Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Complete Lack of Evidence: The Surest Sign a Conpiracy is Afoot.

Dave Zirin wants to know where the outrage is over Barry Bonds' absence from a major league roster, and he doesn't mince words in wondering:
He has been blackballed in a blatant and illegal act of Major League collusion, a bosses’ boycott . . . In this case of blackballing so obvious it would shame a Dartmouth frat house, one would think the media would be raising hell. But they have largely been yipping collusion lackeys . . . The idea that baseball owners would ruin their own team’s chances because they have collectively agreed to “turn the page” is a violation of Bonds’ rights and the unwritten social contract they have with fans. And when one considers the absence of saints on Major League Baseball teams, even on the God Squad in Colorado, it is all the more drenched in hypocrisy . . .

. . . Good questions. Bonds deserves far better than to be forced into retirement and have his history coarsely expunged. The overriding ethos of the sports world is that of the meritocracy. If you are good enough, then you get to play. Yet a man who can get on base 48% of the time, has been told to go home and a new generation of fans will never see the Mozart of the batting cage. This is about more than a baseball player. It’s about people in power deciding on utterly unjust grounds, who gets to take the field, who gets to be heard, and even who gets to be remembered. Somewhere, Stalin smiles.
I'm not sure what the Stalin equivalent of Godwin's Law is, but I'm guessing there is one. Anyway, Zirin needs to come down out of the bell tower and think about a couple of things other than Bonds' potential .480 OBP.

For starters, he should think about the fact that Bonds is old, and we can be 100% certain that he won't continue to have a .480 OBP for the rest of his life. Could he this year? Maybe. Indeed, he'd be likely to have a well above-average OBP. But maybe not. He's going to be 44 years old in a couple of months and at some point, he will fall off just as Rickey and Roger and every other player in their mid-40s has since the advent of the game. Indeed, the longer he goes without being signed, the rustier he becomes and the more likely the falloff is to occur sooner rather than later. This, as all risk does, limits Bonds' allure as a signee because teams have various tolerances for risk.

He should also think about the fact that there are, at best, a half dozen suitable landing spots for Bonds (I think only four). This because Bonds can't play defense anymore. He really can't, which eliminates more than half of the teams in baseball as potential suitors. As for the AL, there are only four teams who both (1) need a DH because theirs really sucks and (2) aren't already making a major financial commitment to one already. That second part is important here because, the concept of sunk costs notwithstanding, signing someone as controversial as Bonds is going to double the political heat a GM feels when he normally benches a high-priced guy (which teams are already loathe to do). Those teams are Toronto, Kansas City, Seattle, and (maybe) Minnesota. Only Toronto and Seattle seem like remotely decent fits.

So we have, what, 2-4 teams that make sense? Being charitable, I'll give you six (Bonds could help the Yankees and Angels, but the politics of those places make the possibility exceedingly remote). If that's all we were up against -- six teams not calling Barry -- you'd already have a pretty poor case of collusion. But that's not all we have. We have the fact that -- rightly or wrongly -- Bonds is the game's biggest pariah, and is an indicted one to boot.

As I've said previously, I think the indictment is weak and the criminal case against him won't interfere with the season. But that doesn't matter, because I'm not the one putting my career on the line to sign him. Bill Bavasi or J.P. Ricciardi are. Assume for a minute that they believe Bonds can still put up that .480 OBP and sign him. What happens if they're wrong? This isn't like taking a flyer on Jim Edmonds. This will be a highly scrutinized signing, and if Bonds can't deliver, a loudly derided one by both the local and national press. Anyone who signs Barry Bonds only to have him tank has, in all likelihood, made their last move as a general manager. Ask yourself: would you risk your career and reputation on Barry Bonds? I've done more than my share of Bonds apologizing over the years and I sure wouldn't.

Any one of these three things -- age, strategic fit, or controversy -- provide a team with a plausible, legal, and even justifiable reason to steer clear of an otherwise attractive free agent. In Bonds you have the perfect storm of all three, and that's without even going down the team chemistry or salary roads, which may also be a factor in the minds of GMs.

Does any of this prove that there hasn't been a conspiracy against Barry Bonds? Of course not. But it does make a pretty compelling case that any charge of collusion wouldn't be all that compelling. Zirin is outraged that the media hasn't been "raising hell." Hey, I'm a big fan of muckraking, but if I'm an editor I need my reporter to provide me at least some evidence of a conspiracy before I let the hell raising commence. This is especially true in the face of a lot of reasons why Bonds isn't playing right now that don't require a conspiracy to exist.

So no, I'm not buying Zirin's Stalinist rebop. I wouldn't even buy a Reinsdorfian one.


Anonymous said...

Hello. I am going to (politely) disagree with you about the number of teams that a Bonds signing would help. His defense was below average last year, but only slightly so; he's probably no worse than Adam Dunn or Ryan Braun, perhaps better. So i don't follow the argument that national league teams like San Diego or Cincinatti woudn't benefit by replacing, say Griffey with him. I bet he's a better first baseman than Giambi rigt now.

Even if he doesn't post a .480 OBA, isn't it obvious that he could be well over .400, and slug close to .500? There isn't a single team in MLB that wouldn't benefit from that sort of bat in a spot role.

