Konerko accepts W. Sox discount

He stays in Chicago for $5M less than O's

Baseball

December 01, 2005|By JEFF ZREBIEC AND DAN CONNOLLY | JEFF ZREBIEC AND DAN CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTERS

An intense sales pitch and the most lucrative offer was not enough to lure Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko to the Orioles.

Konerko, the most prominent bat on the free-agent market, signed a five-year, $60 million deal yesterday afternoon to stay with the world champion White Sox, eschewing a five-year, $65 million deal from the Orioles. The Los Angeles Angels also reportedly offered the slugging first baseman the identical offer that he signed with Chicago.

"We felt it was a long shot from the beginning, but we wanted to give it our best shot," said Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan. "We told them all along if we are not a consideration, then just tell us. No hard feelings, we'll walk away and head in another direction. But we were told that we were definitely in the mix."

Konerko's agent, Craig Landis, rejected the Orioles' five-year, $65 million offer on Tuesday night, and never presented the team with a counterproposal. According to team sources, the Orioles were considering upping the offer, but "probably wouldn't have offered a six-year deal."

Konerko said that the Orioles did factor in his decision.

"I definitely considered [the Orioles]," Konerko said in a conference call with reporters. "I like the city and the stadium. If you like those two things, it could happen."

Konerko acknowledged that at the beginning of the process, the Orioles "wouldn't have stood a chance," but he met with Orioles vice president Jim Duquette and they were "on the same wavelength."

"I think he looked pretty hard at us, but I just think we had some things going against us," Flanagan said.

Apparently, joining an organization that has had eight straight losing seasons wasn't even the biggest drawback. Konerko said that the Orioles reminded him of the White Sox situation last year and that "all the ingredients are there" for the team to be successful.

However, Konerko couldn't look past the fact that the Orioles play on the East Coast. If Konerko was to leave Chicago, he was interested in playing on the West Coast. His offseason home is in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Now, the Orioles are left looking at other options at first base, including Chicago Cubs free-agent infielder Nomar Garciaparra. There are several people in the Orioles' organization that feel that Garciaparra, a shortstop who has played a little third base, could make a successful transition across the diamond.

The Orioles have had almost daily talks with Garciaparra's agent, Arn Tellem, though no deal appears imminent. With few other high-impact first base options available, the club also has discussed former Oriole Jeff Conine, Boston's Kevin Millar and Oakland's Scott Hatteberg, but like Garciaparra, all three free agents are not considered everyday first basemen.

With Konerko signed, perhaps the most coveted player left on the market is former Florida Marlins starter A.J. Burnett. Both the Orioles and Burnett's agent, Darek Braunecker, said the sides continue to have discussions, but neither would confirm whether an offer has been presented.

One industry source familiar with the negotiations said the Orioles have been lukewarm in their pursuit of Burnett. The source said the Orioles can't be ruled out of the mix but "definitely shouldn't be called a front-runner."

Burnett is closing in on a decision, the source said, and the Orioles are considered "an 11th-hour" team with a remote chance of signing the 28-year-old right-hander.

Braunecker said he has no timetable or deadline for reaching an agreement, but added, "Things have really heated up the last couple of days with a number of clubs."

Braunecker and Burnett have met face-to-face with six clubs in the past two weeks - including the Washington Nationals - but not the Orioles.

"The Nationals have been very aggressive," Braunecker said. "They have made no secret of their interest."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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