Konerko: No muss, fuss

ContractsSportsBaseballChicago White SoxMark BuehrleBoston Red SoxChicago Cubs

The silence might seem awkward but it could result in an extended honeymoon for Paul Konerko and the White Sox.

Beneath his team-leading 32 home runs and 80 RBIs is this:

Konerko is in the final year of his contract.

No negotiations have been conducted this season and won't start until after the Sox have completed play, sometime in October.

There was media speculation in Boston two weeks ago that Konerko, a Rhode Island native, could be a prime free-agent target of the Red Sox because of first baseman Kevin Millar's struggles and the fact that Philadelphia's Jim Thome and Colorado's Todd Helton—possible trade targets—own burdensome contracts.

But Konerko prefers to stay with the White Sox despite the wait-and-see approach they took before this season.

He hasn't made a fuss about his contract status even while embarking on one of his most productive seasons.

"I think a lot of it has to do with the player, who can make it anyway he wants to make it," Konerko said before the Sox played Seattle on Saturday night at Safeco Field. "I think it can be taken in any direction, depending on what the player thinks is right.

"I've done and I'll do what I think is right. I don't think I'll cause any waves."

After four consecutive seasons without a postseason appearance by the Sox, general manager Ken Williams preferred to watch how his off-season moves played out before addressing Konerko's contract status.

It's possible Konerko could have been dealt had the Sox faltered badly this season.

But now it's difficult to picturea Sox team without Konerko for the near future, unless there is a significant gap in assessing his value to the franchise.

"He doesn't complain," ace Mark Buehrle said. "He shows up, does his job, and plays every day. Even when he needs a break and we didn't have a backup first baseman, he played bruised and banged up."

Williams reiterated his stance on Konerko.

"Now, the most important thing to do is to keep everyone focused on the task at hand and visit all contractual issues or things of that sort at the end of the season," Williams said.

"Paul has done everything that we've asked of him. To me, he's one of the class acts of the game. He has certainly been a representative of our organization. You can't ask for anything more from him."

Entering Saturday night's game, Konerko led the Sox in games played (121) and total bases (232) as well as homers and RBIs.

Konerko is the Sox's highest-paid player this season at $8.75 million as part of a three-year, $23 million contract.

How much of a raise he will get remains to be seen. Before the 2004 season, the Cubs' Derrek Lee signed a three-year, $22.5 million contract that has become undervalued as Lee has developed into one of the top first basemen in the game.

Last December, Seattle signed Richie Sexson to a four-year, $50 million contract. Sexson's deal includes salaries of $14 million in 2007 and 2008—the same amount the Sox paid outfielder Magglio Ordonez in 2004.

Unlike Sexson, who missed nearly all of the 2004 season because of a shoulder injury, Konerko never has been placed on the major-league disabled list.

"It's up to the team to get the ball rolling with [negotiations]," Konerko said. "They chose not to, and that's perfectly fine. They have a right to conduct business the way they want to conduct business, and I'm perfectly fine with that."

mgonzales@tribune.com

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