Konerko rejects Orioles' $65M bid

Club's courtship of free agent may be nearing an end



Chicago White Sox slugger Paul Konerko rejected the Orioles' latest contract offer, a five-year deal worth $65 million, a move that threatens to end the club's courtship of the free-agent first baseman.

The Orioles are believed to have made the most lucrative offer to Konerko, but seemingly remain a long shot in their quest to add his powerful bat to the middle of their order. They are awaiting a counterproposal from Craig Landis, agent for the 29-year-old first baseman, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. The $65 million deal is no longer on the table, the source said

The Los Angeles Angels, who along with the Orioles and the White Sox are believed to be the only three teams in the hunt for Konerko, reportedly have offered a five-year deal worth $60 million. Konerko spent yesterday afternoon in Anaheim meeting with Angels officials, including manager Mike Scioscia and general manager Bill Stoneman, the Los Angeles Times reported in today's edition.

The White Sox reportedly have asked Konerko, who had 40 home runs and 100 RBIs but was at his best during the team's run to the World Series title, to make a decision by next week's winter meetings.

Landis did not return calls seeking comment. Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan declined to discuss any specifics of the Orioles' negotiations with Konerko, acknowledging only that the club is still in talks with Konerko and several other free agents.

According to one industry source, the Orioles might be willing to go a little higher on their offer, but they are cautious of making another proposal because of the fear that Konerko might not be interested in coming to Baltimore, even if the Orioles make the highest bid. It has been reported that Konerko would like to stay in Chicago or play for a team on the West Coast. His offseason residence is in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The Orioles' initial offer to Konerko - made earlier this month - was four years for $50 million, before they countered with the five-year deal for $65 million yesterday. Coincidentally, those are the exact terms of Albert Belle's contract when he signed with the Orioles before the 1999 season.

Belle, a mercurial slugger, saw his career come to a premature end because of a degenerative hip condition. Citing a high-ranking White Sox official, The Sun reported in Tuesday's edition that Konerko has an arthritic hip condition. One Orioles official said the club is aware of the condition, which apparently was diagnosed years ago, but isn't deeply concerned. The White Sox aren't making any official comment on Konerko's hip, but one club official privately told the Chicago Tribune that the team was upset that the information had become public.

According to a club source, Konerko and Los Angeles veteran right-handed pitcher Paul Byrd remain the only free agents from other teams that the Orioles have presented with offers.

After making a two-year, $13 million offer with an option for a third year to Byrd, the Orioles are believed to be one of the front-runners for the pitcher, who is interested in reuniting with pitching coach Leo Mazzone. However, one industry source said the Orioles are not the highest bidders for Byrd, who was in Cleveland yesterday meeting with Indians officials.

Adding at least one starter remains one of the main priorities for the Orioles. They are still interested in Cleveland's Kevin Millwood and Florida's A.J. Burnett, but they haven't offered a contract to either. The Orioles also are talking to the agent of Marlins free-agent closer Todd Jones, who could be a replacement for B.J. Ryan if the front office deems Chris Ray is not ready to close.

Flanagan said the Orioles also are active in trade talks, but nothing appears imminent. One club source said the team has had general discussions with Philadelphia and Arizona regarding outfielder Bobby Abreu and third baseman Troy Glaus, but deals are unlikely because of the asking price for each was too high.

Unless they are overwhelmed, the Orioles have no interest at this point in trading their top young pitchers, such as Daniel Cabrera, Erik Bedard, Hayden Penn and Adam Loewen.

"We have gotten calls on those guys, but we're not interested at this point," said Flanagan, adamantly dismissing reports that the club is shopping Bedard.


Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.

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