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A Giant Decision Still to be Made

The San Francisco Giants were busy this past weekend, very busy. In the past 72 hours, the Giants re-signed veterans Ray Durham and Pedro Feliz, filling openings at 2nd-base and 3rd-base in their infield — openings that had just been vacated by those same players. GM Brian Sabean also added speedy centerfielder Dave Roberts to hit leadoff for the Giants, and to help defensively. Range is a necessity for a centerfielder playing at ATT Park (the Giants’ ballpark) because of the huge right-centerfield corner known as “Triples Alley”. To finish off a week of diligent work, Sabean inked former Giant Rich Aurilia, giving San Francisco a solid bat off the bench and a veteran who can play any of the four infield positions.

But the Giants still haven’t made their most high-profile decision of the offseason: whether or not to keep 42-year-old slugger Barry Bonds in orange and black for another year.

Barry Bonds

The Giants have sent mixed signals over their intentions regarding Barry Bonds this offseason. Shortly after the season ended, GM Brian Sabean mentioned that “Bonds will no longer be the centerpiece of [the Giants] lineup”. The meaning of that was interpreted in two ways. Some believed it meant that Barry Bonds was on his way out of San Francisco. Others had a more mild explanation, saying that it simply meant Sabean’s primary goal this offseason was to add a big bat to replace Barry as the Giants’ top run-producer. Perhaps it meant neither and was simply a case of the Giants’ GM running his mouth.

Why do I say that? Well, consider what Sabean said today. “I don’t know where the story line came from that we didn’t want him back. We’ve had a long-standing conversation and an offer out there that we’ve adjusted a number of times. Because we were pursuing other players didn’t mean we weren’t interested in Barry. We’re trying to put the best team on the field and sign other people also. I guess it was misconstrued the other way.” That just about eliminates the “Barry is gone” understanding of Sabean’s earlier statement. Sabean later invalidated the other explanation by saying “We need a presence, a fourth hitter. Obviously, [Barry] can still play baseball. He can still hit a baseball and is a threat in the middle of the lineup.” That, for all practical purposes, is a direct contradiction of what Brian Sabean said a month ago.

So, why the sudden change of heart? One explanation is that the Giants lost the bidding for this offseason’s top bats (and there weren’t many). San Francisco persistently pursued both Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee, only to see the sluggers sign with the Cubs and Astros, respectively. With those two gone, Sabean was forced to inquire about Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez. The Giants however, have little of what Boston wants in return, killing any possibility of such a deal. With no one else left to turn to, Sabean may have been forced to turn his efforts toward bringing back Barry Bonds.

But a second explanation, and this one is actually connected to the first, is that Sabean was afraid to be left without a leftfielder and cleanup hitter. Bonds’ agent, Jeff Borris, recently made comments criticizing Sabean and questioning how important his client is to the Giants. Borris said “”I feel the Giants may have the perception he will not play elsewhere. I think that would be a miscalculation on their part”. He added that “Maybe they figure they can take care of guys like Rich Aurilia and Ray Durham and they can always worry about Barry later because Barry will always be there for them. But that would be an error in judgment on their part”.

There is however, little for Sabean to be afraid of. Borris is simply doing his job as an agent, and trying to get Bonds the best contract he can get, as soon as possible. Barry Bonds will certainly get interest from teams like the Oakland A’s, Texas Rangers, and Minnesota Twins, who are searching for a DH, but honestly, can you really see him going to any of those 3? San Francisco fans love Bonds; they don’t care about the steroids, the obnoxious attitude, or his awful outfield defense. Everywhere Barry goes on the road, he’s booed, criticized, and heckled relentlessly. He knows that, and I’m confident that Bonds would much prefer playing in San Francisco next season to playing anywhere else.

That means there’s really nothing for Brian Sabean to worry about — he can stall all he wants, and unlike what Borris said, Bonds will be there waiting for the Giants to open their arms to him again. But here’s an interesting question: should they?

At this point in his career, Barry Bonds is far from the hitter who scared the heck out of opposing managers and pitchers. It’s ridiculous that managers do not understand that walking Barry Bonds is pointless — there’s nothing to fear. Just make the fans happy and pitch to Barry — there’s no reason to give him a “chicken walk” to first. If skippers heed my advice, Barry Bonds will no longer get 115 walks every season, and he will never again be a .450OBP guy.

Bonds will also never hit 35+HR in a season again. He hit 26 dingers in 2006, and he’ll likely slam about the same number — no more — in 2007. He’s also not going to drive-in 100+ runs in a season; at least not with the supporting cast he’s got in San Francisco. As much as the Giants and their fans would love to think that Barry Bonds is still the best hitter in baseball, there’s simply no evidence to support that view.

In the field, Barry Bonds is a liability, at best. The Giants were lucky to have Randy Winn and Steve Finley playing centerfield last season, because both have excellent range. Without a speedy centerfielder behind them, Giants’ pitchers would have felt the pain of double after double going into the left-centerfield gap. Bonds still has a decent arm, but it’s not the cannon he once possessed.

Need more evidence that Bonds isn’t great anymore? Let’s turn to the numbers. Baseball Prospectus uses a statistic called VORP (Value Over Replacement-level Player) to evaluate how good a player actually is, taking both offense and defense into account. Bonds did not even have the highest VORP on the Giants last season. That honor went to 2nd-baseman Ray Durham, who out-VORP’ed Bonds 47.9 to 46.6. Believe me, Durham is no whiz with the glove, so he actually beat Bonds at his own game — hitting.

There’s no reason to overpay for a 42-year-old with declining skills, especially one who isn’t even the best player on your team. Now granted, Barry Bonds will put backsides in the seats at ATT Park because he’s just 22HR away from breaking Hank Aaron’s all-time record. However, if you’re trying to win ballgames, you can’t just go by what the fans think. Barry Bonds is not the guy you want hitting clean-up if you’re planning to make a serious run at a World Series title.

That in mind, I think Brian Sabean should lowball Barry Bonds and see if he can make Jeff Borris bite on a cheap contract. Bonds is not worth $14M a season; he may not even be worth $10M per year. That however, is Borris’ expected demand for teams looking to sign Bonds, and I see no reason for Sabean to meet it. I can’t help but think that Bonds will eventually come back to San Francisco, knowing that Giants fans are the only fans that still respect the slugger. And even if he doesn’t, I don’t think Sabean should see Bonds’ departure as a big loss.

One thing is for certain: every baseball fan will be watching when Brian Sabean makes his Giant decision on whether to re-sign Barry Bonds.

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2 Responses to “A Giant Decision Still to be Made”

  1. Hi.
    Good design, who make it?


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