When I first heard the news that Barry Bonds is willing to play for the league minimum I laughed: there’s no way would the Braves do this. Right? But I the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the Braves need to make this move. Here are my reasons for Bonds joining the Braves, along with rebuttals to potential objections.
The outfield. Forget Bonds as a designated hitter. The Braves outfield is so bad that it reminds me of my first impressions of outfielders from T-ball. Since the ball never made it to the outfield, the good players always played infield. I remember when I found out that Reggie Jackson played outfield and I said to my dad, “I thought he was good.” Well, the Braves outfield would never have changed my expectations. Brandon Jones, Gregor Blanco, and Jeff Francoeur: that is the worst outfield in the majors, by far. One of these guys has to bat in the six hole. Barry Bonds erases a giant hole in the lineup.
Won’t Bonds be a defensive liability in the outfield? My grandfather used to say, “What you lack in your head, you make up in your heels.” In Bonds’s case, we should add, “What you lack in your heels, you make up with your bat.” Seriously, Bonds’s OPS of 1.045 is not a minor improvement. According to Plus/Minus, Barry Bonds allowed 11 hits more than the average left fielder in 842 innings last year. He was +5 in 2006. In comparison, Jeff Francoeur has allowed six hits more than the average right fielder in 689 innings this season. Yes, Barry isn’t a great outfielder, he’s not so bad that you can’t play him.
But didn’t Bill James point out that many excellent players are good in their next-to-last season but terrible in their last season? Yes, that’s not surprising. When you are old, and have a bad season it’s likely going cause you to stop putting forth the effort needed to get into playing shape. The problem with this type of analysis is that we don’t know if this is Bonds’s last season. What if he plays for three more years? The fact that Bonds posted a 1.045 OPS last year is good information that he is still an excellent player. His performances may slip, but he’ll have to slip awfully far to catch Golden Boy at .701.
What about that trial? Not a problem. The prosecutors have bungled the case so badly that the earliest his trial will begin is after the season.
Steroids. He’s been a good player even since testing was instituted. Barry Bonds is a good player without performance-enhancing drugs.
No, I meant the taint of steroids. Oh, that! Fans may talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk. Let’s do a quick little thought experiment. What will happen to attendance if Bonds suits up at Turner Field? If you think it will go down, slap yourself and think again. Is that better? Two things will happen if Bonds puts on the Tomahawk. First, fans will flock to the novelty, and Braves fans can stop complaining that ESPN never shows Braves highlights—which isn’t even true. Fans will pay money to bring in magic-marker asterisks on poster board and chant “BALCO, BALCO.” This reminds me of my friend who had to take his sister to a New Kids on the Block concert. He reported that there was someone holding a sign that said “New Kids Suck”. Then why did you buy a ticket, you clod. Second, the Braves will win more games, and the team will have a legitimate shot at the post-season. Let’s face it, folks: the Ted is dead. Other than a Frenchy at-bat or when some idiot tries to start the wave—the wave is for football and basketball and is completely inappropriate at a baseball game (I’m talking to you shirtless guy with the backwards hat who is screaming “dude, get up!”)—the Braves game is a good way to get some peace an quiet. Bonds will cause a tremendous attendance boost. If you are still skeptical, give yourself another slap.
What about the legacy of Hank Aaron? This is the biggest obstacle, and I used to think it would keep Bonds out of Atlanta. But come on, folks. What damage will be done by Bonds playing half a season with Atlanta? What team did Hank Aaron play for? The Braves. The fact that he spent his final seasons on the Brewers didn’t make him a Brewer. Barry Bonds is a Giant. Playing one season with the Braves won’t make him a Brave any more than Babe Ruth‘s last season with the Braves did. His legacy is set. And if the Braves make it to the playoffs, fans will remember him positively. Heck, most fans still like Rafael Furcal despite is drunk driving problems. Atlanta is a safer place with Bonds than with Furcal. If you think this will tarnish the legacy of Aaron, get over it. The 755 club isn’t going away anytime soon.
If the Braves are one player away, why not get another player without the Bonds taint? Bonds is asking the pro-rated league minimum. There are no prospects to give up or big salaries to eat. This is one of the best reasons to sign Bonds. The team can improve now, without sacrificing the future. In fact, the additional revenue brought in by Bonds can be used on the free agent market next year.
Won’t Bonds poison the clubhouse chemistry? Bonds is a jerk, but so are a lot of baseball players. Some of these jerks play on this Braves team. One thing that the Braves have been able to do that other teams have not is handle clubhouse problems. Gary Sheffield played two seasons in Atlanta and there was not one issue. Sheffield may be an even bigger jerk than Bonds. Sheff seeks out attention, while Bonds responds when prodded. That won’t happen in Atlanta. Could things go south? Of course, but so what? It’s not like he’s going to sink a contending team. And after the year is up, he will be sent on his merry way.
Check out this lineup.
Barry Lamar Bonds
Brian McCann (
Holy crap! McCann is batting in the six hole?! Oops! I originally had Escobar at leadoff.)
So, Frank Wren get on the phone to Jeff Borris. The Braves need Barry Bonds. Do it, do it now.
Addendum: For those of you who are so deeply offended by my batting Mark Teixeira second, here are the optimal run-scoring lineups according to Baseball Musings Lineup Analysis tool.