Giants decline arbitration offer to Bonds

Giants decline arbitration offer to Bonds

The San Francisco Giants declined to offer arbitration to free-agent left fielder Barry Bonds on Friday. And now the real games begin.

In the wake of learning that news from the Players Association just after the 9 p.m. PT deadline, Jeff Borris, Bonds' agent, flung his first salvo of the negotiations at the Giants.

"I think it speaks volumes about the Giants' true intentions of bringing him back to the Bay Area for the 2007 season," Borris told MLB.com via telephone from Los Angeles. "Barry's obviously not a priority for them. I mean, they were trying to sign [Alfonso] Soriano, [Carlos] Lee, [Gary] Matthews and [Juan] Pierre. They've been trying to trade for Manny Ramirez. Obviously, Barry's not high up on their priority list."

Asked how this affects Bonds' chances of returning to San Francisco for a 15th season, Borris added, "Maybe the Giants have a belief that Barry won't sign with another club. That's the perception that's out there. But if that's their perception, their beliefs are erroneous. The fact that they declined arbitration doesn't help the situation."

Of the eight unsigned free agents remaining from this past season's club, the Giants declined to offer arbitration to seven of them. Only right-handed starter Jason Schmidt made the cut.

A Giants spokesman said Friday night that it was too late to raise a key official to address Borris' statements. Earlier in the day, though, Larry Baer, the club's chief operating officer, declined to comment on the reasons why the Giants made the decision not to offer Major League Baseball's second all-time leading home run hitter arbitration.

"It's not productive," Baer said from San Francisco. "We're continuing to talk, continuing to exchange thoughts, ideas and concepts."

During a conference call on Friday to announce the re-signing of second baseman Ray Durham, Giants general manager Brian Sabean said the talks regarding Bonds were "ongoing" and "fluid."

In fact, the two sides have been speaking all week, including at least one session on Friday. Since the 42-year-old Bonds filed for free agency just after the World Series, multiple offers and counteroffers have been exchanged. The talks now will undoubtedly move to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where baseball's annual Winter Meetings will be held for four days, beginning Monday. Borris will be in town on Sunday with the Giants hierarchy following shortly thereafter.

But there is a serious split of opinion in Giants organization about re-signing Bonds, who would go into the 2007 season with 734 homers, 21 behind Hank Aaron's Major League-record 755.

Certainly, the Giants have been active in the free agent market, proving unable to land Pierre, Matthews and Lee, who signed with the Dodgers, Angels and Astros, respectively. The team, which has not reached the playoffs since 2003, is set to announce the signing of Padres outfielder Dave Roberts on Saturday.

That deal will be followed shortly by the announcement of agreements with Reds infielder Rich Aurilia and Blue Jays catcher Bengie Molina.

But to characterize the nature of negotiations with Bonds as gaining seriousness at this point would be a misnomer, Borris said.

"That would be an extremely premature statement," he said. "Overly optimistic and not a fair characterization of the discussions."

Under the rules of a new Basic Agreement, the fact that the Giants didn't offer Bonds arbitration may be merely symbolic. Unlike the past, the Giants can continue to negotiate with Bonds up to and into the regular season. They simply won't get draft-pick compensation if he signs with another team.

The possibility of that happening is still a matter of conjecture. Two weeks ago, Bonds had interest from the Oakland A's and the San Diego Padres, but those negotiations have gone into a holding pattern. Borris declined to comment about the nature of negotiations with other clubs on Friday night, although he did say that the arbitration deadline wasn't really an issue.

"With a player of Barry's stature, I don't believe that draft-pick compensation really comes into the picture," Borris said. "Obviously it's an issue with some teams more than others. But I don't think anyone was worried about losing a first-round draft pick to the Giants if they signed Barry."

Of course, that is no longer an issue.

Asked when negotiations could wrap up, Borris said, "It's conceivable that Barry could sign a contract with a club by Opening Day. Do I think that that's likely? No. But it's hard for me to give a timetable at this point. Obviously, the Winter Meetings are in two days. I'm sure there will be a lot of activity at that point. How fast can a deal happen? Deals can happen very fast. Teams can cut to the chase very quickly."

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