Finally, look at the marginal players picked up by clubs recently. Frank Thomas, Sweeney, Jim Edmonds of the .178 honestly think those teams wouldn't have gone for Bonds because of production issues?

I think collusion is probable. Looking back at the careers of guys who were considered difficult, I don't see any case comparable to Barry. His onetime teammate Bonilla was signed and resigned until he had nothing left. Dick Allen was given a chance after retiring mid-season. Kingman hit .198 for the Mets, and then was inked by Oakland. Steve Carlton pitched for two seasons after his ability vanished. Bonds is not getting a chance to lay out his career that so many allegeldy obnoxious characters did.

Roger Moore said...

Even if he doesn't post a .480 OBA, isn't it obvious that he could be well over .400, and slug close to .500?

At this point it isn't obvious that he'd do those things. It isn't even obvious that he'd be healthy enough to stay available in a spot role. His knees just aren't up to it. He's a huge risk, and not one that teams are willing to take given his reported contract demands and his off-the-field baggage.

Robert said...

I'm surprised you left out Detroit as a possible destination for Bonds. In the last week, the Tigers have rotated Gary Sheffield, Matt Joyce, and Marcus Thames, with most starts going to the first two.

If any team fits the profile of a contending team in need of a left-handed DH for part-time duty in the outfield, it's got to be Detroit.

Dre said...

Maybe teams don't want to worry about wasting a roster spot when Bonds is in and out of the courts all summer.

Justin Zeth said...

As I've said previously, I think the indictment is weak and the criminal case against him won't interfere with the season. But that doesn't matter, because I'm not the one putting my career on the line to sign him. Bill Bavasi or J.P. Ricciardi are.

Ricciardi is going to be fired if the Blue Jays don't win 90+ this year anyway. I think it's more likely he isn't signing Bonds because ownership won't let him.

Intuitively, I suspect there's a gentleman's agreement among all the owners that you don't sign Bonds and I won't sign him either, but there's no way a collusion case can be proven in court over this. Owners, especially modern corporate owners, are extremely leery of risk, and they, more so than the general managers, are going to be naturally minded to avoid signing a guy under federal indictment for perjury and smeared far and wide as the face of Everything That's Wrong With Baseball. Can you imagine what Griffin would write if the Blue Jays signed Bonds?

scatterbrian said...

I think collusion is possible, but I also think most teams coincidentally really don't have room for Bonds, and that's made the decision and/or request not to sign him even easier.

There have been no contract demands, or even requests, so the financial risk is purely speculative. His inability to play defense is a tad overblown as well. Considering other teams are currently employing Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Ryan Braun, Pat Burrell, Carlos Lee, Garret Anderson, Matt Stairs, Jack Cust and occasionally Moises Alou, and passing them off as left fielders, I think Bonds can still man left. [I'm mainly looking at THT's Fielding metrics from the last few years, which say that Bonds can hang with these guys]. I mean, right now the A's are using Cust and Emil Brown at the corners. So clearly teams are willing to overlook shoddy outfield defense in exchange for offense.

The off-field stuff, the locker room distractions, whatever, are difficult to really quantify. Of course there will be more press covering your team if you sign Bonds, but won't this be reduced by now? Much of Bonds' media attraction was due to his chase of the home run record, as well as a ramp-up to the release of the Mitchell Report. But he's broken the record, and the Mitchell Report is already dog-eared. There's really not much more to those stories that will bring the same kind of media attention he got playing in SF.

Anonymous said...

While Bonds may not be close to the offensive playe that he was in 2006 or 2007 due to his age, it is also possible that he could exceeds those performances, given a chance.

In his best 3 months of 2007, Bonds was devastating, hitting .339 with an (appropriate?) .666 slugging percentage, and an oba above .550. That's Mickey mantle stuff. Perhaps his knees have healed due to rest and he on't go into a deep slump.

I can't help but suspect that the MLB brass don't want the man hanging around until he can't hit (that might be 5 years from now, if Julio Franco is a comp), and end up with Saduharu Ohian career numbers...

Osmodious said...

There doesn't HAVE TO BE collusion here...nobody wants to deal with the guy, so why would they? They don't need to talk to each other to make that decision. That might seem simplistic, but there really haven't been too many players over the years as poorly thought of as Bonds...I'm sure somebody can think of some, let's see what the ends of their careers were like.

The one thing I've heard NOBODY mention, in articles, blogs and comments is this: what about the fans? The fans everywhere hate this guy. They don't want him playing on their team. I sure as hell don't want him sullying my beloved pinstripes...I would stop watching. Really.

Yes, team management often disregard their fans' wishes, but they generally avoid doing it on the really big things (tearing down 'cathedrals of baseball' notwithstanding). This is one of those things that would make people turn off the TV, or start watching the team across town, or another interesting team elsewhere (or, heaven forfend, spend some time with their families).

Pat said...

osmodious, please read the first comment by anonymous. The poster references several disliked players who were resigned several times after displaying a lack of ability. I believe the important one is Dick Allen, who was so hated by his teammates and so offensive to his owners that he was traded several times in his prime for his attitude. Also, I believe, Barry's father was traded for the same reason.

I believe the San Francisco fans were very supportive of Bonds while he played there. So no, 'The fans everywhere hate this guy' is not true.