Unconventional Wisdom: How good would Bonds be if he came back?
Oh, it was going to happen. It was just a matter of when. Not in March or April, maybe, and probably not in May or June. But as the trade deadline approached, some team was going to look at the market, realize that they were going to need to give up three or four quality prospects to acquire a good outfielder, and realize at that price it was worth signing ...
That was my line of thinking, at least. But time is running down, and so far there is no indication of it coming true. The Yankees
But would signing Bonds actually make sense? What could he really contribute at this point? Who out there is desperate enough -- and brave enough -- to take a chance on him?
For starters let's consider what kind of player Bonds might be. Bonds was, on an at-bat for at-bat basis, among the most productive players in the league in 2007, contributing a VORP of 55.2 to the Giants.
The man, however, is 44 years old, and so as good as he's been, a significant amount of decline from last year's numbers could reasonably be anticipated. Overall, PECOTA forecasted Bonds for a .246/.420/.494 batting line in a neutral park this year. That intuitively looks about right. Bonds is still going to draw plenty of walks -- that's the one skill that doesn't diminish with age. But his strikeout rate is likely to go up, and his batting average and home run power likely to go down. His once-outstanding defense has become problematic too; Bonds has been six runs below average in left field in each of his past two seasons, and he probably ought to be a DH at this stage of his career.
Now, it's true that we don't know exactly what kind of shape Bonds is in. But the man is a fitness freak, and his agents have claimed that he could be in game shape after 7-10 days of facing live pitching. Besides, once you get into your 40s, the extra time off could be as helpful as harmful. So we'll go with Bonds' PECOTA as-is, but limit him to 40 games played to account for a little bit of time in getting ready and an occasional day off.
Let me pause to explain what I'm doing here.
But we can do better than that, by going through this same exercise for the players that Bonds might be replacing on each prospective suitor. We'll accomplish this by combining each player's pre-season PECOTA forecast with his performance thus far in 2008, giving two-thirds of the weight to the PECOTA and one-third to his year-to-date numbers. All statistics are translated to a neutral park, and translated minor league statistics are applied for players who have spent a significant amount of time this year on the farm.
Just whose at-bats Bonds might be replacing on each club is another question, since in each instance the teams have somewhat fluid outfield or DH situations. But we'll do the best we can and make some educated guesses. In the case of St. Louis, for instance, we'll figure that 25 of Bonds' 40 games would come at
Let's rank the five plausible teams in order of worst fit to best. First up, the St. Louis Cardinals:
It's true that Schumaker is playing somewhat over his head; the Cardinals have had a real knack for making something out of nothing in their outfield this year. But Schumaker's defense is fairly good, and he and Mather enhance one another's value as platoon partners. Overall we see Bonds contributing just 3.1 marginal runs to the Cardinals on the balance of the season. They should therefore be eliminated as a serious contender.
Next, the Texas Rangers:
The Rangers have been willing to take their chances with troubled players in the past, most notably
The next contestant is the Tampa Bay Rays:
The Rays could employ Bonds as their designated hitter, but they are getting a little bit more production out of their status quo alternatives -- mostly
Now the New York Mets:
Here's a club that might be crazy enough to try Bonds.
Bonds would provide an immediate upgrade on offense, adding an extra 12 runs or so to their balance sheet over the remainder of the season. But he'd hurt their defense, especially in a big ballpark like Shea. Overall we're looking at a marginal contribution of 7.9 runs -- not trivial, but hardly enough to make a move imperative.
Finally, the Los Angeles Angels:
The Angels have plenty of names to rotate through their DH and left-field slot. But the problem is that none of them are really very much good.
Ultimately, though, what has happened is that the 30 major league teams have conspired (not literally, I'd hope) to run down Barry Bonds' clock. There are a number of decent fits, but no one great one, and if you're only renting a player for the scope of 35 or 40 ball games the marginal contribution is going to be fairly small -- not more than an extra win on the season for any of these clubs. If you were going to sign Bonds the time to have done so would have been much earlier in the season.
I would keep a watchful eye on the Mets, however. If Bonds ends up in anyone's uniform it's likely to be that one, as