What, Fehr replied teasingly, that the offer was only good for 15 minutes?
No, Thomas said. Cone had a lot longer than that to make up his mind. Like until 2 o'clock yesterday afternoon.
What happened after that defines the unpredictable nature of the annual winter conclave, a baseball binge that this year has been rendered even more chaotic by protests over racist remarks allegedly made by Reds owner Marge Schott, the vote to reopen negotiations on the Basic Agreement a year early and sudden uncertainty over whether the sale of the San Francisco GIants to a local group will be approved after all in the wake of a blockbuster, $43.75- million offer to free-agent outfielder Barry Bonds.
The deadline came and went. The Phillies didn't hear from Fehr. They were mightily upset and strongly considered yanking their offer from the table.
In the end, the Phillies didn't. Later, Thomas and Fehr bumped into each other in the third-floor lobby; Fehr convinced Thomas that he thought he had only been joking about the deal being a limited-time-only offer.
But none of what happened yesterday brought the Phillies and Cone any closer together.
"It doesn't look good," Thomas said.
Added club president Bill Giles: "There is no reason to be optimistic. We made an offer and, as soon as (Thomas) is able to do one or two other things, we'll pull it off the table. We'd rather do that than be used."
Cone, who is in town for the meetings, once again declined to publicly rule out the Phillies although top pitchers signed so far have gotten at least four years guaranteed.
"If it comes down to the length of the contract or the dollars per year, intangibles are more important at this stage," he said. "Where would I fit in? What is the commitment to winning?
"The Phillies are a very interesting situation. We have to think about the upfront money, the lockout language, a lot of things. I'm not concerned with pushing for a certain amount of years or the most amount of dollars. We're willing to be creative.
"But I've been a free agent for a month. Now all of a sudden to have teams make an offer and say take it or leave it within 24 hours, that seems a little irrational. I'm not talking about any specific team, but it seems to be a strange way to deal."
The Yankees, one of four teams listed by Fehr as the teams Cone is most interested in, have made several offers to free agents this offseason that were good for only a specified period of time. The Royals and Blue Jays also were mentioned; a couple of other teams, including the Rangers, since have expressed an interest.
Fehr is an associate of longtime agent Dick Moss.
"The Yankees started that, conjuring up an image that free agents were out to use them," Fehr said. "It seems a little silly to me. If you're negotiating and you want to make a deal, you try to understand what is important to the other side and then you proceed from there. The Yankees, for example, have not been terribly successful with that approach."
How successful the Phillies will be with it remains to be seen.
For the time being, the Phillies apparently are turning away from the free- agent market to concentrate on trades. They have pretty much decided they aren't on the same page as free-agent outfielder Ruben Sierra and are more convinced than ever that free-agent reliever Todd Worrell will end up with a team that will use him as the undisputed closer.
Negotiations with outfielder Dave Martinez have bogged down because, sources say, he's looking for too much. And another free-agent outfielder in whom the Phillies are interested, Milt Thompson, is believed to be looking for even more.
But the trade possibilities seem to be shriveling, too. An inquiry into Indians outfielder Glenallen Hill fell apart when Cleveland asked for lefthander Kyle Abbott and righthander Cliff Brantley, sources said. Getting Bernard Gilkey from the Cardinals never got off the ground.
That appears to leave Expos outfielder Ivan Calderon as the most likely prospect, but the Cubs were believed to have offered righthander Shawn Boskie for Calderon while the Phillies stonewalled when the Expos wanted to talk about catcher Todd Pratt or righthander Ben Rivera.
"I still think we can do something before we leave," Thomas said. "But I'm convinced the atmosphere hasn't changed. In what sense? Because we still seem to be using Monopoly money, that's what sense."
The Phillies hadn't been expected to take a player in the Rule 5 draft yesterday morning, but ended up taking lefthander Graeme Lloyd from the Triple A Syracuse (Blue Jays) roster with the third overall pick. The reason: Lloyd will be traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for righthander John Trisler, who was 7-1 with a 3.55 earned run average for Class A Beloit last season. The Brewers coveted Lloyd but, with the 24th pick in the first round, figured he'd be gone by the time their turn came so they arranged the deal . . . For the Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre roster, the Phillies drafted shortstop Keith Kimberlin
from Double A London (Tigers) and righthander Michael Grimes from Double A Huntsville (Athletics). Grimes subsequently was traded to the expansion Colorado Rockies for future considerations . . . The Phillies lost righthander Matt Stevens, drafted by the Twins for their Triple A Portland team from the Double A Reading roster . . . The Rockies have signed former Phillies lefthander Bruce Ruffin to a one-year contract for $225,000 plus incentives. Ruffin pitched for the Brewers last season after being traded to Milwaukee for Dale Sveum.