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GM says Giants want Bonds back

GM Sabean says Giants want Bonds back

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- There, an official of the Giants finally said it. More than five weeks since Barry Bonds filed for free agency and well into the negotiations between the team and his agent, Jeff Borris, the Giants want Bonds back in San Francisco to play at least the 2007 season.

"That's why we're talking to him," Giants general manager Brain Sabean said during his meeting with the media Monday at the end of the first day of the annual Winter Meetings. "Are we talking to him just for the sake of talking to him? Obviously, he can still play baseball and he can still hit a baseball and he still fill a spot in the middle of the lineup as good as anybody."

Asked if it made "baseball sense" to bring Bonds back, Sabean said: "Yes."

That should put to rest any conjecture that's developed since the end of a regular season during which the 42-year-old Bonds tied for the club lead with 26 homers, added 74 runs scored and 77 runs batted in, plus led Major League Baseball with a .454 on-base percentage.

Bonds is seeking a guaranteed one-year contract, with an option that would vest for another if the second-leading home run hitter in Major League Baseball history remains healthy.

Sabean, though, declined to characterize the state of the negotiations, saying only that multiple offers and counteroffers have been exchanged. He said he couldn't speculate whether Bonds would make a decision about his future by the end of these meetings Thursday, although he doesn't expect it to linger much beyond that.

"The pace [of the negotiations] has picked up," Sabean said. "I think there's going to be a resolution in time one way or the other. You don't want this to linger. You want to get this over as soon as possible."

According to Borris, who held court near midnight ET in the lobby of the hotel serving as the meeting headquarters, the two sides participated in a conference call Monday night, but still came to no resolution. It was a three-way call between Borris and Sabean, both in their respective hotel rooms here, and Larry Baer, the team's chief operating officer, in San Francisco.

Just Friday, the Giants declined to offer arbitration to Bonds, leading to this salvo from Borris:

"I think it speaks volumes about the Giants' true intentions of bringing him back to the Bay Area for the 2007 season. 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."

Late Monday, Borris, still didn't sound overly optimistic about his negotiations with the Giants.

"We're talking a lot, mostly on the phone," Borris said. "Any deal that's going to be made is going to be made in good faith. It's not going to be done because anyone is pushing them into it."

Asked if any progress had been made, Borris said he still anticipated a return call from Baer before going to bed for the night. Just then, his cell phone rang and Baer's name appeared on the screen.

"I told you he still could call again tonight," Borris said. "I'm going to go call him back. That's real life drama, man. How are you going to write that?"

Inclusive of their negotiations with Bonds, the Giants have been active in the free-agent market. Since Friday, the team has re-signed second baseman Ray Durham and third baseman Pedro Feliz, while adding outfielder Dave Roberts and infielder Rich Aurilia to the roster.

A potential deal for catcher Bengie Molina is still in the offing.

Sabean said that the club's pursuit of another power-hitting outfielder had no effect on their desire to re-sign Bonds, who with 734 homers goes into the season needing only 22 to pass Hank Aaron's 755 for first place on MLB's all-time list.

"I don't know where the storyline came from that we didn't want him back," Sabean said. "We've had a long-standing conversation and an offer out there that we've adjusted a number of times. Because we were pursing other players didn't mean that we weren't interested in Barry. We were just trying to put the best team on the field and trying to sign other people up. I guess it was misconstrued."

Still, the question has always been at what price? And other members of the Giants hierarchy have certainly sent mixed messages to the public about whether the Giants want to continue their relationship with Bonds, who earned $18 million this past season in the last year of his five-year, $90 million deal.

Just after the end of the season, Peter Magowan, the team's managing general partner, said that bringing back Bonds was still very much up in the air.

"It's a tough decision, but the decision's going to be made on what gives the Giants the best chance to win," Magowan said. "It's not going to be made on what gives the Giants the best chance to fill up a ballpark or on some marketing situation. I feel the best marketing is to win.

"Whether Barry fits into that plan or not will depend on baseball evaluations of whether he will be able to give us a better chance of winning or not. Not whether or not we have a better chance of drawing 3 million people to the ballpark to watch him pursue a home run chase."

Bonds has since drawn interest from other teams, including the Oakland A's and the San Diego Padres, while the Giants are left with a huge hole in the cleanup spot if Bonds should sign elsewhere.

Sabean said that the team's feelings about Bonds have "evolved" since Magowan made that statement, which was punctuated last month when another team official told Borris there was a split in the organization about bringing Bonds back.

"We went through a process of decompression about evaluating everybody," said Sabean, who added that if it does come to pass, Giants fans will see the Bonds who played like gangbusters the last six weeks of the season rather than the left fielder who struggled early on recovering from the three right knee surgeries that limited him to only 14 games in 2005.

"He was dramatically improved in all phases," Sabean said. "Maybe it was as simple as his general condition, just playing his way into shape. [Because of the knee] he couldn't train."

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

{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }
{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }