<
>

Deciding Bonds' fate comes after season ends

SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Bonds' future in San Francisco is no
more clear now than it was six months ago.

Giants owner Peter Magowan vowed Sunday to hold off on a
decision about bringing back the 42-year-old slugger until after
the season, acknowledging it could be a long process before the
sides decide whether to stay together for another season or part
ways.

Especially considering Bonds has changed his mind so often this
year about whether he will retire or return for a 22nd major league
season in pursuit of Hank Aaron's home run record. Or, head to the
American League to be a designated hitter.

Lately, he has said he plans to play past 2006. He is in the
final season of a five-year, $90 million contract.

Bonds has repeatedly said he would prefer to finish his career
with the Giants in the Bay Area where he grew up, but always notes
that it isn't up to him -- typically pointing to the ceiling toward
the team's top brass.

Magowan, though, thinks it might be Bonds' decision in the end.

"In some ways, he really is the driver of the process,"
Magowan said. "Does he want to play or doesn't he? Sometimes he
does and sometimes he doesn't. ... If you want to show me any one
particular quote where he says one thing, I can probably show you
another one that says the exact opposite, going back quite a ways
on this whole subject."

Yet Bonds' recent success has many believing the Giants wouldn't
dare let their franchise player leave town and break Aaron's mark
in another uniform. San Francisco also hosts the 2007 All-Star Game
in its waterfront ballpark, and Bonds is still a major attraction
for fans everywhere.

The seven-time NL MVP hit his 731st home run Saturday to pull
within 24 of Hammerin' Hank's mark. It was Bonds' sixth homer in
nine games and team-leading 23rd of the season. He is making
athletic, running catches in left field, too.

"Very heartening," Magowan said. "I said in spring training,
I felt he'd get better as the season progressed, in terms of his
health, rather than worse. It was clear he was favoring his legs.

"He's not the Barry Bonds of old. But he knows how to play his
position."

In August 2005, Magowan said he had mixed feelings about the
Giants' decision to give up the right to void the final year of
Bonds' contract in 2006 -- though he originally defended the move.
At that point, Bonds hadn't played all season following three
operations on his right knee since Jan. 31, 2005. He eventually
returned for 14 games in September last year.

Despite the steroids allegations surrounding Bonds, Magowan
insisted during spring training he would sign Bonds again. The
13-time All-Star has been with San Francisco for 14 seasons since
1993 after spending his first seven big league seasons in
Pittsburgh.

While a quick answer would be ideal in the Giants' winter
planning, it could drag out. The Giants must decide by Dec. 7
whether to offer Bonds arbitration.

"It just depends on where discussions with him, assuming we
have them, would go," Magowan said. "You go off and -- assuming we
wanted to make an offer to him, what's the response going to be? Is
it going to be, 'Well, this is fine, but let's see what's out
there,' or 'This is fine, we'll get back to you after we've checked
out what might be out there,' or 'Gosh, we were expecting some
offer from the Giants. We're delighted to have one. Let's sign
today.'
"So you can't predict how long it's going to be, just because
we have a window in which we're the only team that can negotiate
with him."