What's Next for Barry - and Giants?
The master plan Ė that Bonds would play in a Giants uniform for two more seasons and break Hank Aaronís career home run mark for his adoring fans Ė isnít working. Bonds has had one setback after another in his rehabilitation from an original knee surgery. Though heís now been cleared to start a re-hab program, thereís no timetable for his return, and when he finally does return, he will be a different player.
Even last season, he was having his troubles in left field. Once the best defensive left fielder in the game, he had become a defensive liability because his aging legs and knees kept him from making a quick break on the ball.
Now, his days in the outfield appear to be over, except for the possibility of an occasional start. With all the trouble heís having with his knee this year, thereís no way it would hold up if he tried to play regularly in the outfield.
Since the Giants play in a league without a designated hitter, that means Bonds would be primarily consigned to the role of pinch-hitter. We can be certain he wouldnít want that. It would do nothing to advance his goal of passing first Babe Ruth and then Aaron, and he wouldnít want to be remembered that way.
His $18 million contract would be a barrier to a possible trade with an American League club. Even George Steinbrenner would balk at that; he already has an $18 million DH under contract.
So, the decision would be up to Barry: Would he re-negotiate to take a considerably reduced salary, perhaps 1/3 to Ĺ of what heís getting now, to pursue his career goals? That might be preferable to sitting on the bench most of the time for the Giants or retiring and passing up that last yearís salary.
At a reduced price, he might be attractive to an American League club, because he could help that club win and certainly be a big gate attraction. That team wouldnít likely be the Aís, though a South Bay columnist suggested that last week. Even at $6 million, Bonds is probably too rich for the Aís blood, especially in their rebuilding mode. (Thereís only one caveat: Even before Bonds started his home run rampage, Aís general manager Billy Beane told me he thought Bonds was the No. 1 offensive force in baseball.)
A more likely candidate would be the Anaheim Angels. Indeed, Bonds even suggested a couple of years ago that he might end his career with the Angels. The Angelsí owner, Arte Moreno, wouldnít balk at Bondsí contract, if itís reduced as I suggested, and Bonds would both boost attendance and make the Angels, already one of the best teams in baseball, even better.
FOR THE Giants, itís time to stop dreaming.
When it seemed that Bonds would be back sometime in May, the Giants seemed to be in good position to contend. General manager Brian Sabean had plugged the biggest hole by signing closer Armando Benitez, improved the infield defense with shortstop Omar Vizquel and brought in a strong right-handed bat in Moises Alou. The age of the Giants Ė Alou and Vizquel are both 38 Ė wasnít a major concern because the Giants were thinking short-term, for the next two years with Bonds.
Now, with Bondsí return uncertain, with Benitez out for the season and with Jason Schmidt coming off the disabled list, the Giants are dead in the water. Itís a situation eerily comparable to the 49ers in 1999, when Steve Young went down early and the team finished 4-12.
Even the soft early schedule hasnít helped the Giants; they had a 3-4 road trip against Colorado and Houston, which had the two worst records in the league when the Giants played them.
The National League doesnít have much strength at the top this year, with only the St. Louis Cardinals a certain playoff team. In theory, a team can hang around the .500 mark for the first four months and then get hot in the final two months and make the postseason, as the Astros did last year.
Right now, though, the Giants donít look like even a .500 team, lacing both consistent hitting and pitching.
If Schmidt can come back and pitch as he did last year, that will be a big help, but the rest of the rotation is a mess.Brett Tomko still has a tendency to have that one bad inning which costs him the game. Kirk Rueter is still Kirk Rueter. Noah Lowry pitched well against the Aís, but thatís not much of a challenge; we should wait awhile before declaring that Lowry is over his sophomore year struggles. Brad Hennessey has made a couple of promising starts, but his stuff is reminiscent of Ryan Jensen, who won 13 games in 2002 and then fell off the Giants radar. (Jensen is now with Kansas City.)
GIANTS MANAGER Felipe Alou hinted on Saturday that the Giants may be close to recalling Jerome Williams, who had a strong start in his last outing at Fresno.
By midseason, they should bring up at least one of their young prospects from the minors, Matt Cain, Merkin Valdez, Jesse Foppert if heís 100 per cent physically, and start phasing out the tired veterans on the staff.
They should start even earlier with their position players. Alou said last week that they didnít want to bring up Todd Linden until they could play him every day. Well, that time has arrived. Put Linden in right field, Jason Ellison in center and move Alou to left. Use Marquis Grissom and Michael Tucker as backup.
Put Pedro Feliz back at third base and move Edgardo Alfonzo to second. That means benching Ray Durham and eating his contract eventually, but whoís kidding? His constant leg injuries mean that Durham canít turn on the speed that made him such a threat on the bases, so what youíre left with is a poor defensive player, average hitter with average power. Why play him when it holds back a younger player with potential?
And, of course, Lance Niekro should get most of the time at first base, with J. T. Snow phased out. Snow is still a marvelous defensive player but the marginal power he had has waned. Niekro has shown he can hit for the power you expect from that position.
THE BONDS ERA is over, at least in San Francisco. Itís been great fun and the Giants have given their fans great entertainment almost every year since Barry arrived in 1993. It would have been great to see him set a career home run mark in a Giants uniform, but it isnít going to happen. Itís time to move on.
NOTE TO READERS: Later this week, I hope to have a function which will enable you to e-mail your friends with part of a column and a link to my site. I appreciate your patience. I'm still an uneasy visitor to this electronic world. When I started my career, I was using a manual typewriter. To go from that point to this is like starting out driving a Model-T and then being handed the keys to a Ferrari!
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