CHICAGO -- The question was asked of Mark Buehrle maybe once, maybe twice, maybe even a handful of times.

Well, in reality, it probably was asked about 15 or 20 times of Buehrle by the close of the White Sox players' 45-minute session with the media prior to Friday's first day of SoxFest. Then, it was asked of Joe Crede.

It was even asked of Paul Konerko, who really had nothing to do with the question at hand, aside from being a teammate and friend of the players on the hot seat. The question would have been asked of Jermaine Dye, but he was unable to attend the franchise's first SoxFest at the Palmer House Hilton.

And what was the overriding topic running throughout all of these inquiries? Money, of course. How much is enough for a player who could become a free agent sooner then later in an ever-expanding explosive market, and will the White Sox offer match what is deemed enough?

Where Buehrle's situation is concerned, the team's ace left-hander seemed to believe the topic really wasn't relevant. The White Sox picked up their $9.5 million club option on Buehrle, 27, for the 2007 campaign, but the affable leader who will begin his eighth season on the South Side feels he has a relatively clear-cut indication from general manager Ken Williams that this year will be his last in Chicago.

"I want to be back, but I've seen direct quotes from Kenny saying that Mark Buehrle won't be in a White Sox uniform in 2008," Buehrle said. "I'm just kind of going off what he said.

"Obviously, I know if I am going to stay here, it's going to have to be [taking] a discount. Like Kenny said, he's got the quote out there saying I won't be here, so I only know what kind of discount. ... I could play for free and he said I won't be here, so I don't know."

Williams admitted to honestly responding to questions regarding the reduced chances for signing the impending free agent. He has done the same when asked about a long-term deal for Joe Crede.

In direct and forceful tones, though, Williams took great umbrage with the questions indicating his assertion that Buehrle was done with the White Sox after 2007.

"I don't remember saying that in those words," Williams said. "What I've said and what I've tried to do is not mislead people, particularly our media and our fans into unrealistic expectations.

"If I'm being asked a question about extensions and I'm answering honestly, the answer is: Listen, with the way the market has gone, I do not blame any of the players -- any of our players, any of the players in the industry -- for wanting what they want and for wanting to go out on the market and explore their options.

"Assessing what our focus is and what our direction is, is there something there that's a realistic opportunity in retaining Buehrle? Only he knows the answer to that. Have we explored the possibility? Yes. Am I optimistic? Not at all. Not at all.

"All I try to do is answer questions as honestly and as openly as possible," added Williams before concluding his thought and telling reporters to play the tape for Buehrle. "Is there going to be a pitcher around here who gets some of the dollars and the years that have been put out there? Very, very unlikely, unless something dramatically happens to where we don't have any options."

Through trades involving the departure of Freddy Garcia and Brandon McCarthy, the White Sox gave themselves plenty of future options in the form of John Danks, Nick Masset, Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez, to name a few. As for sitting down together and talking about the contractual issue, both Williams and Buehrle agreed to simply focus on the season at hand and let the situation play itself out.

"Whether it's Mark Buehrle or any other player who has a contractual issue for 2008, I say again, all we need to focus on for 2008 is take care of 2007," Williams said. "Take care of 2007, because you win and we win."

"It don't matter if I had a contract signed or not, I'm going go out there and do what I've done for the seven years I've been here," Buehrle added. "I'm going to go out there and try to win every start. If anything, I [might] have to go out and find a job for next year."


"It don't matter if I had a contract signed or not, I'm going go out there and do what I've done for the seven years I've been here. I'm going to go out there and try to win every start."
-- Mark Buehrle

Dye also finds himself in the last year of his contract, after the White Sox picked up his 2007 option, and the All-Star right fielder is coming off far and away the best season of his career. Williams recently told MLB.com that there appears to be a desire on Dye's part to stay and there's a desire for the White Sox to bring him back, but the team has to look at the revenue and the budget, the direction the club is headed and the alternatives. Williams also has yet to be able to get his arms around the numbers from some of the most recent long-term deals.

As for Crede, he continued to express satisfaction in going through his White Sox career one year at a time. Williams expressed strong admiration for Crede and even spoke of how he has had good conversations with Scott Boras, Crede's agent. But he also admitted to having a different value on the marketplace from Boras.

Much like Buehrle, Crede expressed a strong desire to stay in a White Sox environment that has become a destination point for high-end players -- especially those who foster a team-first attitude. Crede also knows he might not even make it through 2007 with the White Sox, despite being under their control through 2008.

"That's a good question if I am going to be here or I'm not. I really don't know," Crede said. "Either way, I'm just here to play baseball. I'm not here to look in a crystal ball and predict the future or tell you what is going to happen.

"It's not my job. I'm here to play baseball. As long as I have a uniform on my back, I'm going to be happy. But I would really be happy here in Chicago."

Konerko looks at the possibility of one of his friends exiting, if not all three, but doesn't talk about the closing of the White Sox window for success. He astutely explained that the best way to avoid forcing the team's hand and leading to an in-season move is to play good baseball and get off to a solid start.

The free agent saga played out for Konerko and his family during the offseason prior to the 2006 season, and ultimately, he accepted a little less money to stay in what he felt was the right place for him. Then again, Konerko is all for the players getting what they can, even if it means a friend or two moving on.

"You have parameters of being happy where you are at and trying to get as much as you can because when you are 40 years old and you are out of the game, not many of us have brain surgeon jobs waiting," said Konerko with a wry smile. "So, you try to make money while you can.

"Guys have to do what's right for their family. Some guys might not be back, but every team goes through it."