Let's gaze into the crystal ball for a moment? And no, this isn't an ordinary one. This is a state-of-the-art future teller, the kind that gives you a message before you even ask.

Like this one. DON'T FEIGN SURPRISE!

Sage advice. If you don't believe so, peer deeper. For if you stare long enough, you actually can see visions of Opening Day 2008 at The Big Initials. What's more, you can see a certain large-domed gentleman (loose term) gearing up to resume The Chase.

Now, that may seem like some sort of sick April Fool's day rumination, especially for the many entities -- the Giants, their fans, opponents and Major League Baseball -- who have waited for what seems like an eternity for Barry Bonds to move past Hank Aaron and take over baseball's home run throne.

Sorry to say, the crystal ball never clowns. And what it sees are various factors that could conjoin to turn 2007 into The Big Tease. It sees the ongoing federal investigation by a grand jury, and an investigation (loose term) by George Mitchell, both of which could, theoretically, derail Bonds. It sees a pair of knees that, healthy as they look, are still subject to odd twists and severe jolts. It sees a 42-year-old who has also had back issues and various other ailments. It sees a disabled list vacancy with Bonds' name on it.

It also notices a Giants lineup that could kindly be described as punch-and-judy, except that there's a whole lot of "judy" and hardly any "punch." It anticipates myriad umpires yelling, "Take your Base.


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" It sees an inverse ratio between Bonds' interest and the loss column, the former going down as the Giants' total in the latter goes up.

But mostly what it sees is a guy who has never been afraid to milk his employers for as much as he can, and an employer that has always been too afraid to make do without him. It sees, say, 20 home runs -- 754 total, one short of Aaron -- and the need to do this all over again.

Sure, the crystal ball could be mistaken. Bonds looks as fit as a guy in his mid-30's, and his spring stroke had all the look of July. The Giants have made another Barry (Zito) a cornerstone of the franchise, and they seem intent on sending the message that this is Bonds' last chance (loose term).

But if it turns out differently, well ...

DON'T FEIGN SURPRISE!

Now, some other things the crystal ball revealed.

AL MVP: Grady Sizemore, Indians: The Tribe's center fielder established himself as baseball's best leadoff hitter in '05. Last season, he established himself as one of the game's best players with 92 (a majors best) of his 190 hits going for extra bases. He also scored 134 runs and stole 22 bases. The third-year star doesn't turn 25 until August. Keep an eye on: Sizemore's teammate Travis Hafner. My 2006 pick: Mark Teixeira, Rangers: He didn't show up until after the All-Star break.

NL MVP: Albert Pujols, Cardinals: His "average" 162-game season through his first six years is .332, 43 homers, 132 RBI, 201 hits, 101 runs. In other words, this may one day be called the Pujols Award. Keep an eye on: Andruw Jones, Braves. My 2006 pick: Pujols: Hey, that's like betting on Kobe to lead the NBA in scoring.

AL CY YOUNG: Johan Santana, Twins: He's not quite the Albert Pujols of pitchers, but he's getting close. Santana is 55-19 with a 2.75 ERA and 748 strikeouts since the start of 2005, and he was 10-1 after the All-Star break last season. Keep an eye on: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox. My 2006 pick: Roy Halladay, Blue Jays: He finished third, behind Santana and the Yankees' Chien-Ming Wang.

NL CY YOUNG: Carlos Zambrano, Cubs: Huge riches await him, either with the Cubs or in free agency next winter. Given that he's 46-21 with a 2.53 ERA since '05, Chicago better get him signed. Keep an eye on: Chris Young, Padres. My 2006 pick: Jake Peavy, Padres: He struggled to an 11-14, 4.09 mark last season, but the Padres haven't lost faith. Peavy is starting the opener.

AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox: His status as a Japanese legend should disqualify him but it doesn't. And the East Coast bias will prevail even if Matsuzaka is only three-quarters of what he's advertised to be. Keep an eye on: Delmon Young, Devil Rays. My 2006 pick: Francisco Liriano, Twins: His elbow injury blew a great chance; he finished third behind Detroit's Justin Verlander and Boston's Jonathan Papelbon.

NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Homer Bailey, Reds: He'll start in the minors, but this is the year he shows why he follows Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens as the next great Texas fireballer. Keep an eye on: Tim Lincecum, Giants. My 2006 pick: Conor Jackson, Diamondbacks: The Cal product wasn't quite the natural he was projected to be.

AL COMEBACK PLAYER: Rich Harden, A's: A hunch that he stays healthy. Keep an eye on: Zack Greinke, Royals. My 2006 pick: Jim Thome, White Sox: A winner.

NL COMEBACK PLAYER: Josh Hamilton, Reds: So far, a spring-training success story. Keep an eye on: Derrek Lee, Cubs. My 2006 pick: Chan Ho Park, Padres: (Even good rounds have a drive into the woods).

AL BREAKOUT PLAYER: Felix Hernandez, Mariners: The righty starter flopped as a rookie. It won't happen again. Keep an eye on: Milton Bradley, A's. My 2006 pick: Joe Mauer, Twins: Finished sixth in the AL MVP vote.

NL BREAKOUT PLAYER: Stephen Drew, Diamondbacks: You'd never guess the shortstop was only 24. Keep an eye on: Chris Young, Padres. My 2006 pick: Matt Holliday, Rockies: Even bad rounds have drives right down the fairway.

AL FLOP: Gary Matthews Jr., Angels: Trust his history. Keep an eye on: Frank Thomas, Blue Jays. My 2006 pick: A.J. Burnett, Blue Jays: Bingo!

NL FLOP: Ray Durham, Giants: Hefty contract equals bad news. Keep an eye on: Dan Uggla, Marlins. My 2006 pick: Alfonso Soriano, Nationals: Uh, maybe not.

SHORT HOPS: Kenny Rogers' three-month absence (a conservative estimate) because of a blood clot in his left shoulder is the most noteworthy injury of the spring, but it's not the only significant one. Among the other big-name pitchers who will start the season on the shelf: starters Wang, Freddy Garcia (Phillies), Jered Weaver and Bartolo Colon (Angels) and relievers Eric Gagne (Rangers) and Kerry Wood (Cubs). ... Meantime, add a couple of no-names to the Florida Marlins roster. Alejando De Aza, a 22-year-old minor-league Rule 5 pick in December, beat out Alex Sanchez and Eric Reed and will be the Marlins' Opening Day center fielder. De Aza hasn't been above Double-A, and he's played only 69 games at that level. Jason Wood, a 37-year-old infielder with more than a decade in the minors, also made the team. ... For those who have a few extra dollars to plunk down, the Las Vegas Hilton, the world's largest sportsbook, set the over-under for the A's and Giants at 84.5 and 81.5 victories, respectively. ... Expect the players union to file a grievance against the San Diego Padres on behalf of infielder Todd Walker, who was waived by the club on Monday. Walker, who signed a minor-league deal with the A's on Friday, won a $3.95 million judgment from the Padres in arbitration, and the Padres saved about $3 million by getting rid of him.

Contact Rick Hurd at rhurd@cctimes.com.