Paul Konerko courting, Take 2
Call this the “Courting of Paul Konerko 2.0.”
The first version occurred in the 2005 offseason, when the Orioles’ brass had a clandestine meeting with Konerko and offered a five-year, $65 million deal to the then 29-year-old first baseman. He decided to stay with the Chicago White Sox for $5 million less, prompting more jokes about the Orioles’ “Confederate money.”
(I’m still quoting Syd Thrift all these years later. God rest his soul.)
I remember asking Konerko on his conference call with the Chicago media about how close he was to coming to Baltimore. Either his interest was genuine or he is a heck of an actor. He gushed about how impressed he was with the Orioles' front office at the time and how he really was flattered by the club’s full-court press. He loved everything about Baltimore, he said, but his heart was in Chicago.
So why is this time around any different?
Honestly, there are several Orioles officials who believe it won’t be. They think Konerko will listen and, perhaps even consider the Orioles intently, but ultimately choose the White Sox or a team closer to his Arizona home. And courting him will be another exercise in futility.
Those who know Konerko say it would be tough for him to sign with any club that doesn’t train in Arizona because he wants to stay with his young family as long as he can.
But there are some significant differences between 2005 and now when it comes to Konerko. Remember, back then Konerko was choosing between his former team that had just won the World Series and an Orioles’ squad that arguably had the most tumultuous season in baseball history -- following the legendary second half collapse that included the Palmeiro and Tejada scandals.
Plus, there was tremendous pressure back then to keep that World Series team together, and Konerko was such a huge part of that. It would have been a huge PR hit for the White Sox to lose Konerko at that time.
That’s not to say South Siders want to give up on the guy who was their best player in 2010, but now there’s a sense in Chicago that the White Sox need to get younger. And as much as Konerko is beloved there, signing a player who will be 35 during spring training to a multi-year doesn’t exactly signal a youth movement.
And Konerko seemingly is more prepared to move on this time, the way most veteran athletes are as they get older and their circumstances change.
All of that demonstrates why Konerko might leave Chicago. But he’d still have to choose the Orioles, a last-place team on the East Coast, for his next address. And that seems like a longshot.
That said, the Orioles really could use Konerko. He fills several needs: a legitimate power hitter who plays first base, bats right-handed and brings winning experience and a veteran presence. He is one of the more well-respected professionals in the game.
Yes, he’ll be 35 and people have been waiting for his body to break down or his skills to erode for a few years now. And there’s a concern that his huge 2010 – which included 39 homers, 111 RBIs, a .312 batting average and career highs in on-base percentage (.394) and slugging percentage (.584) – was the product of a walk year and that he’s setting up his next team for an expensive fall.
But the Orioles have little choice. Their perfect free agent first baseman – Victor Martinez – is off the board and the other candidates are left-handed hitters, flawed or both.
So it’ll be interesting to see if Konerko and the Orioles can be a fit this time, or if he’s just another date to the dance that goes home with someone else.