Monday, September 22, 2008
COULDA, WOULDA, SHOULDA
Hey kid, you ever worked in a front office before?
[Ed's Note: This week at The Mag, we're looking at all the best, worst and most interesting stories of the regular season, as well as where we were right, and where we were lost. Check back each day for more.]
When you think about it in the simplest terms, the situation makes no sense. The best hitter of his generation desperately wanted to play this season, and he couldn't find a job. Livan Hernandez, Paul Lo Duca, Geoff Jenkins, Kaz Matsui and Luis Castillo all signed contracts last off-season worth at least $5 million annually, and Barry Bonds couldn't get a sniff. He even offered his services to all 30 teams for the league minimum. Still, nothing.
Any discussion of Bonds comes with the usual caveats, but think of this: the Kansas City Royals committed $36 million to Jose Guillen, who once called Mike Scioscia "garbage", flipped off a fan and was reported to have had PEDs delivered to the clubhouse. Yet, no one was willing to even take a flyer on the all-time leader in home runs, a guy who led the league in OBP in 2006 and 2007.
Two explanations for this. The first is collusion (unlikely), and the second is that all MLB owners are chicken (likely). But as postseason sorts itself out, we are now left to ponder what might have been had any team taken a chance on Mr. Congeniality. We can subtract presumed playoff teams, and those still fighting. But what about the other 18 teams?
Detroit Tigers (18.5 behind wild card leader): All along, this seemed like a logical destination for Bonds. Detroit spends money, plays in the DH league and clearly has no problem employing suspected steroid users with reputations as bad clubhouse guys (see: Sheffield, Gary). That being said, this was a flawed team, and pitching, or lack thereof was their biggest problem.
San Francisco Giants (17.5 behind wild card leader): This team looked like it could be historically bad when it began the season with Brian Bocock, a guy who hit .220 at Class A San Jose in 2007, as its starting shortstop. Amazingly, their impressive pitching kept them from being a laughingstock. More amazing? Bonds alone may have allowed them to compete in the jayvee NL West. At least they have their pride.
Colorado Rockies (15.5 behind wild card leader): Coming off a trip to the World Series and having Matt Holliday and Brad Hawpe entrenched in the outfield corners, you can't really blame the Rockies for not bringing in Bonds. But, Bonds+Mile High air=800 career homers.
Cincinnati Reds (14 behind wild card leader): Barry could've been reunited with Dusty Baker, the manager under whom he had his best years! Plus, Bonds and Adam Dunn would've set a record for most walks by a pair of teammates. Forget homers, that would've been a chase to watch. A Bonds-Griffey outfield at any point? Also entertaining.
Sticking "Lamar" in the meat of any team's lineup would have virtually created the thickest 3-4-5 in baseball.
Texas Rangers (15.5 out of wild card): Pitching, schmitching. An outfield of Bonds, Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley is a beat writer's dream, as well as a treat for anyone with season tickets in right field.
Cleveland Indians (13 out of wild card): They had a big-name DH in Travis Hafner, but he missed most of the year with a shoulder injury when he wasn't slugging .331. If the Tribe had Bonds, CC Sabathia (periods removed for marketing purposes) would still be around and Grady Sizemore would've scored roughly 300 runs.
Toronto Blue Jays (7.5 out of wild card): There is probably no team that had more to gain by signing Bonds. They allowed the fewest runs in baseball (while playing in the tough AL East), yet ranked 20th in runs scored while playing Shannon Stewart and his .598 OPS 40 games in left field. Bonds' OBP on it's own was higher than that in 2004! With Bonds, this team makes the playoffs.
New York Yankees (6.5 out of wild card): I don't care if the Yankees have about 8,000 DH-types on their roster, we as a nation were deprived by not getting a glimpse of this circus. Even in his frail state, I can't believe Big Stein didn't send Hal, Hank and Cash out for ice cream to make this happen. Would be October-bound with Bonds.
St. Louis Cardinals (6 games behind wild card leader): So if the Cardinals have Albert Pujols and Bonds, who bats third and who's cleanup? Bonds still probably wouldn't have been enough, but it would've been fun to watch him and Tony LaRussa interact. Also: does Ryan Ludwick get squeezed out and not have his breakthrough year?
Houston Astros (5 out of wild card): Yes, they already had a lot invested in Carlos Lee in left and the emerging Hunter Pence in right, but let's get creative. By starting both Brad Ausmus and Michael Bourn regularly, this team has shown it is willing to forego offense in at least two lineup spots. How about foregoing outfield defense? Put Bonds in left, Lee in right and Pence in center. It's an easy leftfield for Bonds to handle, and a 3-4-5 of Bonds, Lance Berkman and Lee would've put these guys right in the thick of the wild card race even before their shocking late-season run.
Florida Marlins (5 out of wild card): They probably wouldn't have ponied up the necessary cash for Bonds, but if the "League minimum" rumors were true? They may have survived August and might have hit 300 home runs.
Arizona Diamondbacks (3 games out of NL West lead): GM Josh Byrnes was the only exec in the league who acknowledged interest in Bonds, but what happened to that? If they had just pulled the trigger, they never would've needed to trade for Adam Dunn, and they would have run away with the NL West by so much that the Dodgers wouldn't have bothered with Manny Ramirez. But at least they get second place! (And remember, they traded Carlos The Quentin in the off-season.)
Minnesota Twins (2.5 games out of NL Central lead): Every other team in the AL has more home runs than them. That includes the Royals and A's. I'd say they'd be reversed with the White Sox right about now if they had Bonds at DH all season.
Milwaukee Brewers (2.5 games out of wild card): They would've had trouble finding a spot for Bonds, but they could've put Corey Hart in center, Ryan Braun in right. It's not like the Brewers have good defense anyway. Bernie Brewer could've used the exercise.
New York Mets (NL wild card leader): Considering some of the stiffs who patrolled left at Shea during the first half of the season, this team is a lock for the postseason with Bonds. The only positive of not signing Bonds is Mets fans would not have been treated to the unlikely resurgence of Fernando Tatis and the emergence of Daniel "Don't call me Dan" Murphy.
Philadelphia Phillies (NL East leader): Imagine a left field platoon of Pat Burrell and Bonds. Even better, imagine the look on any righthanded pitcher's face as he tried to go through a lineup featuring Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Bonds. Yowsa.
Chicago White Sox (AL Central leader): U.S. Cellular Field is the best home-run hitter's park in the league, and Barry treated it as such in his few appearances there with three bombs in 13 career plate appearances. Over a season of 600 plate appearances, that's approximately 138 home runs. Give or take.
Los Angeles Dodgers (NL West leader): As much as Bonds joining the Giants' rivals would've made for great copy, it would've deprived us of the Manny in La-La Land storyline. That being said, if the Dodgers had Barry from day one, they would not have needed to get Manny because they'd have run away with the division.
By my calculation, there are at least nine teams that could have gone from the postseason bubble to October locks simply by signing Barry Bonds. And that doesn't even factor in the extra regular season ticket revenue he would have brought in.
The bottom line is this: They coulda, and they shoulda. Hey, it's only your soul.