MLBPA won’t find collusion in Bonds case

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As you might have heard by now, MLBPA plans to investigate the lack of offers over the winter for 43-year-old Barry Bonds. While this might seem like big news, it’s really little more than routine. Don Fehr, head of the player’s association, tells us that his organization looks into free-agent issues every day. Only if they “come to the conclusion with respect to any player that there’s a matter worth pursuing, [they’ll] pursue it.”

So, under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t be news. However, we’re talking about a guy who hit .276/.480/.565 in 477 plate appearance last year. A guy who hasn’t had an OPS+ below 150 since 1989. A guy who, by all anecdotal evidence, has kept in shape this winter and could conceivably give your team another 450 or so plate appearances at a well above average clip.

Still, it’s easy to ascertain why he hasn’t landed a gig anywhere. An entire book is dedicated to proving that he abused PEDs willingly. The Mitchell Report, while not harping on Bonds like it did Roger Clemens, didn’t help the former’s case much. Why bring in a publicly-assumed PED user when there are younger, more flexible players on the market to fill your roster?

Before I go any further, I’d like to mention the definition of collusion: “secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose.” I’ll revisit this later. But for now, let’s move on.

For some teams, this was an easy decision. Bonds can DH and play some kind of role in left field, but that’s about it. So right then he’s limited in a way that has nothing to do with steroids. The Yankees, for example, already have two players slotted for DH duty, Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui. And beyond that, they already have a lefty-heavy lineup. So you can strike him off at least one team’s list, two if you count the Giants, who publicly told him he wasn’t welcome back, three if you count the Red Sox, who have Ortiz hogging the DH spot, four if you count the Indians, who have Travis Hafner doing the same. And let us not forget Frank Thomas in Toronto, Gary Sheffield in Detroit, and Jim Thome in Chicago.

What’s holding the other teams back? Well, you first have to consider that Bonds only fits on contenders. So beyond the seven teams we just named, we can strike out the Marlins, Nationals, Astros, Pirates, and Orioles. So that’s 12 teams out of 30 who right off the bat should have no interest in Bonds. And that’s before we get a bit deeper into the matter.

In order for him to land with an NL team, they have to have a reasonable outfield vacancy. This rules out the Phillies (Burrell, Victorino, Jenkins), Brewers (Cameron, Hall, Hart), Reds (Dunn, Griffey, Bruce/Freel), Cubs (Fukudome and Soriano at the corners), Cardinals (Ankiel, Duncan at the corners, plus Brian Barton and Colby Rasmus), Dodgers (Jones, Kemp, Ethier, Pierrre), Rockies (Holliday, Hawpe at the corners), and DBacks (Byrnes, Upton, Young).

So now we’re down to 10 teams that could possibly house Bonds: The Mets, Braves, Padres, Rangers, Mariners, A’s, Angels, Twins, Royals, and Rays.

From these teams we can eliminate the Twins for not only money concerns, but because they have two starters at the corners, and some room at DH (Jason Kubel/Craig Monroe). Bonds would be a better option, but I think given the Twins M.O., no one expected them to sign Bonds. Ditto the Braves. They might not be set for life with Matt Diaz in left, but I doubt they’d use the payroll on Bonds.

The Royals are a bit crowded, as they have Mark Teahen, David DeJesus, Joey Gathright, and Jose Guillen for three outfield spots, plus Ross Gload and Billy Butler for first base and DH. The Angels are also stacked in the outfield, with Garrett Anderson, Vlad Guerrero, Gary Matthews Jr., Torii Hunter, Reggie Willits, and Juan Rivera vying for three outfield spots and the DH.

The Padres and A’s both have openings, but also have different reasons to decline. The Padres likely want some defense out there, considering the cavernous PETCO Park. Having an outfield of Bonds, Edmonds, and Giles means a pretty weak defensive outfield. On the A’s side, they’ve got Jack Cust at DH. And beyond that, they’re not quite sure if they’re going to contend. Might as well see what you’ve got before you go picking up a player like Barry Bonds.

