Buehrle's contract open for discussion
Parties express similar sentiments; free agency looms
TUCSON, Ariz. -- The doors remain wide open on both sides in regard to negotiations for a multi-year contract between the White Sox and Mark Buehrle.
But by reading between the lines of the comments made over the past two days from both Buehrle's agent and White Sox general manager Ken Williams, nobody appears ready to walk through those open doors during the next three weeks leading to the end of Spring Training. Buehrle's contractual issue became the focus of attention on Wednesday, after Javier Vazquez agreed to a three-year extension worth $34.5 million on Tuesday.
Buehrle congratulated Vazquez on the new deal but had little else to say about the matter. The left-hander, who rarely if ever avoids speaking his mind with the media, referred any other contractual matters to Jeff Berry, his representative.
When contacted by phone in Florida on Wednesday afternoon, Berry sounded a refrain much akin to Williams' after the Vazquez deal was announced.
"Our approach is similar to that of the White Sox," Berry said. "Our doors have never been closed in regard to Mark's contract situation. If they brought us a proposal that made sense, in consideration of Mark's accomplishments and the current pitching market, we would certainly take a long look.
"The last we spoke to the White Sox was July, which now has been reported a bunch. At the end of the day, it works both ways. Our doors are open as well."
Those July talks resulted in a reported three-year, $30 million offer from the White Sox that was turned down by Buehrle's camp. Buehrle said earlier this spring that he had no regrets toward passing up that particular deal, possibly leading to Buehrle taking his chance on the open market after the 2007 season. The 27-year-old enters the upcoming campaign with a 97-66 career mark.
Berry agreed with Buehrle in that Vazquez's deal had nothing to do with his client's situation, with Buehrle earning $9.5 million this season through a contractual option picked up by the White Sox. Buehrle quipped that the only real difference is that Vazquez might be picking up more lunch tabs because he earns more than the southpaw.
"Like I said, that's totally his signing. Javy is his own person," said Buehrle, prior to Wednesday's Cactus League contest with Kansas City at Tucson Electric Park. "The whole numbers thing ... that's why I have an agent.
"If they want to talk or my agent wants to talk, they'll go in there together and do whatever. Javy's contract has nothing to do with me. Congratulations to Javy, and take it from there."
Vazquez's three-year deal seems to indicate where the bar will be set in regard to the number of years the White Sox are willing to offer to starting pitchers. Williams has made no secret as to the organization's belief that longer deals don't usually play out successfully, a point he explained again on Tuesday.
"History really shows that those types of contracts just have not worked out for teams, and there's just a mountain of evidence to support it," said Williams of contracts for starting pitchers running longer than three years. "You never say never because we could very well be out in the free-agent market next year, or with our own guy, and make the determination that we want to retain any of our guys and go that route.
Williams chose not to respond to Berry's comments on Wednesday, stating through a team spokesman that his position is clear and he had said all he was going to on this particular matter. Buehrle and his camp hold the exact same opinion.
Basically, Buehrle and the White Sox are holding in a wait-and-see posture directly relating to his situation. Berry was unwilling to speculate on whether any offers would be exchanged before the end of March or whether the White Sox would have some sort of built-in advantage if Buehrle eventually entered free agency because of his expressed comfort pitching in Chicago.
As of March 7, the doors are still open. They could be closing soon, possibly on Buehrle's time with the White Sox.
"Mark loves playing in Chicago, and he has the highest regard for Kenny and the White Sox," Berry said. "But Mark and I have discussed this, and out of respect for all parties involved, we want to eliminate any sort of distractions. We are not going to negotiate in the media. Mark will no longer talk about his contract status.
"In terms of how we value Mark and where the market in general would value Mark ... I mean Gil Meche signed at five years [with Kansas City for $55 million], and Barry Zito signed for seven [with San Francisco for $126 million]. Mark has been one of the most durable pitchers in the last decade and that kind of speaks for itself.
"Obviously, we are all on the same page about winning another World Series," Berry added. "I don't think anyone wants this to play out in the media."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.