Durham back for a second go-round

Keystone move: Durham signs for two years

SAN FRANCISCO -- Not that Ray Durham shed his normal Giants uniform for a superhero outfit, but the veteran certainly morphed into a stronger, fitter and more powerful player in 2006.

Who knew?

"It's a good story to see a guy go from one phase as a player to another phase," said San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean after signing the just-turned-35 second baseman to a two-year contract Friday.

Durham, a 12-year veteran who signed for a little over $14 million according to The San Jose Mercury News, had hit well at times during his first three seasons with the Giants, but he spent multiple times on the disabled list with leg problems. That didn't bode well for his future.

But better conditioning with core and leg exercises in 2006 -- his final contract year -- produced an astounding career-best 26 homers and 93 RBIs, coupled with a .293 average and .538 slugging percentage.

Sabean was blown away.

"He became such a determined, confident and clutch hitter, he couldn't be ignored," said Sabean. "Talking to the coaches, they were impressed that he transformed himself into a better hitter."

Regarding his sensational season, Durham said he knew it was important to stay healthy, and except for one "freak" left hamstring strain barely a month into the season, the speedy infielder consistently felt strong.

"I concentrated more on core work last year," said Durham, who also used back exercises to keep his hamstring healthy. "Except for that freak incident, I was really at 100 percent, and I'll try to do the same thing next year."

Durham is the first new signee for 2007, but Saturday should see finalization of pacts for versatile infielder Rich Aurilia, a former Giant reported due a two-year, $7 million deal, and former San Diego outfielder Dave Roberts, who is expected to sign for $17 million over three years.

Does the signing of these men, all in their mid-30s, kind of refute owner Peter Magowan's plan of getting "younger and healthier" for next season?

Not so, says Sabean.

"We will be and are getting younger," he said. "We'll get the best baseball player possible, dictated by the market and the ability to sign someone."

The club did lose 40-year-old Moises Alou and 39-year-old reliever Mike Stanton this offseason to other clubs.

Durham's power numbers were especially potent last season. His homer output was second-highest by a switch-hitter in franchise history, behind only J.T. Snow's 28 in 1997.

Among National League second basemen, Durham's RBI total was topped only by Chase Utley (100), while his homers were third behind Utley's 31 and Dan Uggla's 27.

Durham long indicated he wanted to return to San Francisco, and while he felt he'd have to adjust to new manager Bruce Bochy's thinking, the veteran will be glad to see familiar faces in the clubhouse.

"I honestly believe it was the group of guys," Durham said of his desire to come back. "We had some great times and down times, but I got great relationships with those guys, and the fans are wonderful -- the best fans in baseball."

Durham's signing means 24-year-old infield prospect Kevin Frandsen will receive more valuable tutoring for another two seasons and get experience coming off the bench.

Sabean said Frandsen's status was deliberated throughout the offseason. Could he be the starter? Would he play third? But the GM was confident the kid would still get playing time and hundreds of at-bats.

Although Aurilia is expected to play third, the Giants are still talking to Pedro Feliz's agent, Mike Arias, about a possible return following a strange if effective campaign in which Feliz hit only .244 but bombarded opposing pitchers with 22 homers and 96 RBIs.

Should Feliz be re-signed, that could mean Aurilia would fill Shea Hillenbrand's spot at first base.

While not mentioning the possibility of acquiring Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez per se, Sabean said the club is "in a lot of trade talks -- let's put it that way."

The Barry Bonds situation remains fluid, according to Sabean.

"We've talked throughout the week, but I won't categorize where we are," Sabean said. "Both sides are talking to see what can be done."

On other player issues, closer Armando Benitez's rehab from arthritic knees and overall conditioning is on schedule, but Sabean indicated acquiring a new late-inning reliever is possible.

Sabean was not optimistic about catcher Mike Matheny's recovery from post-concussion syndrome, and signing a starting catcher -- Bengie Molina is on the radar -- to team with Eliezer Alfonzo is a certainty.

Matheny is to undergo a final battery of tests next week to gauge his recovery. After a series of concussions, Matheny suffered a devastating foul-tip to the head in late May and missed the rest of the season.

Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.