The clock is ticking on Mark McGwire's future with the Oakland Athletics.
He could be traded before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
He could leave as a free agent when the season ends.
He ultimately may end up as the Angels' first baseman. Already an Orange County resident, he would then be able to visit his son more often.
"That would be nice," McGwire said. "I hope the Angels would be interested.
"I love Southern California and [the Angels] have all the ingredients to produce a winner."
The Angels can't say anything because of tampering restrictions, but it's a viable scenario.
McGwire, perhaps baseball's truest power hitter, is in the final year of a contract that pays him $5.7 million-- almost modest considering the market explosion that took Albert Belle to $10 million a year and got Barry Bonds a two-year, $22.9-million extension.
"The salaries are ridiculous, but if the owners are going to pay it, can you blame the players for asking for it?' McGwire said, adding that he will test the market next winter.
He is also a 10-and-five player, meaning he has spent 10 years in the majors and the last five with one club, and thus can veto any trade.
"I'm in a great position," McGwire said. "I control my future."
One thing seems certain: McGwire's future, after 11 years with the A's, won't include a view of the San Francisco Bay Bridge.
"The rumblings out of Oakland are that the A's want to cut payroll, cut payroll," said Bob Cohen, who represents McGwire. "How can you cut payroll and pay Mark McGwire $8 million or $9 million or $10 million?
"In reality, it wouldn't seem likely that he'd be re-signed by the A's, but the pressure is on the club. We only hope he stays healthy."
That has never been a sure thing.
Even last year, when he led the majors with 52 home runs and tied his record of one every 8.13 at bats, he did it in only 130 games.
This year, he has appeared in a team-leading 71 of 73 games, and he is again on a home run pace that shadows Roger Maris and Babe Ruth.
He is second in the majors to Ken Griffey Jr., with 26 through Friday, and is among the leaders in runs batted in, total bases, slugging percentage and extra-base hits. He has hit five homers of more than 450 feet, and continues to hit a home run every 12.18 times at bat, second only to Ruth's record of 11.76.
At 33, McGwire is in his prime, but the A's are starting over under new ownership, and there is some question whether the club intends to stay in Oakland or rebuild elsewhere in the Bay Area. There is also some question as to how much and how soon the owners are willing to spend to redevelop a winner.
"The bottom line is that you have to spend a few dollars to field a competitive team," McGwire said. "Our owners didn't spend any last winter, and that's a concern of mine.
"I'm not saying you have to spend a lot, but you have to give the Bay Area an indication that you're committed to winning, that you recognize it may take a few dollars, but I haven't seen that."
So the A's labor in the American League West cellar, still capable of generating offense, but generally unable to overcome suspect pitching, and looking to create financial flexibility. There have been talks, for instance, with the Baltimore Orioles about Geronimo Berroa, the designated hitter-type outfielder who is being paid $3.3 million this year and would give the Orioles a replacement for Eric Davis as he undergoes cancer therapy.
McGwire poses a larger problem. If the A's are convinced they can't re-sign him in October, it's likely they will try to trade him to a contender for prospects in July.
Would a club make that trade without a guarantee they could sign McGwire beyond '97?
The St. Louis Cardinals, managed by Tony La Russa, McGwire's former A's manager, might. The Florida Marlins? The Toronto Blue Jays?
And what if McGwire heats up the homer pursuit?
A's General Manager Sandy Alderson recently reflected on the possibility of trading McGwire if he's on the trail of a home run record and left the door open.
"We sold a lot of tickets based on Mark McGwire being part of the team," Alderson told the San Francisco Chronicle. "If he's on a pace to hit 60 home runs in July, is it fair to trade him?
"The caveat is: He was on pace to hit 60 last year and no one came out to see him.
"And the same people who bought those tickets to see him want the club to get better."
Meaning, if you can get two or three players for him, why not?
"It would have to be a hell of a deal," Alderson said.
But weighed against getting only draft choices as compensation if McGwire leaves as a free agent, how much of a deal does it have to be?