Message to Bonds: It's over
Today brings Barry Bonds another day closer to his retirement, a retirement of his own making. Each day he is out of baseball makes him another day older, another day removed from seeing live pitching, and another day looking less wanted than gingivitis.
The market for Bonds was limited to start. He made no sense for a National League team, given his mobility, knee, leg and glovework issues, he made no sense for non-contenders building for the future and he made no sense to contenders already committed to full-time DHs. The only good fit for Bonds would be with a team built to contend this year and with the need for a DH.
Now here's the bad news for Bonds: The Toronto Blue Jays, the very definition of that best-case scenario for him, want absolutely nothing to do with Bonds.
"No, we would not be interested at this point," Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi said.
The Jays seemingly created an opening when they cut DH Frank Thomas, preferring to pay him $7 million not to play for them rather than watch him struggle to catch up with mediocre fastballs. The Jays' DH production ranks next to last, they have almost no left-handed power (five home runs) and they honestly believe that with a decent offense they can contend for the AL East title this year. Bonds did hit 28 home runs last year and reached base in almost half his plate appearances. His bat would help. But the problem with Bonds is that you are taking on too much risk to carry that bat.
The risks? The possibilities that he poisons the clubhouse, challenges the manager's authority (think he's going to listen to John Gibbons, such as if he asks him to stretch with the team?), demands special treatment, brings media and legal distractions, breaks down physically, turns 43 in July at a time when stars of the Steroid Era are falling off career cliffs, and generally harms whatever team culture an organization has established. As Jays president Paul Godfrey told a Toronto radio station, 680 News, back in March when Jays officials ruled out Bonds after, oh, five minutes of thought, "We all agreed unanimously that Barry Bonds would be a major distraction to the team."
The A's chose Mike Sweeney and now Thomas over Bonds. The Rays prefer Jonny Gomes over Bonds. Now the Blue Jays feel much better giving the at-bats to Adam Lind, a 24-year-old with a career .298 OBP. (Lind, the primary left fielder, will get Thomas' at-bats while erstwhile left fielders Matt Stairs and Shannon Stewart fill the DH position.)
"We feel Lind is capable of hitting .260 to .280 with 25 home runs," Ricciardi said. "We really like Lind, and he's capable of doing more from a batting average standpoint."
Meanwhile, Toronto has little margin for error with its mediocre lineup, one in which intentional walks are virtually unnecessary. (It has two this month.) The Jays rarely have an easy win (just two by more than three runs), they've hit .215 with runners in scoring position and an abominable .170 with a runner on third and fewer than two outs. The redeployment of Scott Rolen will help; he gives them respectable power and energy.
"We don't have those three and four hitters like Boston and New York," Ricciardi said. "But the rest of our lineup is deep. I like our lineup from one through nine. We won't be number one or two [in runs], but if we can be five, six, seven, that's good enough."
This isn't about collusion with Bonds. It's about a history of his own making that has forged a reputation around baseball. The Cardinals, Rays and Rangers were among the few teams that even gave some thought to Bonds before the season began, and they, too, came to the same conclusion as Toronto: He's not worth it, even without considering the financial issues.
Said one high-ranking MLB executive of Bonds, "I don't see him getting a job. Ownership wants no part of him. The guy scorches the earth wherever he goes. It would be the ultimate panic move by somebody at this point."
Today Bonds stands four RBIs short of 2,000, 65 hits short of 3,000, 14 games short of 3,000, 24 total bases short of 6,000 and about one light year away from a major league job. Are there any possibilities left? Barring injuries, strike Baltimore, Boston, New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit and Oakland because they use full-time DHs. Strike Kansas City, a non-contender that needs to give at-bats to Billy Butler, and Minnesota, a non-contender that needs to give at-bats to Jason Kubel. Strike Los Angeles because it needs to rotate one of its four outfielders (Garret Anderson, Gary Matthews, Vlad Guerrero and Torii Hunter) through the DH spot, though its DH production so far as been league-worst.
That leaves Tampa Bay, Texas and Seattle. The Rays already nixed the idea, and, given their quick start and their happiness with finally creating a professional, team-first attitude around the clubhouse, Bonds presents an even greater risk now, especially with good production from Gomes and Eric Hinske. Texas has also ruled out Bonds, and now injury-prone outfielder Milton Bradley seems to have settled into the less hazardous DH role. Seattle would seem to make sense; the Mariners rank ahead of only Toronto and Los Angeles in DH OPS while continuing to give at-bats to Jose Vidro, a 33-year-old singles hitter who has been awful. But Seattle already has a homegrown answer: lefthanded-hitting Jeff Clement, who has been tearing up Triple-A, hitting close to .400, and he should be the primary DH while catching once or twice a week. It's a move Seattle needs to make sooner rather than later. Clement is an important part of the Mariners' future. Bonds is not.
The fact is that Toronto, with what appeared to be an opening for a lefthanded DH to help it contend, did represent an opportunity for Bonds: an opportunity to read the writing on the wall.