LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The San Francisco Giants, the one team known to be talking to Barry Bonds, have another Bay Area star in their sights. It's gone almost unnoticed to this point, but San Francisco is going to try to become a player in the Barry Zito sweepstakes.
The Giants and possibly the Angels could provide two more big-city alternatives for the top free-agent pitcher, though the Angels' focus on acquiring another hitter may compromise their interest in Zito. So far, Zito's top suitors appear to be Texas, Seattle and the Mets, who remain interested but seem determined not to hit $100 million and are also exploring trade alternatives, including one for the A's Rich Harden or Dan Haren.
The general belief is that Zito would prefer a big-city atmosphere, and he is well-acquainted with San Francisco, having spent his entire career as an Oakland A's player. Anaheim wouldn't be a bad landing spot for Zito, either, as it's near enough to Los Angeles to call itself Los Angeles of Anaheim. He's from San Diego and his folks reside outside L.A.
Interestingly, the Giants let their own ace, Jason Schmidt, leave to their archrival Dodgers without seriously trying to retain him. San Francisco came into the winter with money to spend (up to $30-40 million) and has signed a bevy of good-but-complementary players thus far -- Ray Durham, Rich Aurilia, Bengie Molina, Pedro Feliz and Dave Roberts -- so the big signing is believed yet to come. It could be Zito, or it could be Bonds. Stay tuned.
Bonds met with the Giants for three hours late Wednesday night and agent Jeff Borris said more talks are expected on Thursday.
"It's not a horse race ... but if it were, I wouldn't pick them as the favorite. But I wouldn't say they were a longshot either," Borris said.
The Giants need to bolster the middle of their order, and they remain the favorite to retain Bonds, who was said by a source close to the negotiations to have started off by requesting a contract that would pay him $18 million for 2007 with a vesting option based on plate appearances for the same $18 million for 2008.
Bonds' surprise appearance here Wednesday created a stir but left no clear idea of where his negotiations are headed. The Giants are believed to want to keep Bonds on a one-year deal so he can break Hank Aaron's record, then leave. Their negotiations with Bonds have been described by someone close to the slugger as a good-cop, bad-cop act with club president Larry Baer playing the good role and chairman Peter Magowan the other, and it's likely that their roles only reflect their personal feelings toward Bonds to some degree.
Bonds tried to stir up some outside interest while here, going back to his old Pirates manager Jim Leyland to see if they would take him in Detroit. But the Tigers and Leyland, who has said for weeks he doesn't want to take the focus away from his fine young team, told him they had no interest at this time. Leyland already had chosen to reunite with Gary Sheffield instead.
Bonds' gruff personality may have turned off a lot of teams, but when asked about it, Borris said, "It's a privilege and honor to represent him."
The A's, who briefly showed interest but were turned off by the asking price, are on the verge of signing Mike Piazza. The Angels are another team that would interest Bonds, who resides in Beverly Hills, but while there were a lot of rumors floating around, there was no concrete evidence of strong interest outside of San Francisco. As SI.com reported, the Devil Rays called to see whether Bonds would consider an incentive-laden trade, but Bonds told them no.
The Giants already have tried to sign Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee, Juan Pierre and Gary Matthews Jr. and trade for Manny Ramirez, and if they go for Zito, there is a question whether there'd be room for Bonds, too.