Monday, June 30, 2008

Bonds: What are you waiting for?

Since the return of Alex Rodriguez to a struggling lineup on May 20, the New York Yankees are 24-14, scoring 5.36 runs/game (compared to 4.06 through the first 44 games of the season). The performance, combined with stellar pitching from Chien-Ming Wang (before he got hurt), Andy Pettitte (3 ER in his last 27 IP), Mike Mussina (2nd in the AL in wins), and Joba Chamberlain (1.84 ERA in 5 starts)... has propelled the Yankees to within five games of first place in the extremely competitive AL East.

On June 22, designated hitter Hideki Matsui limped off the field during a 4-1 win over Cincinnati and hasn't played since. It's another injury on his surgically-repaired left knee, which has landed him on the 15-day DL. Manager Joe Girardi acknowledged on Sunday that another (season-ending) surgery could be in order. If that's true, the Yankees' lineup will suffer much like it did without Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees' farm system is light on power-hitting bats in the high minors, and the trade market isn't strong yet. If only there were a slugger the Yankees could summon out of thin air. Wouldn't it be great if he were also free?

Oh wait, there is. Barry Bonds has been offered to each of the 30 major league teams to play at the league minimum of $390,000 (prorated for a shortened season). So, the arguably greatest hitter of all time is sitting on his ass while some teams like the Yankees struggle for offense. Let's go ahead and knock down some of the common reasons for not signing Bonds, from the Yankees' perspective:

1) He's too old. Last season, at the age of 42, Barry Bonds put up a line of .276/.480/.565 in 475 plate appearances. His home ball park had a park factor of 100- exactly neutral with respect to inflating/deflating hitting statistics. Where's the evidence that just one year later, all of a sudden Bonds would be able to hit home runs. Or at the very least take a walk- realize how absolutely insane a .480 on base percentage is... Barry Bonds reaches base a little less than half of the time. Plate discipline is not one of those things that suddenly drops off a cliff with age; so I fail to see the evidence that Bonds' age has anything to do with why he hasn't yet been signed.

2) He's a bad teammate. Most people would point to the altercations with Jeff Kent in the Giants' clubhouse, and Bonds' unwillingness to talk to reporters after games, as the main evidence for this claim. First of all, given the interactions with teammates after he left the Giants, that there's equal evidence it's Kent who's the bad teammate, not Bonds. Second of all, how do we have any idea that the way Bonds treats reporters corresponds to the way he treats his teammates? Bonds has no obligation to please these people, especially when they write scathing, inflammatory, borderline libelious things about him. As for the Yankees, they just signed and quickly promoted into the starting rotation, a man who was recently released from his previous team for "disrespecting teammates and club personnel." Doesn't that seem to suggest that Cashman is willing to give a little leeway on the whole "bad teammate" thing?

3) OMG STEROIDS!!!1!!!1!! Right, the 800 pound gorilla about Barry Bonds is the evidence that he took performance enhancing drugs prior to 2005. Some sub-points about this topic:

3A) Media circus Come on- it's the New York Yankees, who already have approximately 8,000 beat reporters and another 30,000 Japanese reporters in the clubhouse every day, and paparazzi who take pictures of Alex Rodriguez lounging in Central Park and going after the she-male muscular type. There's got to be some kind of saturation point for Media Circus-itude. Tied to this are the apparent concerns about Bonds' legal battles with perjury and so forth. Well, his court date is set for next January, four months after the season ends. Approximate effect on the Yankees' clubhouse: zero. Approximate effect on the Yankees on the field: also zero.

3B) He's a cheater! That's of course debatable, depending on your interpretation of the rules of MLB prior to 2005- the chemicals he allegedly took were not banned by MLB, but were illegal without a prescription. Either way, he's not taking them now- last season he had more "random" drug tests than any other player and not one came back positive. Okay, so he could be taking HGH, which does not show up in urine tests. But the evidence is mounting that HGH doesn't affect player performance anyway, and so by definition is not a PED. There is a general feeling around baseball that no one cares whether players are suspected of PED use- Astros' GM Ed Wade traded for Miguel Tejada knowing full well that his name would be in the Mitchell Report. In the Report itself, there's e-mails within the Boston front-office suggesting that Theo Epstein knew that Gagne's struggles could be lack-of-steroids related, and traded for him anyway.

More specific to the Yankees- Um... Jason Giambi? Andy Pettitte? These two players have admitted to taking some drug in an attempt to enhance their performance. I have watched about 75% of Yankees games this year, and I've not once heard Yankees fans boo either player. In fact, I've not once heard opposing fans boo either player, certainly not louder than they boo Jeter and Rodriguez. Conclusion: fans don't care about Giambi and Pettitte and their PED pasts; why should they care about Bonds'? (I have my theories, but Jason Whitlock is a much more credible source on that particular topic...)

3C) Yankee reputation! I'm not even sure what this objection really means, but I've heard it. Look, as anyone who's ever worn a Yankees shirt/jersey in public outside of New York/New Jersey can tell you, the Yankees are not exactly welcomed with cookies and milk across the country. At every ball park in the big leagues, you can hear fans making accusations about the Yankees' love for certain sexual acts. For millions of baseball fans, the only thing that will make them sympathetic to the Yankees, ever, is about 90 years without a title. Having a player who other fans despise is not something new to the Yankees. It's like anti-Bonds people aren't even trying. And if the Yankees sign Bonds and win the World Series, no one can claim it's because they "bought" Bonds; if he comes in at league minimum, your team could have had him too! And they passed on him! Because your GM is an idiot!

In closing, Brian Cashman:

Sign Barry Bonds.
Can't believe you haven't signed Barry Bonds yet.
What part of sign Barry Bonds do you not understand.


Anonymous said...

Dude, the Yankees have not won a World Series ever since Hillary Clinton was elected. Get it? Barry Bonds will not solve the problem. Sorry.

Matt said...

Cute. I would have gone with "since the Backstreet boys were relevant." Ooh! Or: The Yankees have not won a World Series since gas was under $1/gallon. Get it?

I can be clever and mix topics without adding anything substantive to the discussion too! Thanks for commenting!

Chyll Will said...

Backstreet who?? They were what-when now? >;)

I'm beginning to think your way about this, although no one's gonna touch him until the Feds are finished huffing and puffing about what they're gonna do to him. That's why they haven't indicted him yet, in my mind: ruin the rest of his career by attrition, then either pour it on or go their way; a win-win for them regardless.