<
>

Colon rejects 3-year, $36 mil deal

CHICAGO --Right-hander Bartolo Colon will test the free agent market after rejecting a three-year offer from the Chicago White Sox.

Mitch Frankel, Colon's agent, said Monday that his client hasn't ruled out returning to the White Sox.

"We will still continue to talk to the team and see if there's
something that can be worked out," Frankel said. "He does like
Chicago. He liked the players on the team. He would welcome the
opportunity to come back. If something could equitably be worked
out, he would stay in Chicago."

Chicago general manager Kenny Williams did not return a phone call for comment Monday, but The Chicago Tribune reported Monday that White Sox may move to their self-described Plan B to try to retain Colon.

After finishing four games behind Minnesota in the AL Central
this year, Williams said keeping Colon was a priority this
offseason. And he offered a three-year deal that he described as
the largest ever for a White Sox pitcher.

Williams wouldn't discuss the numbers. The Chicago Tribune,
which reported the rejection Monday, cited unidentified sources as
saying the offer was worth $36 million, with some of the money
deferred.

Williams might try to make a final run at re-signing the right-hander this week. The Tribune reported, however, that indications are the Sox's $12-million-a-year offer is final.

Frankel wouldn't say how much money Colon was looking for, but
the pitcher made $8.25 million this season. Frankel did say he
discussed three- and four-year contracts with the White Sox.

Though Colon was only 15-13 with a 3.87 ERA this year, he's expected to draw heavy interest after he files for free agency. He's a former 20-game winner who has reached double-digit victories in six straight seasons He pitched a career-high nine complete games in 2003 and was second in the AL with 242 innings. His 173 strikeouts and 8.29 hits per nine innings also ranked in the top 10.

Overall, the 30-year-old starter is 100-62 with a 3.86 ERA in seven seasons with Cleveland, Montreal and Chicago.

"If you look at the other free-agent pitchers that are
available, Bartolo has pitched more innings, won as many games, had
as good an ERA over the last three years," Frankel said. "I
really believe there should be substantial interest.

"Bartolo will keep all of his options open and not rule anybody
out, including the White Sox."

The Yankees, expected to lose Roger Clemens to retirement and perhaps Andy Pettitte to free agency, are desperate for a big-time starter to join a group that now includes Mike Mussina, Jose Contreras and Jon Lieber. But, according to the newspaper, Colon has told those close to him he doesn't want to play in New York.

There's been speculation that Boston, with Hispanic stars Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez, is a more logical fit.

It's a critical week for the White Sox, and that extends well beyond their efforts to keep Colon and find a manager. Frank Thomas has until Thursday to decide whether to return in 2004 for $6 million, an offer he may well reject. And the ChiSox also have been stymied in their efforts to re-sign right-handed reliever Tom Gordon.

The White Sox offered Gordon a two-year, $5 million extension late in the season and have likely boosted that to about $3 million per season. But Gordon is seeking a closer's money, perhaps $5 million a year, and has some qualms about returning to the Sox. Although Gordon said he loved his experience in Chicago, he worries that his presence will hinder Billy Koch's chances of re-emerging as a dominant closer.

Concerning Thomas's contract dilemma, reports the Tribune, the White Sox plan to sit back and watch.

If Thomas rejects the $6 million pact for 2004, the Sox are expected to set him free rather than offer the $8 million stipulated by his contract. Although Thomas rebounded in 2003 to hit 42 home runs, he said in the season's final week that he wasn't necessarily eager to test the free-agent waters.

"You never know what the free-agent market's going to hold," he said. "Last year was a bust."

Does Thomas want to stay with the Sox?

"Of course I want to be here," he told the newspaper. "This has been my career home. I had a great year and I hope to be back."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.