Bonds' age, price promise to pose giant dilemma

ON BASEBALL

September 09, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

San Francisco Giants superstar Barry Bonds is staging the ultimate salary drive. He hit his 60th home run on Thursday and stayed on pace to challenge Mark McGwire's single-season home run record, which can only put his team in an unenviable position this winter.

How would you like to be on the other side of the bargaining table after Bonds files for free agency in November?

His agent is Scott Boras, whose top free agent last year - shortstop Alex Rodriguez - not only broke the record for the largest guaranteed contract in the history of professional sports, but also doubled it.

The Giants want Bonds back, but club officials have to wonder just how far it would be prudent to go with a 37-year-old player who is likely to ask for the world ... and maybe a few of the other planets while he's at it.

Owner Peter Magowan recently tied the magnitude of his club's effort to re-sign Bonds directly to the success of the team this season, which was a pretty wily move under the circumstances. There will be tremendous public pressure in the Bay area to lock up Bonds for the rest of his career, but Magowan has begun to create a logical framework for his possible departure.

If the Giants don't reach the playoffs and at least get through the Division Series in Bonds' once-in-a-lifetime career year, it probably is fair to ask whether they'll get any further after committing as much as a third of their annual payroll to Bonds during his twilight years.

"Where we go is a big part of it," Magowan told the Sacramento Bee recently. "The further we go, the better chance there might be. If we don't go, we have to sit down and talk about what we can do next year with the amount of dollars we have.

"I'm saying that if we don't win, we have to ask ourselves: `Why didn't we win, and what is it going to take to sign him? And what are our chances to win in the future if we sign him, or if we don't sign him?' "

Magowan need only look north to see that there is life after losing a major superstar. The Seattle Mariners lost Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey and Rodriguez in the space of 3 1/2 years and they are having one of the greatest seasons in history. Jeff Kent, Bonds' teammate and polar opposite in the Giants' clubhouse, pointed that out in a controversial Sports Illustrated interview last month, though he has since distanced himself from those comments.

Bonds has said that he will take less to remain in San Francisco, but no one will really know what that means until Boras and the Giants get down to business.

Boras is the best in the business at maximizing the earning power of his clients, but Bonds presents an interesting challenge. The combination of his age, his image and the uncertainty of this year's free-agent market leave his value very much open to debate.

He may be worth more than $20 million a year by comparative valuation, but for how long and to whom? The Giants will be in the mix, of course, but two of the teams that helped drive up the price of last year's top free agents - the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox - figure to sit out this year's auction.

That leaves the deep-pocketed New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers to prop up the market, and both of those clubs seem far more likely to make a serious run at 30-year-old Oakland A's slugger Jason Giambi.

The Orioles have some payroll to burn, with their youth movement sputtering and Cal Ripken dropping off the roster at the end of the year, but owner Peter Angelos isn't likely to overcome his aversion to eight-figure salaries for a player in his late 30s.

That won't keep Boras from creating the illusion of a major bidding war among all those big-money teams. That's why he's the best there is. Bonds just has to be careful that he doesn't overplay his hand.

Panic in Detroit

The Detroit Tigers have an outside shot at 100 losses this year, which might be the catalyst for a major shakeup, both in the front office and on the field.

General manager Randy Smith already has said that changes will be made, but the biggest potential move may be out of his control. There are rumblings that Smith may be the first to go at the end of the season.

Manager Phil Garner, who is signed for another two years, appears to be safe, but he is far from satisfied. He is so down on some of his players that he is ready to turn the whole roster over.

"The combination we have hasn't worked," Garner said. "I've tried it for two years. People before me tried it. I think it's time to move on. If I'm going to look at this stuff, it's going to be with a different group."

Bowa: no passion

Phillies manager Larry Bowa has been on his best behavior the past few weeks, but he again seems close to bubbling over in frustration as his club tries to back out of the National League East.

The Phillies entered Friday with just six wins in their previous 21 games. The only thing keeping them within realistic striking distance of first place is a similarly disappointing performance by the division-leading Atlanta Braves.

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