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Angel Nemesis for Now, Konerko Could Be in Red

October 16, 2005|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

He's the enemy, at least for now. But he is also the Angels' bat of choice, their top target in free agency this fall.

With the Angels' offense largely a rumor in this American League championship series, you wonder whether fans at Angel Stadium might be recruiting Paul Konerko already, yelling at him to trade black for red this winter.

Not yet, anyway.

"I've heard more people say, 'You [stunk] with the Dodgers,' " Konerko said.

He's come a long way, from a catching prospect with the Dodgers to star first baseman in Chicago. And, for the second consecutive evening, he popped the Angels' bubble with a home run in the first inning.

This one, good for three runs, deflated a sellout crowd and helped propel the White Sox to an 8-2 victory. The White Sox are one victory from the World Series, the Angels one defeat from winter.

The Angels plan to address two weaknesses in the offseason, adding a left-handed reliever and a right-handed hitter. Konerko, whose asking price rises every day in October, has four home runs and 10 runs batted in to show for seven playoff games.

Konerko says he wants to stay with the White Sox, and the White Sox say they want him to stay. However, as the top slugger on the free-agent market, the bidding could be fierce.

"He deserves everything he gets," Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "I hope he goes out and gets everything he can -- and I hope he comes back to the White Sox.

"With the guy he is, with the player he is, and with all he has done for this organization, I don't want to see him go anywhere."

Konerko, 29, hit .283 with 40 home runs and 81 walks this season while making $8.75 million. The complete list of players in Angel history to hit 40 homers: Troy Glaus.

The Arizona Diamondbacks signed Glaus last winter for four years and $45 million, at a time he was coming off two injury-plagued seasons. The bidding for Konerko, who never has been on the disabled list, should rise from there.

The Angels might flinch less at the price than at the length, with Casey Kotchman and Kendry Morales lined up as first-base prospects. But they had agreed to trade Kotchman to the Kansas City Royals this summer for right-handed slugger Mike Sweeney, a deal that died when the Royals demanded another prospect and refused to pay any of the remaining $30 million of Sweeney's contract.

Konerko declined to discuss his pending free agency. But Chicago Manager Ozzie Guillen and General Manager Ken Williams want him back.

"Priority No. 1, when this is all said and done, is to try and get him signed," Williams said.

But he acknowledged the star could leave the team this winter, perhaps for the Angels.

"For whatever reason, if it doesn't happen and he's playing in New York or Anaheim or whatever, he's still going to be a White Sox, part of the family," Williams said.

"I could see him one day sitting in Ozzie's chair or my chair. I think that much of him."

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