The Mariners are an interesting case. They have Raul Ibanez starting in left, though he might not be the best option out there. At DH they have Jose Vidro, someone who is not an ideal candidate for that slot. Bonds would be a huge upgrade, for sure, and would also upgrade their questionable offense.

That leaves three: The Mets, Rays, and Rangers.

The Rays have been linked to Bonds this off-season, though it appears that won’t happen. If the Rays’ roster was coming to maturity at this point, I could see bringing in Bonds. But as they’re currently constituted, it makes sense to pass. A similar case can be made for the Rangers — Keith Law has them second to Tampa Bay as far as farm systems go. They have Frank Catalanotto, Josh Hamilton, and Milton Bradley in the outfield right now. Yeah, they could sign Bonds as a DH, but I don’t think that it’s quite an obvious move. Their pitching is still the part they need to work on most.

The Mets are interesting here, since they have Moises Alou in left. He’s not playing 162 games this year, I can tell you that much. It might make some sense to bring in Bonds. Could Alou play right field against lefties, and split time with Bonds in left against righties? I suppose. And Ryan Church could back up Beltran in center. So it wouldn’t be a horrible arrangement. But then you have an outfield riddled with injury risks.

It took a lot of words, but I’ve shown that nearly every team has a rationale for not signing Bonds. So let’s look back to our collusion definition. A “secret agreement or cooperation especially for an illegal or deceitful purpose.” It’s pretty clear that that the MLBPA won’t be able to prove collusion to this definition. There’s just too much evidence to the contrary.

Is it possible that all the GMs got together and said, “Okay, no one sign Barry Bonds”? I suppose. If they did, though, they did a great job covering their tracks. More likely, though, it was a decision made by each team individually. They weighed their own rosters, and then considered the risk of Bonds missing time for his legal troubles. And in the end, they decided it wasn’t worth it. I can’t find fault in that conclusion.

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  • steve (different one)

    the Mariners would be very smart to sign him.

    • Ben K.

      As would Tampa.

  • barry

    I think the Rays are already a dangerous team, with Bond’s they would become an uncomfortable presence in the East. Maybe it’s just me but I think the Rays are very close to contention.

    • steve (different one)

      i was relieved when they said they were passing on Bonds.

      i don’t think they’re quite ready to contend, but .500 is a realistic goal. and with Bonds, they could have made themselves into quite a nuisance.

  • Bruno

    Tampa doesn’t make sense to me. They traded away Delmon Young because of his attitude problem, so why bring in Bonds? Plus, with Gomes/Floyd/Balledlli? they also have DH locked up. And they’re no SURE contender, especially in this division.

    Seattle on the other hand, is much closer to SF, and is in Win-Now mode. Plus JOSE VIDRO is their DH. I can’t understand how other Mitchell Reported players (Brian Roberts, Jack Cust, Miguel Tejada, even our beloved Andy Pettite) have no problem getting jobs, but JOSE VIDRO is keeping BARRY BONDS unemployed.
    Bonds’ agent(s) has reportedly told teams that he’d come to them hat-in-hand with no entourage and be on his best behavior. Not that it’s fair, but can you say “BLACKBALLED”?

    • Tom

      Tampa didn’t trade Young away just because of his attitude, they had a huge excess of outfielders. Don’t forget Crawford.

      • rbizzler

        Yeah, but, by all accounts, his attitude played a major factor when deciding ‘which’ outfielder to move.

    • Count Zero

      Your point on Vidro is valid. However, comparing Bonds’ situation to say Tejada or Pettitte isn’t.

      A) There’s a very real chance that Bonds will be spending a significant portion of the summer in a courthouse. Yes, there is that chance for all the players you named, but in Bonds’ case, the chance has to be at least 30% at this point. Therefore, you have to take into account how many games he will be available to you — even assuming he doesn’t get hurt.

