Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010
Posted 9:54 AM Updated 3:53 PM
By Brett Ballantini
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. - Even downspirited Tuesday after a long day of talking loud and saying nothing, Chicago White Sox general manager Ken Williams was clear with one goal: "I want the man back."
'The man' in question was 12-year Pale Hose first sacker Paul Konerko, and indeed the fan favorite did end up coming back, inking a three-year, 37.5 million dollar deal that will stretch his storied White Sox tenure to 15 seasons.
"When I talk about Paul Konerko, I first have to talk about the first-class person that he is," a beaming Williams said from the main podium at the Winter Meetings. "Believe me, that factors into our equation. It's one of the things that Craig Landis, his agent and representative, and I talk about all the time, the type of person this guy is, not just on the field but in the clubhouse, on the team bus and the hotel."
"Definitely, to come back was always first in my mind," Konerko said. "Having said that, I began a yearlong preparation for the fact that it might not happen that way. It was my goal at the end of the last contract to come back and get 10 years-plus with one team, and I thought that was really cool - not to mention having a chance to win while you're doing it. Now to sit here and say it's going to be 15, that's a nice round number."
It wasn't always looking like Konerko would stay in Chicago long enough to see 15 on the South Side.
"We were very, very close to going in a different direction, and I'm sure they were, as well," Williams said. "We had a consistent dialogue throughout the meetings, but I wouldn't say things really started to come together until after I left our press conference at 5 p.m. yesterday - and things just finished up over dinner.
"But Craig probably should have waited a little longer. He might have gotten a little bit more money because assistant GM Rick Hahn and I started to tip a few back after a while," Williams continued, laughing.
On the other hand, Konerko was openly courted by several teams, including his hometown Arizona Diamondbacks.
"Arizona definitely was a possibility, something that was intriguing to me," Konerko admitted. "It was a great option to have, but it didn't work out going that way. But I was thrilled that they were interested in me."
We knew of Arizona's interest," Williams said. "When you hit .300 and 39 home runs and drive in how many, I would anticipate there is going to be some interest in you. And if that were ultimately his choice and he decided to stay home, and took even less money to stay home, I would not have begrudged him one bit. I would be saying the same positive things about who he is and what he's all about that I am today."
Konerko hadn't intended on stretching the Chisox over a barrel, but the strange nature of his second shot at a significant free agent contract caught him off-guard.
"This whole free agent process was a lot different than the last time I went through this," he said. "Last time 2005, we were in contact with the White Sox from early November, and other teams as well. This time, 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, and 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 recounted being on a beach in Mexico last week and getting word that the White Sox had signed slugger Adam Dunn and immediately thinking, "OK, that was a fun 12 years. It's either me or him."
But GM Ken Williams had stated consistently over the past two months that getting Konerko back on the South Side was his top priority, something that wasn't lost on Konerko.
"I remembered Kenny telling me at the end of the year, "If we go after this next year, we want to win it. I don't want you or Adam. I want both of you.'"
Williams not only bagged both big sticks, but at a nice price, 26 million next season and up from there. Konerko gets 12 million in both 2011 and 2012, 6.5 million in 2013, and 1 million per season after that, until 2020.
Despite buzzing after a flurry of activity in the space of a week - the rush of the Dunn signing, A.J Pierzynski's quick, accommodating re-up, and Konerko's return - Williams was not altogether surprised at how perfectly the Winter Meetings concluded for his team.
In spite of his weary eyes and clearly a desperate need for sleep, Williams will immediately tackle what little is left on the board for his club in terms of personnel, as well as the elephant in the room - the prohibitive pricetag of the franchise's biggest payroll of all time.
"Next on the agenda is figuring out a way to pay for all of this," Williams said, laughing. "We certainly ramped it up here recently and have been very aggressive. We've got some work cut out for us, and we are at a point where we have to get a little creative, because we are about tapped out right now. So we either need to get creative or we need to get a flood at the ticket counter pretty quickly."
Those are concerns for the pencil-pushers, true. For now, and once again: In the end, Williams has succeeded in turning his dreams into action: "You set your sights on your targets and what you want to do, develop your plans, and go full steam ahead toward them."
And part of those plans, for another three years, is the White Sox's folk hero of a first baseman.
"We are just thrilled to have not only the player, but the person," Williams said. "Hopefully, we can one day have him retire as a White Sox."
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.