La Russa tells agent he wants to talk with Bonds

Updated: December 7, 2006, 10:56 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Barry Bonds' appearance at Major League Baseball's winter meetings Wednesday caused quite a stir as speculation swirled about where he might land in 2007 to resume his chase of Hank Aaron's home run record.

The world champs, by chance?

According to a story on the San Jose Mercury News' Web site, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa approached Bonds' agent on Wednesday night and requested a meeting with the currently unemployed outfielder and owner of 734 career home runs.

"I want to talk to your guy," La Russa reportedly told Jeff Borris outside a steakhouse at the Walt Disney World resort where the meetings are being held. "Where is he? I want to talk to him."

The Giants have been negotiating with Borris to re-sign Bonds, but neither side is commenting on precisely how many dollars apart they are.

The Giants would not say whether they met face-to-face with Bonds, but Borris said he sat down with San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean for three hours Wednesday. The two were expected to talk again later in the evening.

"I don't want to characterize it one way or another," Borris said. He added that Bonds did not meet with Giants officials. The agent wouldn't say whether Bonds visited any other clubs.

Thursday, Borris told The Associated Press that "[Bonds] could snap his fingers and get a deal done."

"I really can't comment on any offers that have been made," said Borris, who was leaving the winter meetings Thursday morning. "There's no sense of urgency. I can't predict any timetable. The Giants have always been in play. My gut doesn't indicate one way or another right now [where he will sign]."

One baseball man who spoke with the Giants brass told ESPN.com the Giants considered Bonds' arrival to be nothing more than particularly inspired "gamesmanship." The source said the Giants had seen no evidence that Bonds had any serious interest elsewhere -- and quoted a Giants official as saying, "There may be a phantom team out there somewhere -- but we can't find it."

St. Louis general manager Walt Jocketty, asked whether he met with Bonds, shook his head, the Mercury News said. "We're trying to get our pitching in order first," was Jocketty's response.

St. Louis, then, could be the answer to the question "Which is the mystery club suddenly in the mix to sign Bonds?"

According to the newspaper, La Russa made his request with Borris in the presence of a Mercury News reporter, then the two men spoke privately for several minutes. Borris was described as "shaken" upon being asked whether Bonds had met with Cardinals officials earlier Wednesday.

"I won't confirm or deny that," Borris told the Mercury News.

The 42-year-old Bonds, a seven-time MVP, sported a casual look with jeans and a black polo shirt to go about his business at the meetings. By Wednesday night, he had left the hotel and was expected to return to his Bay Area home Thursday morning. Borris and his staff were set to leave after Thursday morning's winter meeting draft.

"He's not driving. He's not on a boat," Borris said. "He could be on Matterhorn [at Disney World]. You don't know where he is, his mode of transportation."

It's believed Bonds has shown no inclination to take a cut from his 2006 salary of $18 million, hasn't been especially open to tying his earnings to health or playing time, and wants a vesting option that could turn a potential deal into a two-year contract potentially worth in the neighborhood of $40 million.

The Giants, on the other hand, are believed to want to guarantee about half of what Bonds made this season, with incentives based on plate appearances that could bring him close to, or slightly below, this year's salary.

There also have been indications that the Giants have other, non-monetary issues they want to resolve with Bonds. But "right now," one baseball man familiar with the discussions told ESPN.com, "the divide is about compensation. The reason this deal isn't done yet is not because of anything else. It's because of money."

Bonds has repeatedly stated that his priority is to play for a contender.

Bonds has spent 14 of his 21 big league seasons with San Francisco and helped the Giants draw 3 million fans in all seven seasons of their waterfront ballpark's existence. He is 22 home runs from breaking Aaron's mark. After missing all but 14 games in 2005 following three operations on his right knee, Bonds batted .270 with 26 homers and 77 RBI in 367 at-bats in 2006.

Information from ESPN.com senior writer Jayson Stark and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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