      B) The media distraction associated with Bonds is at least quadruple that associated with any of the other players. A team like the Yankees is used to that media circus — but can you imagine Seattle trying to deal with Bonds’ traveling paparazzi brigade? This factor alone could destroy the concentration of most small market teams.

      I think the notion that he is being “blackballed” is overstated. If it weren’t for points A and B, I would love for the Yankees to have him. But A and B are very big negatives.

  • Whitey14

    I was under the impression that Bonds had left the Player’s Association and went out on his own. Why would they be investigating on his behalf if he isn’t a member? Do I have that scenario wrong? Did he not leave?

    • Ben K.

      He is not a party to their marketing deals (such as the video game development contracts); he is still a member of the union though.

      • Whitey14

        Ahh, thanks for the clarification, that makes more sense to me now.

  • rbizzler

    I think that the A’s are a good ‘wait and see’ option for Barry. If, and it is a big if, they can keep perennially injured guys healthy (Chavez, Ellis, Crosby, Harden, even Street), they have an outside shot to compete.

    Bonds is already familiar with the media there and could provide a much better option at DH than what the A’s are going to run out there. If after 50 or so games the A’s look like contenders, Beane may roll the dice with Barry.

    • Joseph P.

      I wouldn’t say that Bonds is a much better option than Jack Cust at DH.

      • rbizzler

        I would say that Bonds is a better option than Cust. Cust has one good season to his credit and even then his OPS+ was 129 compared to BB’s 163 average over the last two years.

        If you want to argue cost efficiency, Cust looks a bit better depending on what BB’s financial demands are.

        • Joseph P.

          There’s no arguing Bonds is better. But you said “much” better. And when you’re considering that, you’re not just putting Bonds’s numbers in the lineup. You’re taking Cust’s away. So is the upgrade really worth it? I don’t see any way it is.

          • rbizzler

            I agree somewhat, but there isn’t the same successful track record with Cust as there is with Barry. Cust could end up being a flash in the pan (I know he has always had potential).

            That being said, your main point was that Oak was not a good fit for Barry while I said that it might be a good ‘wait and see’ spot for him. If Cust busts, but the injury guys remain healthy and the team is competitive, Barry might be a good signing for them.

            I know, that is a lot of if’s.’

  • pete

    pete abe says joba’s starting in the pen, just putting it out there for further discussion.

  • Pinstripe_Mike

    With all of his issues, Bonds is a distraction. Who would want that?

  • Bruno

    For what it’s worth, he probably won’t be in court until after the season, those things take time. Any proceedings before a trial will most likely only require his lawyers to be there, not Barry himself.

    Since #756 his media following has dwindled (but still larger then the norm, to be fair). However, Seattle has the veterans to handle them, and they’re not that demanding or vicious out there to begin with.

  • mehmattski

    Collusion doesn’t always have to be explicit, with owners sitting in a room deciding on a course of action. Collusion may also be implicit:

    One example that folks may be familiar with is during poker tournaments. If one player is “all in” and there are multiple players still in the hand, the other players tend to “check it down.” This means 1) there are more hands in play that could beat the all in hand, and 2) all players stand to gain (in terms of tournament winnings) by ensuring the all-in player busts.

    Free agency, meanwhile, is supposed to be a game of perceived value. If teams are adjusting their perceived value of Bonds based not upon his ability to play baseball but other circumstances, they may be guilty of implicit collusion.

  • Curramba

    What did these idiots forget that Bonds has a court date? No one wants to deal with his attitude and on top of that him having to miss time to be in court along with the media circus that that idiot will cause.

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  • brad k

    Consider this. The year that Bonds signed with the Giants, their attendance increased more then 600,000. That’s a lot of butt’s in the seats. While it declined some in the following years, after 1996 is began a steady climb to 2.7 million last year.

  • E-ROC

    It’s going to be weird following baseball without any Barry Bonds news, if he doesn’t find a job.