Giants want Bonds back; Mets meet with Zito's agent

Tuesday, December 5th 2006, 6:30 am
By: News On 6

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) _ Barry Bonds might wind up staying in San Francisco, and the Boston Red Sox remain coy about Manny Ramirez.

Welcome to baseball's winter meetings, where what you hear isn't always the whole truth and reading between the lines is a competitive sport.

The annual swap session opened Monday with more talk than action. St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter got a new $63.5 million, five-year contract. On the free-agent front, San Francisco finalized deals with infielders Rich Aurilia and Pedro Feliz, and Seattle signed right fielder Jose Guillen.

Texas and right-hander Vicente Padilla reached a preliminary agreement on a $33.75 million, three-year contract, a person familiar with the negotiations said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been finalized.

Other contracts were almost done. Joe Borowski, whose physical caused Philadelphia to back away last week, was closing in on a deal with Cleveland, and David Weathers was nearing a contract with Cincinnati. But the remaining big names on the market were still in the preliminary phases of talks.

Barry Zito's agent met with New York Mets executives. Agents for pitchers Jason Schmidt and Ted Lilly also were due at the meetings, with several teams interested.

Zito's old team, the Oakland Athletics, was interested in Mike Piazza, who would replace Frank Thomas as its designated hitter. Greg Maddux was talking to the San Diego Padres.

With the meetings just under way, the price of pitching has scared many teams off from even midlevel talent.

``It's like I tell my wife when she goes shopping: Just because you have the money doesn't mean you have to spend it all,'' Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said.

The winter meetings are a time when teams inquire about nearly every player in the game. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who repeatedly has said he won't trade Alex Rodriguez, said clubs keep inquiring about A-Rod's availability.

``I still get some stragglers,'' he said.

Cashman bumped into a familiar face, too. Jeffrey Maier, the kid who reached over the Yankee Stadium fence and turned Derek Jeter's flyball into a home run in the 1996 AL championship series, was at the hotel. All grown up now, he was looking to land a job in baseball.

``He walked up to me in the lobby and handed me something,'' Cashman said.

Monday's most significant development might have occurred when Giants general manager Brian Sabean said he is exchanging offers with Bonds' agent, Jeff Borris.

``I don't know where the story line came from that we didn't want him back,'' Sabean said. ``We've had a long-standing conversation and offer out there that we've adjusted a number of times. Because we were pursuing other players didn't mean we weren't interested in Barry. We're trying to put the best team on the field and sign other people also. I guess it was misconstrued the other way.''

Borris was angry when the Giants didn't offer arbitration Friday to the seven-time NL MVP, coming off a $90 million, five-year contract. The 42-year-old outfielder has 734 homers, 21 shy of Hank Aaron's record.

``We need a presence, a fourth hitter,'' Sabean said. ``He can still hit a baseball and is a threat in the middle of the lineup.''

Borris was speaking to reporters in a hotel lobby early Tuesday morning when he received a phone call from Giants executive vice president Larry Baer.

``I've said all along, if a deal is to get done it should be in the spirit of good faith,'' Borris said. ``I don't want to ram anything down their throats. I don't want them to ram a deal down Barry's throat.''

San Francisco did agree to an $8 million, two-year contract with first baseman Aurilia and a $5.1 million, one-year deal with third baseman Feliz. The Giants also are nearing agreement on a three-year deal with catcher Bengie Molina.

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein wouldn't mention Ramirez by name, instead discussing the trade market for an ``elite position player,'' which later morphed into ``E.P.P.''

``We're not going to trade elite position players without getting fair value,'' he said. ``We've proven that in the past when we've walked away from deals for the player.''

Epstein did set a soft deadline for Wednesday before turning his attention to other things.

``It's not going to take up much of the team's time (after that). We'll only be listeners,'' he said. ``You can't spend all your time on elite position players.''

Zito met last week with the Texas Rangers, and the Chicago Cubs also are thought to be interested.

``I just can't worry about what other teams are doing. I know who we like and what we feel value is, and that's all we can do,'' Mets general manager Omar Minaya said before his preliminary sit-down with agent Scott Boras.

While the Mets would like to land Zito, they haven't been involved in Boston's latest efforts to unload Ramirez, owed $38 million over the final two seasons of his contract.

``I've been down that road,'' Minaya said. ``We're very happy with Moises Alou in left field.''

Guillen's contract was the first formal signing of the meetings, and it includes a $9 million mutual option for 2008. The slugger missed much of last season following reconstructive surgery on his right elbow.

``I'm just looking forward to this opportunity to try to get back on board and have the success that I've had before,'' he said.