Relatively quiet thus far this offseason, the Yankees are preparing to make a big splash. A Yankees source said Friday the club is ready to make a push for the Pittsburgh Pirates' Barry Bonds or Bobby Bonilla, Nos. 1 and 2 in the 1990 National League MVP voting.
Bonds and Bonilla are, in fact, the Yankees' main targets of offensive affection, according to the source. If they could be separated, Bonds would be target No. 1 and Bonilla No. 1A, but there's no need to nit-pick here. Either would provide a tremendous boost to an offense that produced a league-low 603 runs: the left-handed-hitting Bonds batted .301 with 33 homers, 114 RBI and 52 stolen bases; the switch-hitting Bonilla batted .280 with 32 homers and 120 RBI.
"We like both players," the source said. "Bonilla would give us some more offense and more versatility than we have. But Bonds is a little better for us because he's left-handed. He's also a little better all-around athlete. He fits us. Both fit us."
So far the Yankees have improved only their pitching, with four signings -- Steve Farr, Tim Leary, Scott Sanderson and Mike Witt. The need for Bonds or Bonilla was heavily discussed this week at club meetings in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Thus far, the Yankees have played it coolly. The clubs have not spoken since the winter meetings, though the source said New York General Manager Gene Michael plans to contact Pittsburgh GM Larry Doughty soon.
Doughty is preparing a multiyear offer for Bonilla, who is eligible for free agency after '91, a year ahead of Bonds.
The Pirates would like to keep their two stars, of course, but there is considerable doubt whether the small-market club can afford both Bonds and Bonilla plus Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek, who can be a free agent after '92. The Yankees source said, "(The Pirates) can't get rid of both (Bonds and Bonilla). But they're looking into the fact that they don't have he money for both."
There has been speculation the Pirates prefer Bonilla for his upbeat attitude. Bonds is not universally liked, something that was apparent on the postseason Japanese exhibition tour.
There also is doubt about the two players' affection for Pittsburgh, given that both have had disputes with Pirates management. Friends say Bonilla still is upset about the Pirates' unwillingness to match former teammate R.J. Reynolds' $3-million, two-year offer from the Taiyo (Japan) Whales.
Sources close to Bonilla also say he'd love the chance to return to his native Bronx. Said a friend, "He's from New York, his wife is from New York and his family is still there, so of course he'd love to play for the Yankees." This is important because the Yankees would want to lock up Bonilla for several years before agreeing to any trade.
Though no Yankees players have been discussed thus far, the Yankees source said any trade with Pittsburgh is likely to start with Jesse Barfield. "Barfield fits them," said the source. Also, by moving Barfield, the Yankees could stick to their plan of giving Hensley Meulens a full shot in the outfield.
If acquired, Bonds could replace Barfield in the outfield. Bonilla could play right or move back to third base, the Yankees' main need. Another Yankees source said of Bonilla, "He's not one of the better third basemen in baseball, but you'd still try to work out a deal for him. Offensively, he fills the bill. And he'd probably be more productive here than in Pittsburgh."
The Pirates, in need of backups, already have lost free agents Reynolds, Sid Bream, Wally Backman and Ted Power. Relief pitching and first base, two Yankee strengths, are Pirate needs.
Doughty told all interested teams at the winter meetings that Bonilla was unavailable for trade. That could change in the coming days as contract negotiations get serious. "We will be watching (the Bonilla negotiations) very closely," the Yankees source said.
A source close to Bonilla said he is aiming to become baseball's highest-paid player, a title now held by the Athletics' Jose Canseco at $23.5 million for five years. Doughty said Friday, "We would like to do something with Bobby multiyear. We'll be making an offer soon." Should their offer not be to Bonilla's liking, the Yankees could step in.
Both players were unhappy after losing arbitration cases last year. Bonds asked for $1.6 million but received $850,000. Bonilla made $1.25 million after asking for $1.7 million.
The Yankees tried last winter to acquire Bonds, hoping to use Don Slaught as potential bait. When the Pirates did not bite, the Yankees sent Slaught to the Pirates anyway, for pitchers Jeff Robinson and Willie Smith. The Yankees also tried to obtain Bonilla in the past, making an effort in June, 1989, that came up short.
Earlier this offseason, Yankees management expressed interest in star free agents such as Ted Higuera, Bob Welch and Zane Smith but never made much of an effort to acquire them. Will that be the case here, too?