For Konerko, seeking dollars might make the most sense


October 28, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

Houston -- Paul Konerko was sweating champagne in the aftermath of the Chicago White Sox's first World Series title in 88 years, but he wasn't sweating the future.

No reason to.

"I don't know what to expect," he said as the party wound down early yesterday morning at Minute Maid Park. "I'm going to enjoy this as long as I can. Sooner or later, the offseason will start."

The free-agent market will open in a couple of weeks, and Konerko figures to be a hot commodity - if he decides to entertain offers from other teams. The White Sox are expected to make a strong bid to keep him, and the heartstring tug of this feel-good world title team is going to be hard to resist, but he would be a fool not to keep his options open for a while.

Konerko said all the right things about hoping to work something out in Chicago, because that's what you have to say in the afterglow of such an unbelievable title run, but there is plenty of room to wonder where he will play next season.

There have been whispers that he remains miffed at the Sox for not trying harder to sign him to a contract extension last spring, and he left a trail of breadcrumbs during the early-morning celebration to lead to that conclusion.

"I think I handled it right all year," he said. "I prepared the same way I always do. I didn't want to be a distraction to my teammates. I wanted to deal with it [his contract situation] the right way, and I feel like I did. I played for my teammates.

"I resisted thinking about personal stuff all year, and I'm proud of that."

Implicit in that statement is the notion he has fulfilled that obligation to the team and now may concentrate on what is best for himself, and most players decide that what is best usually is the biggest free-agent contract offer.

Konerko should command a five-year contract worth $70 million or more, depending on the number of teams involved in the bidding, and he'll be worth every penny of it.

I'm guessing the Orioles will shy away early, which is too bad. He would be a nice fit for a team that needs to put some pop in the lineup behind Miguel Tejada, but it will be too easy to rationalize remaining out of the bidding.

It's getting easier and easier for the Ravens to justify their decision not to sign running back Jamal Lewis to a contract extension. The more his contract situation becomes an issue, the better Chester Taylor looks in the team's long-term plans.

Lewis said yesterday that he's tired of being blamed for the team's offensive problems and that the contract situation has been in the back of his mind during the early part of the season. He acknowledged he has been consciously trying not to get hurt because of his uncertain future.

That's not a bad strategy. I try not to get hurt whenever I can, but I'm not sure it was a great idea for Lewis to tell everybody that - in the midst of this highly disappointing season - he hasn't been going full tilt.

The lead sports story in the Houston Chronicle was not the Astros' quick exit from the World Series - the paper had a special section for that - but the revelation by WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes that she is having a relationship with former Houston Comets coach Alisa Scott.

There are gay players in the WNBA? Who knew?

The most interesting part of the story, however, is that Swoopes came out to tout her new sponsorship deal with Olivia Travel, an organization that promotes cruises and travel packages for gays and lesbians, which has to make this something of a watershed moment in the history of sports marketing.

I'll take Peter Angelos at his word that he is willing to spend sufficiently to make the Orioles a contender, but I'll be listening for some important offseason code words.

Last year, the team signaled that there would be no major upgrades to the starting rotation with frequent offseason references to the great young core or starting pitchers in the organization.

This year, I'm waiting for the low rumble that first base prospect Walter Young made great progress last year and will get a chance to crack the lineup in 2006. When you start hearing that, you can stop dreaming about Konerko or any other big-money offensive acquisition.

Don't misunderstand. Young is a very nice young man and he may have some talent, but it's going to take real star power to compete in the AL East, and the Orioles are still a couple of big stars short.

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