LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida—Santa Claus was roaming the lobby of the Swan and Dolphin Resort for a good chunk of Wednesday afternoon. However, few people seemed to notice. Perhaps it was because this Santa was not wearing a red suit and a white beard. Instead, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf wore business casual.
Wednesday again showed how much the perception of Reinsdorf has changed during his 29 years as the White Sox' owner, as he gave general manager Ken Williams the go-ahead to re-sign first baseman and fan favorite Paul Konerko to a three-year, $37.5 million contract.
Reinsdorf was roundly criticized for being cheap nearly 20 years ago, when he said that it is better to finish in second place than first because in that situation, a team plays well enough to generate fan interest and sell tickets, but not well enough to apply pressure on ownership to potentially overspend on keeping a championship roster together.
Manager Ozzie Guillen was convinced at the end of last season that the White Sox were going to begin rebuilding after finishing second in the American League Central. Guillen believed Konerko and catcher A.J. Pierzynski would be allowed to walk as free agents and that a payroll that was $105 million at the beginning of 2010 would be cut.
Yet the White Sox aren't retrenching. Reinsdorf is showing a willingness to spend even more in an effort to return to the postseason in 2011. First, he signed off on Adam Dunn's four-year, $56 million contract as a free agent last week that gives the White Sox a big-time, left-handed power threat at designated hitter. Then Reinsdorf OK'd bringing back Pierzynski on a two-year, $8 million deal. Finally, there was the Konerko signing.
"Well, next on the agenda is finding a way to pay for all of this," Williams said with a laugh.
The final bill will be high, even by Walt Disney World standards, but Reinsdorf was willing to take on the risk when Williams presented him with two options at the end of last season: retrench and go with a youth movement, or keep the team together and make some more runs at the playoffs. The owner decided to go for it.
"What I've learned, sitting in this chair for as long as I have, is you certainly don't count your chickens before they are hatched," Williams said. "And you don't get ahead of yourself either way, whether you're thinking that things won't work out or that things will. I think that you just set your sights on your targets and what you want to do, develop your plans, and go full steam ahead towards them. Generally we have about four plans on the table and four directions we can go. We decided it was only going to be two this year. We were either going to go younger and turn the roster over or we were going to go full steam ahead and trust that we could put together a competitive club and a club that our fan base could put their arms around and enjoy and support. Jerry Reinsdorf is a very competitive man and wants to win a championship and it's our job to put together as good of a club as we can to accomplish those goals."
The Twins are the two-time defending AL Central champions but have been quiet so far this winter. Meanwhile, the White Sox have upgraded with Dunn, and the Tigers, who finished third in 2010, have added designated hitter/catcher Victor Martinez and reliever Joaquin Benoit to set up closer Jose Valverde. The White Sox hope that their continued commitment to winning will be more easily absorbed financially by selling some extra tickets this winter.
"We have great, great fans, but the fact of the matter is you have to prove to White Sox fans that you are going to be worthy of discretionary spending, and I don't have a problem with it and kind of take pride in the fact that we have earned their support over the years," Williams said. "As such, it's never lost on us that that's only on a year-to-year basis. We have got to continuously prove ourselves, and I don't have a problem with that."
Greg Maddux was a great pitcher and will certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible for election in 2014. However, it is becoming readily apparent that he has a good future as an executive if he so desires.
Maddux is a special assistant to Cubs GM Jim Hendry, but the title is more than ceremonial. Both Hendry and agent Scott Boras said that Maddux played a role in the Cubs signing free-agent first baseman Carlos Pena to a one-year, $10 million contract on Wednesday. Boras was Maddux's agent during his playing days.
"I don't think it takes Jim Hendry to tell anybody how special he is and how good he could be at whatever he wanted to do in this game," Hendry said. "He certainly was involved. I can't speak for Scott, but we didn't look at it ever like going against anyone. It was very positive, very good, amicable, mutual consensus that it was the perfect fit. So it was a matter of putting our heads together a little bit on the finances and getting it done. We never looked at it like, you know, Greg is on our side and he's not on Scott's side. I don't try to approach any negotiation like that. We just try to make up our mind which player we want and try to be as fair as possible until we get to the conclusion."
Boras said he never worried about any conflict of interest from having Maddux on the other side. In fact, he cherished the opportunity to have an opportunity to be in a negotiation that involved Maddux.
"When Greg Maddux walks into the room with Jim Hendry and knowing that he began with the Cubs and to see a man have a career like he had where—it's just very special that a man can do things on his own terms in the game of baseball," Boras said. "Because the game itself is the tiger; it's the force; it's the thing that removes you in many situations from the game. But Greg has so many abilities and so many aptitudes; so to see him walk in the room and sit across from you, it's really a feeling of great reward, for all of us, because the game should be about people like Greg Maddux and every time he is in any facet of the game, teaching, working with the team, growing the game, it allows the game to be its optimum."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi often likes to play it coy with the media. However, he did not hold back his feelings Wednesday when asked if he would like the Yankees to sign left-hander Cliff Lee, the prize of this winter's free-agent market.
"I see him as important to us, I do," Girardi said. "It's a rotation that right now you look at it, not knowing what Andy's going to do, possibly adding Ivan Nova to the rotation and having Phil Hughes, it's a pretty young rotation with CC at the top of it. So I think he's pretty important. He's a guy that wins; he's a guy that gives you innings. He's a guy that knows how to pitch on the big stage. Everything that you'd want and a guy that you would ask to help you win another championship. This is a guy that has great command, never beats himself, he holds runners, has a mixture of four pitches that he can use at my time. He's the complete package."
While Girardi can be secretive, he realizes it would be pointless to be that way when it comes to discussing his admiration for Lee.
"I don't think it will be any secret how a manager would feel if he was on your club," Girardi said. "I really don't because of the package that he is. At times, unfortunately, I've had a chance to witness it a lot firsthand. I mean, he's a great talent. There is no doubt about it. I think everyone would love to have him, and we would too."