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The Bonds Question


I was at Shea yesterday, which was great except for Pedro leaving the game early (although he was pitching 1-hit shutout ball with no stuff.) Between that and Alou unsurprisingly out for the year, it makes me a little sad (and makes me feel old) as the number of still-active players from the definitive team of my baseball fan existence continues to shrink. You have to think this is it for Alou, and the careers of Better Than Koufax Martinez and Floyd aren’t exactly looking robust right now.

Anyway, with the Expos playing Cinderallas and marginal prospects on the corners but back in contention, I guess this brings up the Barry Bonds question. At his subscription site, Bill James has made an extensive case against a team signing him in most circumstances:

Look, I like Barry Bonds. I don’t have to deal with him, but I was always on his side, and I still am. I don’t think he belongs in jail; I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame. Ten years ago, he was playing by the rules as they were enforced ten years ago. It seems self-righteous to me to say now that he was cheating.

But. . .it’s over.

The argument is primarily baseball related: basically, that once a player 1)starts getting hurt, and 2)produces value solely by hitting homers and drawing walks the chances of a complete collapse in his value have to be considered very high. (Perhaps this could be called the Jack Clark effect? Although I still wish he had showed up to the ’93 Expos…)

Is this right? It’s certainly plausible. I think there’s a tendency to rely to much on the Ruth analogy, although the 1935 Braves are certainly a powerful example (pretty good team signs still-high-OPS Ruth, Ruth collapses, team literally posts worse record than 1962 Mets.) Still, one can say something similar about Aaron and Mays, and the comparable players you can’t say that about (Williams, Mantle) retired without pressing the issue. None of those players peaked in their late 30s, but it’s reasonable between that and the circus he would create (especially when he didn’t go through spring training) you would want to pass. In the context of New York, I can understand if the Mets would prefer to make a play for Ibanez or Rivera or Bay. Still, if I’m the Devil Rays, and look at my athletic, good pitching-and-defense team notably lacking in the power core your main wildcard rivals have…I’d be pretty inclined to take the risk. Tom Tango summarized the discussion and disagrees with James.

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  • So he turns into Ryan Howard with way more walks and a lot less strike outs? I hate Bonds, but I’d like him to sign somewhere, anywhere but the Red Sox. Everyone knew what he was doing, like with Mac and Sosa and the rest. I can’t stand any of those guys and am not a roids fan. Bonds should go to jail, but for him to be frozen out of baseball is just completely hypocritical. Who are the Raiders/Pistons of baseball? They should sign Bonds. Maybe the Phillies?

  • Also, linking to James doesn’t help. We just get a login page. Also Insidethebook is down. This post has bluebaseballed me.

  • Sorry, yeah, you have to pay up to see the full James essay, sorry. Tangotiger link works for me…

  • d

    God, those ’94 Expos were a good team. And next to the Philly Phanatic, Youppi was best of the goofy baseball mascots.

  • NBarnes

    Depends on how much Bonds would insist on being paid. If he works cheap on a one-year contract, there really isn’t a lot of risk.
    Explain to me how Jose Vidro is going to get the ABs to vest his option year when Bonds could be DHing?

  • elm

    And the Mets signing of Alou shows that they aren’t philosophically opposed to aging, injury prone, defensively challenged left fielders. Bonds defense is subpar, but how much worse can it be than Alou’s or Cust’s in Oakland or Pat Burrel’s?
    I don’t think you sign him to a multi-year deal (he is old and could collapse at any time), but there are very few teams who wouldn’t be helped by a half-season of Bonds at DH or left.

  • Rob

    People are afraid to say it, but baseball analysis has passed James by. He’s still treated as a visionary but he’s like an academic whose work was really valuable 25 years ago but hasn’t kept up with current trends and so is still pumping out the same stuff. Win Shares are incredibly arbitrary and fairly crappy but because James’ name was attached we had them published everywhere.

  • crack

    I think Bonds would help the Twins. They should build him his own clubhouse and bench so the rest of the team will never see him.

  • I actually think Win Shares are quite useful, but more for large n questions than for evaluating single seasons.

  • Mike

    Bonds has announced that he’s willing to play for the pro-rated minimum. Even if he does collapse, how can an investment of $200K not be a good risk?

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