Commentary

Bonds wants to play, but who wants him?

Originally Published: December 6, 2007
By Amy K. Nelson | ESPN.com

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- His anticipated court appearance is Friday in San Francisco and Barry Bonds may have missed baseball's annual winter meetings this year, but he let everyone know his intentions through an old friend.

"I talked to him a few days ago and he told me he wants to play next year," said Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who managed Bonds in Pittsburgh from 1986 to '92. "I really hope he plays somewhere next year for sure. I think he's going to break 800 [home runs]."

Barry Bonds

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2007 Season Stats
GM HR RBI R OBP AVG
126 28 66 75 .480 .276

Bonds, 43, finished the 2007 season with 762. But in order to have any chance of putting on a major league uniform again, Bonds must overcome arguably more obstacles than he ever has in his life. Any team with even a remote interest in employing him must consider whether his bonus as a baseball player outweighs his legal baggage, with Bonds facing five federal counts, including four for lying to a grand jury.

Even though the Giants signed Bonds to a one-year contract last year when he was facing possible indictment -- including a clause to void the deal if he were to face criminal charges -- baseball officials believe he likely will not play again.

But if the probability of Bonds playing can be equated to an open window, then there seems to be at least a crack across the San Francisco Bay Bridge in Oakland.

"Knowing the A's," said one longtime baseball man, "they always go against the grain. [General manager Billy Beane] isn't afraid of being unconventional. They don't turn away from any situation, unless it's [related to] money."

That, sources presume, would not be a problem. Bonds' value is sure to decrease from the $19.3 million he made in his 15th and final season with the Giants. According to reports, Oakland has long coveted Bonds, and a team source confirmed past interest. But as of early Thursday morning, the source said the window is shut -- for now.

But if not the A's, then who?

When Bonds hit home run No. 755, tying Hank Aaron as the all-time home run leader, one of the more awkward moments came when the cameras panned to commissioner Bud Selig, who stood with a conflicted look on his face and stuffed his hands in his pockets. Lost, by some, in the moment was Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks joyously raising his arms and clapping, standing just below Selig in the luxury box at San Diego's Petco Park.

The emotion seemed curious, and one source suggested the Rangers might have an interest, since most interviewed for this story said Bonds would have to go to the American League and be a designated hitter.

But Rangers GM Jon Daniels refuted that notion and shortly stated that Bonds is "not a fit for us." Daniels didn't return an e-mail when asked to expound on his response.

Bonds' agent, Jeff Borris, disagreed with the theory that Bonds will be unable to draw interest from a National League team.

I think this signals the end of his playing career. If the indictment hadn't occurred, I think he would have had an opportunity somewhere.

--A National League GM

"I'm talking to National League clubs as well as American League clubs," Borris said late Wednesday, the first time he's publicly commented about Bonds since the indictment on Nov. 15. "Barry only committed four errors in the outfield with a respectable amount of total chances. So to brand him exclusively as a DH in the American League would not be fair."

Indeed, Bonds was an All-Star for the 14th time in his career, and he led the major leagues with 132 walks and a .480 on-base percentage. He ended the season hitting .276 with 28 home runs and 66 RBIs in 126 games.

"If Barry had any type of decline in skill, he would be the first one to take off his uniform," Borris said. "It wouldn't have to be stripped off his back. He's got too much pride in himself and too much respect for himself as a player."

Leyland said Bonds told him he doesn't have to be just a DH.

"He said, 'A lot of people don't know I can still play the outfield,'" Leyland said, quoting Bonds. "'I can still play it pretty good. I just can't play it as often.'"

Bonds' defensive numbers don't account for his painful knees and, at times, unique routes to balls. Yet other than Oakland, no major league team has publicly emerged as a candidate.

"Most of the time you know whether you can't play anymore," said new Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker, who managed Bonds in San Francisco from 1993 to 2002. "Some guys fool themselves. Barry wouldn't fool himself. I know him too well."

When asked if he had spoken to teams about Bonds at the winter meetings, Borris declined to comment, citing the confidentiality of potential discussions.

"I think this signals the end of his playing career," one NL general manager said after Bonds was indicted. "If the indictment hadn't occurred, I think he would have had an opportunity somewhere."

Others agreed, adding that the potential public relations nightmare could be distracting to a team.

"Nobody can afford the PR hit for sure," said one veteran agent, who has never represented Bonds. "You cannot sign Barry Bonds. It will paint your club in a bad light no matter who you are."

Borris insists Bonds' legal troubles will not prevent him from playing in 2008 since the court system is often tied up with motions and appeals, which could potentially put off a trial until after next season.

One AL general manager, when asked if he thinks Bonds will play again, used what he said was a refrain from agent Scott Boras, who once represented Bonds.

"I can't imagine that Bonds will get a job until, at the very least, his legal situation is resolved," the GM said. "As we know, that will most likely extend beyond his useful life as a player. That said, Boras' life philosophy applies here -- 'All it takes is one.'"

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached via e-mail at amy.k.nelson@espn3.com.