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Back in the Bay

Ultimately, Bonds will end up back with Giants for '07

Posted: Thursday August 31, 2006 11:10AM; Updated: Thursday August 31, 2006 11:52PM
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The Giants are used to dealing with the high-maintenance Barry Bonds, and he won't get the same kind of fan support anywhere else.
The Giants are used to dealing with the high-maintenance Barry Bonds, and he won't get the same kind of fan support anywhere else.

Barry Bonds will be back with the Giants next year, taking aim at Hank Aaron. There isn't a done deal, an agreement or even a handshake. It's just common sense.

Bonds wants to return to the Giants, and in the end, despite the obvious drawbacks, Giants decision-makers will likely conclude, as they always have, that Bonds belongs back home with them in his continuing quest to break Aaron's coveted alltime home-run record. He's 28 short, which puts him within striking distance by the end of next season.

While some folks who've recently spent time with upper-level Giants management people reported for the first time noticing "a couple cracks" in their strong support for Bonds, there is growing sentiment around baseball that Bonds will be back with San Francisco.

"I don't see him going anywhere," said one person close to Bonds.

For one thing, where's he going to go? More to the point, which team is going to pay him like the Giants?

Bonds is worth a lot more to the Giants than anyone else. He's their superstar -- and their headache. And only they know for sure that they can deal with the ups, the downs and the clubhouse hangers-on.

One Giants person suggested that not all their baseball people are enamored with the idea of bringing back Bonds. And while GM Brian Sabean recently spoke about the team's need to get younger, he didn't necessarily mean everyone. Giants team ownership, the one group that admirably paid for their own home park, won't want to give up the gate receipts that would come with a home-run chase, even if it isn't exactly the national feel-good story of the year.

Giants execs know their fans love him. With any other team, Bonds would have to be an acquired taste.

Giants people also know -- and this is key -- that their fans don't want to follow his home-run chase from afar.

"He's going to want $10 million, and there's only one team I can see giving it to him. That's the Giants," one opposing executive said. (Another executive thought that figure was on the high side, that Bonds would need to accept non-guaranteed incentives to get there, even with the Giants. But that executive also sees Bonds staying in San Francisco.)

Giants people understandably want more information before negotiating with Bonds. They want to see how his court case turns out and how he finishes out the season. The legal matter may drag on for a while, what with Bonds' former trainer Greg Anderson refusing to testify and back in prison for what could be a long time. And as for Bonds' performance, it's showing great signs of life. "He's playing really well," the competing GM said. Bonds' slugging percentage is up to .512, his on-base percentage to .459 and his batting average from the mid-.230s to .258 after his 12-for-23 hot streak.

There's also a growing question as to who else will want him nearly as much as the Giants. While a slim majority of major league executives interviewed here a few weeks ago said Bonds would be able to find a job elsewhere, there's that question of "Where?" And that bigger question of "How much?"

The A's and the Angels are the two most obvious places that could offer Bonds a chance to stay on the West Coast and to DH. But I couldn't find any evidence that either will seriously pursue him.

The A's were by far the most interested outside pursuer in 2001, but then-A's owner Steve Schott didn't want to come anywhere near the $18 million salary the Giants paid. This time it appears the A's prefer to try to re-sign Frank Thomas, who's been a great player and citizen for them, and in fact they're already negotiating to keep him. The Angels will likely pursue a big offensive performer this winter, but one person close to their situation said the Angels -- who have several prospects coming up and the possibility of a real youth movement -- don't expect to make a play for Bonds.

Maybe they will change their minds. Or maybe someone else will go for Bonds. But it's doubtful anyone will go harder for Bonds than the Giants.

I think Bonds thinks that too, which explains why he finally told the media on Aug. 19 that he'd prefer to stay with the Giants. "That's my choice," was Bonds' telling three-word response.

Bonds wouldn't have said anything like that if he had Oakland or Anaheim or anyone else in his back pocket. It was only a few weeks earlier that Bonds was privately complaining about the Giants, saying they weren't trying hard enough to win.

The Giants and Bonds' agent, Jeff Borris, are only saying now that they'll wait until the season's over to make their moves. That sounds like the start of their negotiating dance.

"We're going to evaluate it when the season's concluded and we'll make a determination, as we do with our other free agents, and as we did with him when he was last on the free-agent market," Giants president Larry Baer said.

Said Borris: "At the end of the season Barry and I will sit down and evaluate what the best fit for him will be in 2007."

The question has to be asked now: Is there any doubt left what's the best fit for them and for him?