White Sox land Paul Konerko for 3 years

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Chicago White Sox agreed to a three-year, $37.5 million deal Wednesday with free-agent first baseman Paul Konerko.

The contract breaks down as follows: $12 million in the first year; $12 million, second year; $6.5 million, third year; seven years deferred at $1 million each.

"We have made no secret of the fact that re-signing Paul Konerko was our top offseason priority," White Sox general manager Ken Williams said in a statement. "Paul's value to the organization on the field and in the clubhouse can never be overstated. He is one of the greatest players in franchise history, and we hope he finishes his career in a White Sox uniform."

Williams said Tuesday that negotiations were at a standstill, prompting him to seriously start considering other options.

But that standstill didn't last long. Movement toward an agreement started after a sushi dinner on Tuesday, Williams said.

"We were very, very close to going a different direction," Williams said. "And I'm sure they were, as well.

"So for it to come together at the end, which a lot of times this is how things get done, is a bit of good fortune on both parts I think, because I think he would have looked awfully funny in another uniform at this point."

Konerko, who will be 35 on Opening Day, is coming off one of his best seasons, batting .312 with 39 home runs and 111 RBIs. He has six 30-homer seasons and has driven in 100-plus runs five times in his 14-year career.

"Definitely to come back was always [top] in my mind of what I wanted to happen going back to this offseason, but [also] years ago," Konerko said. "Having said that though, last offseason, sometime right about now, I began a yearlong preparation for the fact that it might not happen that way."

Konerko, who took less money to return to the White Sox the last time he was a free agent, following their World Series season in 2005, is 35 home runs shy of 400 for his career.

"It was my goal at the end of the last contract to come back when my last contract expired, that would give me 10 years-plus with one team, and I thought that was really cool -- not to mention a chance to win while you're doing it," Konerko said. "Now to sit there and say it's going to be 15, that's a nice round number, that's intriguing as well. I was prepared, and had options to do other things."

One of those options, apparently, was heading to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"It definitely was a possibility and definitely something that was intriguing to me, not only because of the things that would come along with playing with a team close to where I live, but because I think that team is going to get a lot better and are on their way up," Konerko said. "It was a great option to have. But it didn't work out going that way. But I was thrilled that they were interested in me."

Konerko also appreciated the way A.J. Pierzynski and Adam Dunn deferred money in their new deals to make room for Konerko.

"It definitely says a lot about those two guys," he said. "I'm sure those contracts could have been structured differently had they wanted to."

Konerko, who praised the loyalty of chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, said when he first heard about the signing of Dunn, he thought it signaled the end of his White Sox career.

"The funny thing is I was down in Mexico, and I was lying down in a chair, looking at the ocean," Konerko recalled, "and someone sends me a text and says they just signed Adam Dunn to the deal that he signed to, and my first thought was, 'OK, that was a fun 12 years. That's it. It was an either him or me situation.'

"...Then I remembered Kenny telling me at the end of the year, 'Listen, if we go after this next year, we want to win it, I don't want you or Adam, I want both of you.' That was in my mind as well where I was able to say, 'OK, maybe they will make a push to get both of us.' I think my agent later that day had contacted [assistant GM Rick Hahn] or Kenny and said, 'OK, what's the deal, you still interested in Paul?' It was a simple no or yes and it was a yes, so I knew the dialogue would be open. That took us into this week.''

The White Sox now will look to fortify their bullpen after J.J. Putz signed with the Diamondbacks, and Bobby Jenks was nontendered by the White Sox.

"So we've got some work cut out for us, and we certainly I think are at a point where we have got to get a little creative, because we are about tapped out right now," Williams said. "So we need to either get creative or we need to get a flood at the ticket counter pretty quickly."

Bruce Levine covers baseball for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. ESPNChicago.com White Sox reporter Doug Padilla contributed to this report.