Konerko, Pena bring power surge to Windy City

ORLANDO, Fla. – Paul Konerko(notes) spent two days probing the market to see if the money Adam Dunn(notes) got also applied to him. Turned out it didn’t, and Wednesday he accepted a three-year, $37.5 million offer to return to the Chicago White Sox and nudge Dunn to designated hitter or maybe a hold-your-breath trial in the outfield.

Meanwhile, on the North Side of Chicago, the Cubs signed a free-agent first baseman of their own, power-hitting Carlos Pena, to a one-year, $10 million deal. Pena batted only .196 with an OPS of .732 last season for the Tampa Bay Rays, so he plans to build up his value and test the free-agent waters again next winter, much the way another Scott Boras client, third baseman Adrian Beltre(notes), did a year ago.

Beltre is now seeking a five-year deal, which seems unlikely. However, the flood of first-sackers to Chicago leaves few options for the many teams in the market for power at a corner infield spot. Derrek Lee(notes) would prefer to stay close to his Malibu, Calif., home and is hoping the Arizona Diamondbacks (who offered Konerko a three-year, $30 million deal), San Diego Padres or Oakland Athletics extend a legitimate offer. Adam LaRoche(notes) could sign with the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals, Seattle Mariners or the Rays.

After Lee and LaRoche, all that’s left at first are players with serious deficiencies: Lyle Overbay(notes), Jorge Cantu(notes) and Troy Glaus(notes). Lee and LaRoche might have been smart to wait out the market. Whether that’s also true for Beltre is to be determined.

Konerko’s return to Chicago had been in doubt only a day earlier when White Sox general manager Kenny Williams wouldn’t budge from a three-year, $30 million offer. But owner Jerry Reinsdorf became involved in the negotiations, which had been complicated by the four-year, $56 million deal the White Sox gave Dunn a few weeks ago.

Dunn, a 10-year veteran, turned 31 in November. Konerko, a 14-year veteran, will turn 35 in March. So even though Konerko is coming off a better season, Dunn’s more lucrative deal can be chalked up to youth. Konerko has 365 home runs; Dunn has 354. For the next several years they can creep up on 500 together, perhaps even back to back in a lineup that suddenly is formidable.

Konerko’s contract pays him $12 million each of the next two seasons and $6.5 million in 2013. The rest is deferred, $1 million a year for seven years. He’s the team captain and a stabilizing force in the clubhouse, which made his return a top priority to manager Ozzie Guillen and GM Kenny Williams.

“Paul’s value to the organization on the field and in the clubhouse can never be overstated,” Williams said. “He is one of the greatest players in franchise history and we hope he finishes his career in a White Sox uniform.”

Konerko had spoken to other teams with money to spend on a power-hitting first baseman, including the Orioles and Rangers. But his return to the White Sox wasn’t a surprise, even after talks stalled. They resumed late Tuesday night and the deal was completed early Wednesday morning.