Barry Bonds could seek $100 million or more if an arbitrator finds baseball owners colluded to end his career, according to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, which allows for triple damages from lost earnings.
Bonds, who turned 44 in July, would likely argue baseball not only blackballed him in 2008 but also effectively shortened his career by two or even three seasons.
His agent, Jeff Borris, reiterated Friday that Bonds is not officially retired and will make himself available in free agency for a second consecutive offseason. Bonds was not offered a contract after the 2007 season, when his multiyear deal with the San Francisco Giants expired. He hit 28 home runs in 340 at-bats and had an on-base percentage of .480 in 2007, after which he was indicted for perjury stemming from 2003 grand jury testimony in which he denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs.
Borris has revealed he eventually shopped Bonds at the major-league minimum salary – $390,000 – and still drew no interest. Bonds, the career home-run leader, earned more than $15 million in his final season.
"Barry would still like to play," Borris said, "but I don't foresee MLB allowing that to happen."
Borris would not comment on the grievance the players' union has said it will file on Bonds' behalf. The filing has been delayed an undetermined time by an agreement with MLB. Asked, however, how much longer he believed Bonds could have played and maintained his production, Borris said, "I think I'll defer to Willie Mays on that point."
Mays, Bonds' godfather, recently told HBO's Bob Costas he believed Bonds could play as many as three more years. The $100 million figure, while seemingly ludicrous, could be sought by arguing that Bonds might have earned more than $30 million in three years, and tripling the damages.
While many general managers and owners granted that Bonds remained a significant offensive threat, many feared the accused slugger's personal and peripheral baggage – the extra media coverage, the ongoing legal battle (a trial is scheduled to begin March 2) and Bonds' prickly personality – would negate the benefits.
The Giants announced late last season they would not have Bonds back at any price. Bonds had drawn huge crowds at AT&T Park, about the only stadium in which he was not booed, on his way to setting the home-run record, and still the organization tired of him.
The commissioner's office has denied obstructing Bonds' return to baseball.
"We have investigated this matter fully," MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred said Friday. "We do not believe there is any evidence of collusion."
The grievance, which could be put off until after the trial, would be heard by arbitrator Shyam Das. If it is determined that baseball colluded to keep Bonds out of the game, a separate hearing would be held to consider damages.