Williams on Konerko: 'Not over 'til it's over'

Williams on Konerko: 'Not over 'til it's over'

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Forgive White Sox general manager Ken Williams if he turned to a tried-and-true sports adage in describing the state of negotiations with free agent Paul Konerko on Tuesday.

But with the likelihood of return for the organization staple over the past 12 years seemingly dropping to life support on Day 2 of Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings, it's all Williams had left to call upon without announcing a parting between the White Sox and the team captain.

"It's never over 'til it's over," said Williams during his daily talk with the media at the Winter Meetings. "That's the oldest sports cliché there is but it's very apropos, I think.

"This is what I was fearful of. You can go through Day 1 down here maybe and try to flush some things out, but when you get toward the end of Day 2, I think when you're talking free agents and some of the more impact guys, I think you better get serious with them.

"We have other agents that we have put off until now," Williams said. "They are asking me to get serious and I have no choice but to get serious."

Before some of the other first-base possibilities for the White Sox are mentioned, Tuesday's Konerko-related change must be examined. Sometime around 1 p.m. CT, Craig Landis, Konerko's representative, briefly spoke to a few Chicago media members in the lobby of the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort.

Landis didn't want to talk at all about Konerko's situation, with both sides being respectful of each other and the process. He did mention that negotiations remained ongoing, but Landis indicated no signing was imminent on Tuesday.

That declaration appeared more definitive by the time Williams met the media three hours later.

"I was very hopeful coming down here [to Florida]. I'm less hopeful now," Williams said. "I was hoping it wouldn't necessarily come down to us really getting serious with our other options, but we have no choice at this point.

"The one thing I think is necessary, it's appropriate, particularly when we're talking about a guy that has been so respectful and so first class, that this doesn't need to be any more public than it is. So we'll keep those issues private.

"All I can say is that we have meetings with other guys' representatives tonight and it's with the mindset to try and get a deal done," Williams said. "I know that we did reach out one more time to see if we can have one more round of dialogue and if it works, it works. If it doesn't, we can't stop the train."

Even with the White Sox budget opened up to the $110 million or $115 range for 2011, the Konerko deal basically stood as the last money the White Sox had to spend in assembling what they hope will be an American League Central championship team. That total either was earmarked for Konerko, with Williams then going the trade route to upgrade his bullpen, or if Konerko went to another team, the money could be more evenly divided between a reliever and another hitter.

Based on Williams' comments Tuesday, it's looking more like option No. 2 playing out. That list of available first basemen includes Derrek Lee, whom White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen knows well from their Marlins' days together and Lee's Cubs tenure, Carlos Pena and Adam LaRoche. Williams is looking for a strong defensive presence, but also wants offensive punch from that spot to pair with Adam Dunn.

Rumors of the White Sox interest in hard-throwing reliever Kerry Wood weren't confirmed by Williams. He quickly added it safely can be assumed that the White Sox touched base with any free agent possessing good stuff and who could help the White Sox in the late innings.

Ultimately, Konerko might be with the White Sox when Spring Training starts. Don't look at Williams' comments Tuesday as a bluff, not with what Konerko has meant to the organization and not with Konerko having other options. Texas, as an example of a contending team located close to Konerko's Arizona home, could be in on the first baseman once the Cliff Lee pursuit concludes.

And if Konerko ends up playing somewhere else, Williams can't be worried about the potential disapproval from the White Sox fan base in losing one of its favorites. Williams knows how the ultimate judgment will arrive.

"We're going to be measured with how good the team performs and that's the measuring stick we should go by. We're going to just try to put the best team on the field," Williams said. "But I will do everything in my power to make people understand that Paul makes his own decisions and for his own reasons and that needs to be respected. He's given Chicago everything that we have a right to expect. There will be no hard feelings on this end.

"Again, it's the business of baseball so you take your swings, you take your cuts. If we didn't take all those steps to maneuver things around and look for different revenue streams and talk to players, then we wouldn't have been in position to make an offer that we even consider respectable.

"Moving forward, this may afford us the ability to do a couple of other things along with filling the position," Williams said. "So the assumption that we will end this or will ultimately be worse for it is incorrect. I think we still have a chance to put a real good player in the position and do some other things."

Make no mistake, though. Williams' wants Konerko to return to the White Sox.

"I want the player back and I want the man back. We all do," Williams said. "But you don't always get what you want. And I said time and time again the business of baseball is just that, the business of baseball. Sometimes things don't work out and you have to be prepared for it. You have to have a contingency plan in place to react. That's what we did."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Being Ozzie Guillen and follow him on twitter at @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.