DALLAS - Mark Buehrle is quite the attractive free agent, and, coupled with the White Sox' readiness to implement a retooling plan and cost-effective policy that accompanies it, his days as a South Sider appear to be numbered.
Or are they?
Here's why it looks that way as the winter meetings -- which could be action-packed for the Sox -- begin Monday. The remarkably consistent and reliable Buehrle has a reported 14 teams buzzing around his agent to some degree or another, has received at least one three-year offer from Ozzie Guillen's Miami Marlins and at 32 doesn't look the part of a pitcher the Sox want in a get-younger plan. Buehrle made $56 million over his last four seasons and will likely get close to the $14 million annual salary with his next contract for at least three years.
And while Buehrle proved he can still pitch with his run of 18 starts allowing three or fewer runs this past season, he did benefit from extra rest during the Sox' six-man rotation. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has never been fond of giving lengthy contracts to pitchers, and he was reminded why after he inherited Jake Peavy's. For what it's worth, Bill James projects Buehrle to go 12-11 with a 3.98 ERA while making 30 starts and throw 200 innings a 12th straight year in 2012.
Will Reinsforf pay Buehrle and/or be willing to gie him more than two years?
Despite the odds against it, there are more than a couple voices in baseball betting he will, including some from within the organization. They are looking at Buehrle's Midwestern roots, family matters and content nature and finding it hard to visualize him on the East coast or on South Beach. Buehrle, who reportedly asked Miami for a no-trade clause they might not want to give, is making the rounds, will see what's offered and bring it back to Reinsdorf to make the final call.
"Despite the huge interest in Buehrle from many other teams, I don't think it's a slam dunk he is leaving,'' an American League source said. "But for him to stay in Chicago he will most certainly have to give the Sox a home team discount, which he says he won't do.''
Whether John Danks and Gavin Floyd or both are traded and who Sox general manager Ken Williams gets in return could also factor into how sweet the Sox offer will be for Buehrle. Williams canceled a teleconference with local media on Saturday, sparking speculation he was too busy working the phones in advance of the meetings.
"Im just gathering information,'' Williams told FoxSports' Ken Rosenthal last week. "Who's interested in our players? Is the level of interest enough to consider going younger and building a new foundation?
"If opportunities don't present themselves, I could see us changing direction a little bit, try to be creative and add. We don't have the money go out and really add. We would have to get really creative. But I can see that route, too.
"The first domino that falls for us will kind of give you an indication one way or another, which way we're going. But we're not sure just yet.''
Sox manager Robin Ventura would take Buehrle either way.
"He's a great pitcher, a great person, a great teammate: really everything," Ventura said. "It's not always good when here in your first year, the guy that has been most the consistent player, the most consistent pitcher for them, he might not be back.
"I'm not happy about that necessarily. but I understand the game and the way it works. Would I love to have him? Yeah. But he deserves by doing well to be in this position and to have everyone want him on their team."
Ventura will play the pitchers he's dealt. They could be a much younger bunch than Guillen managed this past season.
"Sometimes, it's not about a particular individual player,'' Williams said. "It's about what you're doing as a whole, what the plan is for this year, 2013, 2014 - and what is the timing of these plans coming together. What is a guy's point of maximum value? Does that fit in terms of when you think you will be good?
"I'm a strong, strong believer in laying your foundation with starting pitching. The next wave . . . we've got Chris Sale. (Zach) Stewart showed he could do some things last year. [Minor leaguer Jacob] Petricka is going to be a good one. We've got a [left-habded] screwballer, [Hector] Santiago . . .
"When are these guys going to be ready to go 200 innings? When are they going to be throw 200 innings and give you quality starts? It's a timing thing as much as it is a talent thing. You can bring in a lot of talent at various times. But if they don't coincide . . .''