Bonds market still uncertain; HR king waiting for offer
All-time home run king Barry Bonds is at home in one of the fanciest sections of Beverly Hills, Calif., waiting for word about a job, and some might say that isn't such a terrible price to pay. Those folks say he shouldn't complain for even one second. But people who know him say he desperately wants to play baseball and still can't believe no one wants him.
Whether or not you believe Bonds' forced unemployment is just, there never has been a case like this: Bonds was one of the majors' best hitters last season based on his 1.045 OPS, yet he can't even sniff a job. Not even as a designated hitter, and not even for the major-league minimum of $390,000.
"No team has made an offer at any price at any time. That's a simple fact,'' Bonds' agent Jeff Borris told SI.com. "At this point in time, no club has even offered the minimum salary. And even though the minimum salary wouldn't be a bona fide offer for a player of his stature, it's beyond comprehension that no team [has made] such an offer.''
Borris strongly denied whispers that Bonds is demanding a $10 million salary, or more, after making $19.2 million last year as a Giant. "Completely false,'' Borris called those rumors.
Now they'd listen to any offer, at all, no matter how low.
"I'm trying to get an $18.8 million pay cut for an All Star with a 1.000-plus OPS,'' Borris said.
And so far Borris, one of the best in his business, can't do it.
For a while, it looked like Bonds might have a shot at a job. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa made a pitch for Bonds, and even though the Cardinals looked little like a Mitchell Report refuges camp this spring, La Russa's idea was overruled by both GM John Mozeliak and owner Bill DeWitt.
Meanwhile, SI.com has learned that Rangers manager Ron Washington also broached the subject of adding Bonds, a suggestion that was shot down by team owner Tom Hicks. According to people familiar with their thinking, the Rangers ultimately decided they didn't want to add Bonds' baggage to their young, rebuilding team.
The Rays also seemed to briefly flirt with the idea in spring training. By the time the plan was being publicly panned, their execs seemed all against it.
This is one for the books, that's for sure. Bonds' unpopularity comes only a year after Borris managed to get Bonds a $15.8-million guaranteed Giants deal (plus $4.4 million in incentives) as an aging left fielder coming off an injury-riddled 2006 season -- although the all-time home-run record and extra drawing-card riches loomed back then. Additionally, Bonds didn't have a perjury charge hanging over his head last winter, as he does now.
Even so, talent normally trumps legal trouble, as the Braves showed by giving the very marginal Scott Spiezio a contract, fresh off a guilty plea after an incident in which he allegedly drove drunk, then beat up a buddy. In terms of talent, too, Spiezio isn't in the same stratosphere as Bonds, who still has a clean record.
Bonds finished 2007 with a MLB-high .480 on-base percentage, a stellar .565 slugging percentage and broke Hank Aaron's home run record. So, obviously, he can still play. But the question remains: Will he?
Based on his 2007 performance, Bonds would represent an improvement over any DH in baseball except Boston's David Ortiz. Yet, the other 13 AL teams have refrained from reaching out.
That there's been no offers to date has led Bonds' backers to even wonder whether the owners might be colluding against Bonds. "It's extremely suspicious that a player of this caliber has yet to be made an offer,'' Borris said in a way to suggest the owners could be acting in concert without actually using the "C'' word.
Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor and human relations, responded, "All I can tell you is the market for Mr. Bonds, like the market for all free agent players, was conducted with complete propriety.''
Decades ago, back when Peter Ueberroth was commissioner, baseball owners were caught colluding in a big way, so the idea is not without precedent. But back then, tens and probably hundreds of millions of dollars were at stake. To think the owners would act in concert now against one single player would be to imagine a massive, sport-wide personal vendetta.
Bonds' backers say they don't expect to find a "smoking gun'' to prove their collusion theory. Instead, they are building a painstaking, "brick-by-brick'' case.
But that may be a tough case to make.
Bonds' people are closely monitoring the case of Frank Thomas, a new free agent after the Blue Jays released him last week, to see whether it can help them advance a collusion case. The A's could be a possibility for Thomas, who starred for them in 2006 and only left when Oakland couldn't match the $18.12-million, two-year deal he got from Toronto. Meanwhile, a person familiar with Oakland's thinking told SI.com that the A's absolutely will not risk the distraction they believe Bonds would bring in the Bay Area.
"There are a number of very rational reasons why teams wouldn't go for Barry Bonds,'' one ownership source said.