April 24, 2008
With Barry Bonds currently out of work and teams looking to improve their lot in MLB, the Shunned One's name will undoubtedly be brought up countless times this season. So, each week until Mr. Bonds catches a fulltime ride, the Stew will feature teams that might be able to use his impressive services.
The question will be a simple one: Should your team finally take the plunge and sign the most controversial man in sports? Today's argument comes from Scott Sargent of Waiting For Next Year, a man so patient in his Cleveland fandom that he's been able to endure letdown after letdown, but continues to march on — preferably to the beat of one John Adams.
The Sarge's case is a unique one in that he's the first American League fan who wants Bonds as a left fielder and not a DH. Pronk's proficiency aside, here are his reasons:
Let me introduce you to a media-spurned outfielder. A guy that is known for his home run prowess, never-ending battles with controversy, and alleged use of illegal methods to gain an advantage at the plate.
He is a player that is notorious for refusing interviews before or after games, and a guy who is no stranger to using profane language towards members of his team as well as reporters.
He has been called a jerk, boorish, and even ungrateful. He has run into legal battles with estranged women, even landing him with a bout of probation.
His name is Albert Belle, and he's someone that the Cleveland Indians fans embraced for many, many years.
Belle was the American League RBI Champion in 1993, 1995, and 1996 as well as the AL Home Run Champion in 1995 — a season that saw him come in second overall in the MVP race. He was a guy who hit 50 home runs and 50 doubles in the same season, while only playing in 143 games. He was a guy that would take a bat to the clubhouse radio, but then take an even bigger cut at a ninth inning fastball, ending games with fireworks and high-fives.
If any of this sounds familiar to an outfielder of a more recent generation, it isn't a coincidence. One Barry Lamar Bonds actually has a lot more in common with Belle than many would prefer to think about — including his current employment situation.
Since Belle's departure from Cleveland in 1996, many players have filled in at the left-field slot — most of which have provided a very small percentage of production that Belle did during his stay. Take a quick look at current left field competition within the AL and you'll find names like Manny Ramirez, Hideki Matsui, and Garret Anderson. If you look at Cleveland's situation, you'll find the names of David Dellucci and Jason Michaels, a situation that can most politely be described as "getting better."
One can only hope that with a current platoon batting average of .200, things would be "getting better," because they really can't get much worse. Yes, Dellucci has turned things up a notch over the last few weeks, raising his OPS to .896 on the season. But even taking that into account with Michaels' whopping .363 OPS (you read that correctly), neither compare to the career OPS of 1.051 from Bonds.
You can bet that when Tribe General Manager Mark Shapiro discusses the current "dead spots" within the lineup, that one of them is occupied by whoever is playing left field — typically one of the biggest run-producing spots on the field. The fact that Delluci and Michaels saw their playing time dissipate during the playoffs last season in favor of 40-year-old Kenny Lofton and his career OPS of .794 is very telling.
The addition of Bonds to the Cleveland roster would likely face several hurdles. The main issue would obviously be the "character issues," which is why I lead with the Albert Belle references above. In a town that has seen so little in regard to a championship, many fans tend to turn their cheek at times in regard to personalities, as long as the on-field production makes up for it. We've rooted for Milton Bradley and we continue to cheer on Kellen Winslow Jr. I mean, Bonds could run over children on Halloween and since we've already had Belle in town, it wouldn't be anything new.
The second and toughest of the obstacles would be in the form of greenbacks. Cleveland already has a superstar (C.C. Sabathia) looking to get paid, so adding the salary of Bonds wouldn't exactly make that easy to accomplish given the Indians' usual spending. Perhaps a one-year deal, using the funds earmarked next season for Sabathia could work? However, odds are that the Indians would like to extend C.C. now, rather than later when other teams can throw money at him — so Barry would likely muddy those waters a bit. If management (and fans alike) were to pick between Bonds for one year and Sabathia for five, you can bet Sabathia would have more supporters.
Finally, if it's the possible defensive liability that concerns you, there are just a few things to consider. Though the outfield is a bit deeper than he would be used to, the outfield prowess of Grady Sizemore in center would help immensely. I can't imagine any balls in the gap that would be the responsibility of the 40-something year old.
The decision of whether or not to bring Bonds to Cleveland comes down to counting costs. His addition would be one that would inherently double the production that we're getting from a current two-man platoon, but it would also hit the front office not only in the wallet, but in local PR as well.
Many teams have a strict policy on clubhouse culture, and Bonds is one ingredient that definitely has the chance to sour things up a bit. But in the end, would it really be anything that we, as Tribe fans, aren't already used to?