Buehrle leaving all options open following 2011

Buehrle leaving all options open following 2011

CHICAGO -- The "R" word once again came up when Mark Buehrle discussed his baseball future prior to Friday's start of SoxFest '11 at the downtown Palmer House Hilton.

But Buehrle did not mention "retirement" with a wry smile accompanying the word or a mischievous look making it seem as if there's no way a soon-to-be 32-year-old could even think about hanging up his cleats at such a young and productive age.

Instead, approaching the last season of a four-year, $56 million deal, Buehrle simply talked about his career coming to an end after the 2011 campaign as one of the options ahead of him.

"If I have a good year, and something happens and there's an opportunity out there to sign, I'm open for it," Buehrle said. "I talked with the wife [Jamie] about playing for a couple more years possibly, so we'll see. It's a long year, so if I decide to retire at the end, I'll retire. If not, I'll sign somewhere."

With a 13-13 record, 33 starts and 210 1/3 innings pitched in 2011, Buehrle has now recorded 10 wins, made 30 starts and hurled 200 innings in all 10 seasons he has been a White Sox starter. It's both a franchise record and the longest active streak in the Majors.

His effectiveness has dropped ever so slightly since his stellar 16-8 record and 3.12 ERA during the White Sox 2005 World Series championship season. In five seasons since, Buehrle has a 63-57 record and just one season with an ERA under 3.70. But as manager Ozzie Guillen has mentioned numerous times, you know what you are getting from Buehrle. He gives the team a chance to win, as evidenced by his 19 quality starts last year and the White Sox 19-14 record in his outings.

Look at Buehrle's durability and the fact that he doesn't rely on a 99-mph fastball -- or a 90-mph fastball, for that matter -- to overpower hitters, and understand he could pitch for another 10 years successfully. He possesses that much pitching knowledge.

Adding another 120 wins to his career total of 148 doesn't interest Buehrle as much as watching his son and daughter grow up. Buehrle might pitch another two or three years, but it would just seem strange to have him pitch for a team other than the White Sox.

Take the same trepidation fans had this past offseason for a Paul Konerko departure and apply them to the pitching mound.

"I'm glad he's going through it," Konerko said with a laugh. "Now that I'm away from it and on the other side of going through that situation, it's one of those things that as long as Mark is healthy and throwing the ball, and if that's the case, he's going to get people out. That's just him.

"So much of that stuff is personal when you have family, kids. All kinds of factors appear that were not there when you were younger. There are so many moving parts to it. No decision he could make ever would affect what I think of him as far as going somewhere else. It would be funny to see him somewhere else."

Buehrle returned to the arm program employed the past two offseasons to get him ready for another long campaign, a routine aimed primarily at keeping the veteran southpaw as strong in the second half of the season as the first. As for putting a moratorium on contract talks once the 2011 season begins, much like Konerko did last season ... well, Buehrle really hasn't thought that far ahead.

"To be honest, I'm not too worried about it," Buehrle said. "I knew I would get asked questions here. But it's like the [Albert] Pujols deal.

"If a deal gets done and talks are going on, it's between me and the team. That's where it ends at, and people don't need to know what's going on or the battling back and forth or the numbers involved. I just want to concentrate on playing baseball."

At the start of Friday's conversation, Buehrle joked how for all the media knows, he might have just signed a two-year extension. He clearly hasn't lost his humor on the contractual matter, but having gone through highly-publicized negotiations before his extension came about on July 8, 2007, he's wants a low-key path more befitting of his personality this time around.

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.