Giants Need Barry Bonds....Desperately
When Bonds came back for the first game of the critical series against the San Diego Padres on Monday, the atmosphere was electric, and it was almost the same the next night. In both games, Bonds was an important factor as the Giants won both games.
On Wednesday, Bonds didn’t start, which was no surprise. In the last couple of years, he’s often sat out day games after night games, usually on Saturdays, to give his body a chance to recover. Now, at 41 and coming off three knee surgeries, his body needs the rest more than ever.
Without Bonds, it was like a funeral. We were laughing in the press box as a vendor went by and shouted, “Playoff atmosphere!” Not with at least 10,000 seats it wasn’t. A computer glitch kept the gates from opening, but even when fans were able to get into the park, the empty seats made the announced crowd of 38,477 a sick joke.
People stayed home even though the Giants had climbed back into the race by their fingernails. They didn’t care, because they know this race is a farce. If the division-leading Padres were in any of the five other divisions in baseball, they’d be trailing by anywhere from nine games to 20. If they were in the National League East, they’d trail four teams.
Matt Cain, yesterday’s starter, generated some buzz when he made his first start, but in his third start, he wasn’t enough to get people excited. Who on the Giants does these days? Jason Schmidt did a year ago, but though he’s come back to have a decent year, he’s not the power pitcher he was – and now, he’s out. Moises Alou might, if he could ever stay healthy.
The truth is what it’s always been: The Giants have put together a team to complement the one big star. When Bonds can play, that works. When he can’t, the Giants are not very interesting and not very good. There’s a reason they’ve never made a serious move this year, not even in the pathetic NL West. They talked bravely of making a run at the Padres after they won the first two games of the series, but the extra-inning loss yesterday just shoved them back to six games out.
Some of you have sent me copies of the messages owner Peter Magowan and general manager Brian Sabean about the great run the Giants were going to make this month. I hope you saved your money and didn’t give it to the Giants in the vain hope that this team would actually make the playoffs.
The last remnant of hope was shattered with yesterday’s loss. It is one of the strong beliefs in baseball that, as long as you have as many games left with a team ahead of you as you are behind, you still have a chance. The Giants are now six games back of San Diego with only four left against the Padres. They have no chance, which is probably the good news, because they won’t embarrass themselves in the playoffs. Let the Padres hear the jeers.
Their loss yesterday was accompanied by the type of whining about umpiring decisions that is typical of losers.
Those whines were echoed in the radio booth by the Giants announcers. Later, I listened to the A’s broadcast. In the fifth inning, with Eric Chavez on first, Scott Hatteberg lined to Indians’ second baseman Ronnie Belliard, who dropped the ball. He then threw to first and first baseman Jose Hernandez tagged the retreating Chavez and stepped on first to complete the unusual double play. A’s manager Ken Macha ran onto the field, arguing that Belliard had dropped the ball intentionally. Steve Bitker, sitting in for Bill King, said, “You’d have to read Belliard’s mind to be able to change that ruling,” and Ken Korach agreed that it shouldn’t be changed. That’s the difference in announcing crews. The A’s broadcasters report what’s happening. For the Giants announcers, it’s root, root, root for the home team.
SO, WHAT about next season for the Giants?
I’ve advocated trading Bonds to an American League club, which could use him as a designated hitter, but circumstances will probably prevent that. Bonds is a 10-5 player (ten years in the majors, five with one team) so he can veto any trade. He’s said he would.
Even if the Giants could trade him, the market is really limited to one team, the California Angels, because neither of the big spenders in the American League, the Yankees and Red Sox, need a high-priced DH. That means the Angels would have all the leverage, so they wouldn’t give the Giants anything but lower-tier prospects in a trade.
Getting rid of Bonds’ $18 million salary would be a plus for the Giants, but it doesn’t seem there will be much available in the free agent market, so the extra money wouldn’t help them build a stronger club. Given the decisions the Giants have made on free agents in recent years, I wouldn’t trust them to make good ones this offseason, anyway.
Given these circumstances, the Giants probably have no choice but to keep Bonds for the last year of his contract and hope they can get him on the field for 120 games. He won’t be able to do much in the field or on the bases, but he can still swing the bat and change the pitching strategy of the other team. Without him. . . well, Giants manager Felipe Alou used Ray Durham in the cleanup spot yesterday. Durham is a fine hitter having a nice run, but in his 11-year major league career, this was his first time in the cleanup spot.
Though it might seem that continuing to build a team around Bonds, even at 42 next year, would delay the time when they move young position players in, that was never going to happen, anyway. The Giants have no faith in their young prospects. Even in this hopeless season, Lance Niekro has been turned into a platoon player, Jason Ellison was sent down despite a good first half, Todd Linden has been up and down. If they wouldn’t stick with their young players this year, when would they?
I’M NOT CERTAIN how this will play out at the box office. Will Giants fans continue to buy tickets on the hope that Bonds will be in the lineup? If he isn’t, it will be as difficult to sell those tickets as it has been this year.
But the Giants really have no choice because they have so little else to hang their hats on. They have some good young arms, but so far, only Cain has shown signs of developing into a really first-class starter. Their best position players are old – Alou and shortstop Omar Vizquel, both of whom will be 39 next year.
The Giants need Bonds. Desperately.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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