There was a time over the offseason that it looked as if Paul Konerko would be playing the 2011 season away from the Chicago White Sox.
Ad as a result, Konerko’s return to the South Side came as a mild surprise and an even bigger relief to Mark Buehrle, his teammate since 2000.
Buehrle said he expected to see Konerko in a different uniform this season after 12 seasons in Chicago. But after the White Sox signed free agent Adam Dunn to a four-year, $56 million deal it took less than a week for them to bring Konerko back with a three-year deal worth $37.5 million.
Now the two sluggers will be in the middle of a potentially potent lineup as the White Sox try to unseat the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central.
“I thought we’d be pitching against him and facing him against another team,” Buehrle said Tuesday as Konerko moved into his locker close to Buehrle’s before the White Sox had their first full-squad spring workout.
“I’m thankful we got him back and signed (Adam) Dunn and did the additions we did to give us a chance to win this year,” Buehrle said.
Konerko wasn’t sure at first what Dunn’s signing meant for his future with the team but it didn’t take long for him and the White Sox to work out a deal.
“When the offseason comes and free agency starts, that’s when you have to look out for yourself. This is a business,” Konerko said. “But now looking at it, you don’t realize all the stuff you would sacrifice. That reinforces you made the right decision.”
Konerko didn’t leave as a free agent after the 2005 season when the White Sox won the World Series, returning for a five-year, $60 million contract after weighing some other offers. Now with his latest deal, he could spend 15 years with the same team.
In modern baseball, where players change teams quicker than cars change lanes on a freeway, it’s an eternity.
“When you get here, you kind of have some thoughts of `Man, I almost gave this up or almost left these people,’” Konerko said. “During the offseason, you are away from the game so much and some of the stuff gets lost. You show back up and say this was one five-minute decision away from not being with any of these guys.”
Konerko, who turns 35 next month, had a strong season a year ago with a .312 average, 39 homers and 111 RBIs. That he’ll keep pulling on the same uniform is a source of pride for him, he said, second only to winning the championship six years ago.
“It takes a relationship with a team and decisions have to be made on both sides that everybody has to want to happen in today’s business. Because it is so easy just to go in the other direction so many times and for them to do the same,” Konerko said.
With Alex Rios, Dunn, Konerko, Alexei Ramirez and Carlos Quentin, the White Sox should be able to score some runs.
“Doesn’t mean anything until you go out and do it,” Konerko said.
The situations for Konerko and Buehrle have switched around. Buehrle gave Konerko plenty of good-natured digs last season about his pending free agency. Now it’s Buehrle contract that expires after the season.
“He’s in the same position I was,” Konerko said. “If he pitches the whole year and does good, bad or OK and winds up being with another team next year, it was a heck of a run with the White Sox. … If it keeps going, it keeps going.”
Notes: Manager Ozzie Guillen stopped just short of naming Buehrle the opening day starter April 1 in Cleveland. But it’s pretty much a sure thing and would be the left-hander’s ninth opening-day assignment. “I don’t see why not,” Guillen said, adding he’d have to discuss it with general manager Kenny Williams and pitching coach Don Cooper. Buehrle, 13-13 last season, said if given the option, he’d defer to lefty John Danks.
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