LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Free-agent outfielder Barry Bonds apparently has knocked the cover off baseball's salary record, tentatively agreeing to a contract with the San Francisco Giants last night that is believed to be worth an unprecedented $43 million over six years.
If that is true, Bonds will become baseball's first undisputed $7 million per year player and break the baseball record for total guaranteed money formerly held by Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, who signed a five-year deal worth a total of $32.5 million in August.
But the Giants kept the deal shrouded in mystery, sending a club spokesman to the winter meetings press room to announce only that a tentative agreement had been reached and that there would be no further comment from the parties involved until all of the contract language is worked out.
Perhaps it could still fall through, but it seems highly unlikely that the club would make any announcement until it was certain that the deal would be completed.
Agent Dennis Gilbert apparently took advantage of a reported $35 million offer from the New York Yankees to jack up the price on the Giants, a team that has a new owner, a new general manager and will soon have a new field manager. Now they have a very expensive new addition to a lineup that already includes superstar first baseman Will Clark and 100-RBI threat Matt Williams.
The projected value of the deal is based on a report in New York Newsday yesterday that Bonds had given the Yankees a deadline for matching a six-year, $43 million offer from the Giants. But the Yankees cut off the bidding at $36 million, said general manager Gene Michael.
"Sometimes, you just have to put a lid on it," Michael said. "We rTC didn't do anything wrong with our offer. Our offer was legitimate. Sometimes you have to draw a line, and there have been times that we haven't done a very good job of that. I'm not saying that we're right and they're wrong, but we had to do it."
There never was any question that Bonds would leave the Pittsburgh Pirates, where he built a reputation as one of baseball's best -- and unhappiest -- players. He openly feuded with management over the past two years, got into a spring training shouting match with manager Jim Leyland in 1991 and also led the club to three straight National League East titles.
Who's on deck for big money? Detroit Tigers first baseman Cecil Fielder, who is negotiating a long-term deal. He'll try to use the Bonds contract to push his price up, but it seems unlikely he'll get much more than five years at $6 million. He is productive, but not the multi-dimensional threat that has made Bonds arguably the best player in the game.
"He definitely can make up some games [in the standings] for them," Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda said. "He's one of the best players in the National League."
In other news yesterday:
* The Giants interviewed coach Ron Gardenhire for the vacant manager's job.
* The Dodgers agreed with free-agent infielder and outfielder Cory Snyder on a $3 million, two-year contract.
Snyder, 31, who lives near Los Angeles, hit .269 with 14 homers and 57 RBI in 124 games last season for the Giants. The Dodgers are expected to use him as a third baseman.
Meanwhile, the club re-signed free-agent reliever Roger McDowell, 32, to a two-year, $3 million contract.
* Yankees general manager Gene Michael will give free-agent pitcher Greg Maddux a tour of the New York area tomorrow. Michael said the club also has made offers to pitchers David Cone and Jimmy Key.
* The Twins sent left-handed pitcher David West, 28, to the Phillies for right-hander Mike Hartley, 31.