Market thinning out for Bonds

Free-agent market thinning out for Bonds

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Barry Bonds went to Disney World on Wednesday and what he discovered may not be so enchanting. The universe of teams that seemed to be interested in the free-agent left fielder as little as two weeks ago is shrinking, perhaps leaving only one standing: his once-beloved Giants.

Bonds was purportedly meeting with various unidentified club officials as the next-to-last day of the Winter Meetings unfolded. But he had already returned home to Los Angeles on Wednesday night and did not attend what was perhaps the biggest meeting of the day: a three-hour evening session between his agent, Jeff Borris, and the Giants.

And that might not have been the end of it. Near midnight ET, Borris said his day's work may not be over.

"I'm waiting on another call from [Giants general manager Brian] Sabean," said Borris, who declined to comment on his meetings with other clubs Wednesday. "I could be going back up there again."

The meetings with the Giants now seem to be getting down to the nitty gritty, which is a good thing.

The Padres, A's and Orioles, all teams supposedly once talking with Borris, no longer seemed to be interested in Bonds.

"I don't think we've considered it," said Mike Flanagan, the Orioles' executive vice president of baseball operations, who said his club didn't meet with Bonds on Wednesday. "I just don't see us getting to that end result at this point."

The A's, whose owner Lew Wolff said only two weeks ago that Oakland could be a Bonds destination, have gone in another direction, several sources said. Indeed, on Wednesday, the A's agreed in principle to sign Mike Piazza as their designated hitter, replacing the departed Frank Thomas.

The Padres, who are on the cusp of spending $16.5 million guaranteed over the next two years on veteran right-hander Greg Maddux, are also out of the running.

Asked Wednesday if the Padres were still in the chase for Bonds, Sandy Alderson, the team's chief executive, simply said: "No."

Cardinals officials said they had no intention of meeting with Bonds. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and Angels GM Bill Stoneman previously said their clubs had no interest in the lefty-swinging slugger. Stoneman reiterated that position Wednesday, effectively wiping out the California coast.

Save for the Giants. And they went on to other business Wednesday, signing veteran catcher Bengie Molina as expected to a three-year contract.

The iron curtain was shut down tight on any more Bonds talk from the Giants. Sabean said Monday that he wanted Bonds back in San Francisco for the 2007 season. On Tuesday, he characterized the negotiations by saying, "We're not in the same ballpark yet," as far as finances were concerned. On Wednesday, he asked for a moratorium on discussing Bonds, who was in the hotel all day.

The exchange, if not enlightening, was entertaining.

"So you're not going to say anything about the left fielder?" Sabean was asked.

"I am not," he said. "I have an excuse with Bengie signing. I get a pass."

"Can you at least say whether you met with him today?"

"No. I don't know anything. I'm Sergeant Schultz," he said, referring to the "Hogan's Heroes" character that always "knew nothing." "So whatever's in your head or about to come out, no."

Likewise, Bonds left the hotel without speaking to the media. But he had to figure that his latest run at free agency had made the turn from Fantasia to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

Bonds should be used to it. The last time he was a free agent back in 2001 and Scott Boras was his agent, he received little or no interest on the open market. At the time, he was 37 years old and had just come off a season in which he hit 73 homers to break Mark McGwire's three-year-old single-season record.

Back then, the rules were different. The Giants had to offer Bonds arbitration by Dec. 7 or give up the right to continue negotiating with him. They offered and Bonds accepted. The parties never went to arbitration, though. Ultimately, Bonds signed the five-year, $90 million contract that just ended.

This time, things are a tad different. Bonds is 42 years old and has had surgery on his left knee, three surgeries on his right knee and surgery on his left elbow since the conclusion of the 2004 season. Because he earned $18 million this past season, the Giants declined to offer him arbitration. But under the new rules, clubs can continue negotiating ad infinitum with their free agents.

Bonds is seeking a one-year deal (with a one-year option) at terms comparable to last season. The Giants, evidently, aren't going that high despite the fact that they don't have a left fielder or cleanup hitter and that their overtures to other power-hitting outfielders have been rebuffed during this free-agent season.

Sabean said that it makes baseball sense to bring Bonds back, and no wonder.

Bonds hit .270 in 2006 (after bottoming out at .235 as late as Aug. 20) and tied Ray Durham for the club lead with 26 homers, the most homers ever hit by a player who turned 42 during that particular season. He added 74 runs scored and 77 RBIs in 130 games and led the National League with 115 walks, and his .454 on-base percentage led the Major Leagues.

He passed Babe Ruth, going into second place on the all-time list, when he hit his 715th homer at AT&T Park on May 28. He currently has 734, 21 behind Hank Aaron's Major League-record of 755.

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