your heart is," Konerko said. "That's what brought me back."
The first baseman led the White Sox with 40 homers and 100 RBI last season, hitting .283. He was MVP of the AL Championship Series win over the Los Angeles Angels after hitting two homers and seven RBI. He had a go-ahead grand slam in Game 2 of the World Series sweep over Houston, the first Series title for the White Sox since 1917.
"You have family, all things came into play," Konerko said. "At the end of the day, 'OK, I'm a baseball player and where am I going to feel the best?' "
Konerko's decision and last week's acquisition of Jim Thome from Philadelphia could mean the end of Frank Thomas' career with the White Sox. Thomas, a two-time AL MVP, became a free agent after Chicago declined a 2006 option.
"I tried to reach Frank by phone earlier today and I think it's disrespectful to inform the public of the organization's plans without having a conversation," Chicago general manager Ken Williams said. "The right-handed bat of Paul Konerko and the left-handed bat of Jim Thome, we felt it necessary to balance us out. ... I know what he [Thomas] means to Chicago. I prefer to have conversations privately before announcing anything to the public."
A two-time All-Star, Konerko had an $8.75 million base salary last season, then became a free agent after the Series. Last offseason, Chicago decided not to discuss an extension.
His new deal calls for him to receive $12 million annually. Chicago agreed to a limited no-trade clause that states he can't be dealt to six specified teams without his permission.
"Paul in the last 24 to 48 hours really came to terms with the fact that he wanted to be a Chicago White Sox," said his agent, Craig Landis. "He had a hard time turning down the chance to go back and try to win another championship in Chicago. He has loyalty to his teammates and to the fans there and feels very wanted, not just by the White Sox organization but by the whole city of Chicago. He felt that that could not be matched in other cities.
"Paul didn't decide until [Wednesday] morning," Landis told ESPN.com's Jayson Stark. "He stewed on it last night. Then we finalized it in the morning. Money aside, this clearly is where he wanted to be.
"Paul really did some soul-searching over the last couple of days," Landis went on. "And he started to realize that, if all else was equal, he wanted to be a member of the Chicago White Sox. He really likes it there. And just as important, he feels people like him there. He knows he has a lot of fans, and he respects that. He even talked about the fact that some kids there would be disappointed if he wasn't back there. Don't get me wrong. If it had to be that way for business, he would have gone another way. But basically, his heart was with the White Sox. And that's why he's going back. It isn't for the money."
Konerko also was courted by the Angels, who offered just over $60 million for five years, and the Baltimore Orioles, who proposed a $65 million, five-year deal. Several other teams also made inquiries.
"When that offer was rejected late yesterday, we expected the talks to be ongoing," said Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan, who wouldn't confirm the figure. "But we sensed earlier today that he was headed back to Chicago."
Konerko said the Angels were an attractive alternative. He worked with manager Mike Scioscia when both were in the Dodgers' organization and Los Angeles is close to his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., as is the Angels' spring training complex in Tempe. He was even ready to be a designated hitter if he joined Los Angeles, which met with him Monday and Tuesday.
"We thought he'd be a good fit for the ballclub, and pursued him pretty aggressively," Angels general manager Bill Stoneman said. "I knew that we were pretty attractive to him, very attractive to him. I also knew it would be very tough for any player to leave a club that he won a World Series championship with, a club he'd been with for seven years."
Chicago adding a season to its offer sealed the deal.
"We had to go to a fifth year," Williams said. "Obviously we did not start out there, but kudos and hats off to Paul for keeping us first and foremost in his mind."
Konerko had wanted to explore the market.
"I said if I'm going to do it, do it the right way and get what was fair. And the White Sox gave me what was fair," Konerko said. "It was the position I was put. I was not looking to drag it out. Once I felt comfortable and knew what I was worth, I said. `Boom, let's do that."'
Konerko had five homers and 15 RBI in the postseason as the White Sox swept Boston in the opening round, closed out the Angels in five games as he hit first-inning homers in Games 3 and 4 and then beat the Astros.
He was acquired by the White Sox from Cincinnati in a 1998 trade for Mike Cameron. In seven seasons with the White Sox, Konerko has averaged .283 with 29 homers and 95 RBI.
"This is where he wanted to play. He just couldn't pull the trigger elsewhere and envision himself in another uniform," Landis said. "He would be content spending his entire career in Chicago."
Konerko was pleased that Thome, swapped for center fielder Aaron Rowand, will be in the Chicago lineup.
"This was the greatest move the White Sox could make to bring me back," Konerko said. "I don't have many heroes, but he's one of them. He's one of the guys I've looked up to since I've been in the big leagues."
Now the White Sox project to have a strong middle of the order, with the right-handed Konerko batting cleanup ahead of the left-handed-swinging Thome. Also a first baseman, Thome is coming off an injury-filled shortened season with the Phillies and figures to be the designated hitter.
Konerko said he was looking ahead when he made his decision, not behind.
"It the end it was not because we won the World Series last year, but because we can win one this year," Konerko said.
He also said it was not a negotiating ploy when he presented team owner Jerry Reinsdorf with the ball from the final out of the World Series clincher.
"I expected nothing that would help me or hurt me. It doesn't work that way in business," he said. "You get what you earn on the field."
Information from ESPN.com senior writer Jayson Stark and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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