Trade talk doesn't bother Bret Boone

The deal is that there is no deal. Bret Boone remains a Cincinnati Red until further notice.

Further notice, of course, might mean his next phone call.

''When I talked to Jim Bowden, he didn't say to me, 'You will not be traded,' and I couldn't expect him to,'' Boone said. ''As a general manager, you're trying to make the best team you can. There's a price for everybody. I asked him what was going on. He said, 'What went on with the rumors and everything did not happen.' That was fine, and that was it.''

Boone knows better than to ask for assurances. When word leaked that the second baseman was the subject of serious trade talks between the Reds and San Diego Padres, he recognized it as an occupational hazard.

''When I was traded four years ago, there were no rumors or anything - it just happened,'' Boone said, reflecting on his move from Seattle to Cincinnati. ''It kind of shocked me. I was walking around in a daze for a day.''

Among other things, a professional athlete's job security is predicated on his health, his reflexes, his eyesight, his rap sheet, his salary and the relative scarcity of players at his position. The slightest change in any of these considerations can turn a rock-solid guarantee into a pie-crust promise; an untouchable into an expendable.

''You see a lot of people who make a decent amount of money get traded for prospects,'' Boone said. ''It could be that they (the Reds) don't want to pay me what I'm going to want.''

Boone becomes eligible for salary arbitration this winter, and figures for a seven-figure raise. In this, the Reds' winter of fiscal responsibility, their second baseman could well price himself out of this market.

Bowden says he held serious trade talks with 19 teams at the recent general managers' meetings. Boone's name surely came up in several of them. Same with Jeff Brantley and Hal Morris and Reggie Sanders and John Smiley. If the Reds must slash payroll as much as some suspect, the cuts must include prominent players.

This does not mean Boone is finished here. If every deal Bowden floated came to fruition, the Reds would not be a ballclub but a bus station. Part of the process in baseball deal-making is to find out what other executives think of your employees, and what they might part with to get them. The success ratio is about the same as in singles bars.

''Both sides of these transactions have lots of balloons in the air,'' agent Tom Reich said of the discussions. ''There are lots of false starts.''

Reich represents free-agent second baseman Delino DeShields, who was rumored to be en route to Cincinnati upon Boone's departure. This may yet come to pass, but probably not as long as the Reds and Padres are at impasse.

San Diego General Manager Kevin Towers says the deal broke down because he wanted to swap pitcher Scott Sanders for Boone straight-up while Bowden sought a sweetener, pitcher Dustin Hermanson. Both sides seem to have backed away from the transaction, but it could easily be revived. Spring training, after all, is still four months away.

Clearly, the Reds crave young pitching. The Padres seek solidity at second base. Each is positioned to fill the other's needs. As they say in the trading trade, ''there's a fit.''

For the Reds, the quality of the fit depends on finding a replacement for Boone. DeShields is less polished in the field, less powerful at the plate and is fresh off the worst season of his career, but he is at least a legitimate leadoff hitter. The Reds might accept some of his shortcomings if he enabled them to enhance their pitching.

Bret Boone says he would prefer to remain with the Reds, but he is prepared for the possibility he may have to relocate.

''When I first heard a bunch of stuff was going on, my brain was kind of scrambled,'' he said. ''But it's not going to help me to analyze it. You really have to approach it strictly as a business decision. You can't take it personally because it's not a personal thing.''

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published Nov. 17, 1996.