(12-07) 04:00 PST Nashville -- If they had decided to rebuild, the A's wouldn't have a spot for Barry Bonds.
However, the club is intact as the winter meetings end, and Oakland is considered the hot pick to sign the free-agent outfielder despite his legal troubles and the potential public-relations issues that accompany him.
"There is no doubt in my mind that Oakland will sign Bonds," one major-league executive said Thursday as the winter meetings wound down. "I'd be shocked if it didn't happen."
Two other teams also have expressed interest in Bonds, an industry source said. Bonds is most likely a fit for an American League club, so that he could serve as a designated hitter. The A's, though, apparently have told Bonds that if he signs with them, he would appear in left field with some frequency. The home run king would be splitting DH duties with Jack Cust.
"I'm speaking with American League clubs as well as National League clubs," Bonds' agent, Jeff Borris, said Thursday.
According to several people with knowledge of the talks, the A's were working on a deal to sign Bonds last month before he was indicted on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Bonds will be arraigned on those charges in San Francisco today, but there is a belief in baseball and legal circles that a trial would not be held until after the 2008 season, or even early 2009.
The possible legal complications wouldn't be too difficult to handle contractually, according to several agents and executives. Any time off needed to take care of court proceedings would be factored into the deal, and it would be null and void in the event of a conviction during the life of the contract.
The one sticking point for any team pursing Bonds might be convincing ownership to take on a player under a sizable cloud of steroid suspicion, but A's general manager Billy Beane usually has a free hand when it comes to personnel decisions and he has long been a fan of the longtime Giant. Beane consistently has declined to comment about Bonds, citing his longstanding policy of not discussing free agents.
Asked about Bonds 2 1/2 weeks ago, A's owner Lew Wolff told The Chronicle, "I doubt we'd have interest now," but he did not dismiss the idea outright.
Bonds fits the A's criteria in many ways. First, he'll be relatively cheap, given all the off-the-field issues around him, plus he's 43 and his playing time occasionally is limited by injuries. Second, Oakland almost annually brings in a prominent player on the downside of a good career: Mike Piazza, Frank Thomas, David Justice, Ron Gant, Eric Karros, et al. And as one insider said Thursday, "Bonds is the ultimate. Frank Thomas is a great player, but even he can't hold a candle to Bonds."
Beane also likes to make a splash. He didn't do so at the winter meetings, despite heavy speculation that he would trade Dan Haren and/or Joe Blanton. And though the GM still could decide to move one of those starters, if he does not, signing Bonds would dwarf most other offseason baseball news. A one-year deal, or perhaps one year with a team option, would be the most likely agreement.
From Bonds' standpoint, the A's would be a terrific option because he'd remain in the Bay Area, which is where he is from and where he still has a loyal fan base. In addition, there's thought that Bonds wouldn't mind sending a message to his former employers in San Francisco, with a big season across the bridge. The A's are seldom opposed to ruffling the Giants' feathers, either.
Bonds has remained popular with his major-league peers throughout all his troubles. A's third baseman Eric Chavez said recently that he'd welcome Bonds as a teammate, and another Oakland player, asked this week about the possibility of adding Bonds, said, "That would be awesome. I would love that."
"Barry is not retiring," Borris repeated Thursday. "He was a major-league All-Star last year. He's still playing at an elite level. He loves playing baseball. He has every intention of keeping on with his career."
Barry Bonds makes his first appearance today in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Bonds is accused of lying about his use of steroids to the grand jury that investigated the BALCO steroids scandal. Live coverage will appear on SFGate.com, with a full report in Saturday's Chronicle.
Chronicle Staff Writer John Shea contributed to this report. E-mail Susan Slusser at firstname.lastname@example.org.