What if the Braves had gotten Bonds instead of Maddux?

Bill Shanks

You’ve likely heard the story. It was spring training 1992. The Braves had almost won the World Series the previous season. They were close, really close.

And John Schuerholz, the general manager, thought he had a trade to put the Braves over the hump.

He agreed to a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates that would have sent reliever Alejandro Pena and outfield prospect Keith Mitchell for outfielder Barry Bonds. The trade fell apart when Pittsburgh manager Jim Leyland flipped out when he learned about the deal.

So, Bonds played his last season in Pittsburgh and then became a free agent. The Braves were interested, but Bonds instead went to the San Francisco Giants. Atlanta turned its attention to another free agent, starting pitcher Greg Maddux, who spurned a larger contract offer from the Yankees to join the Braves heralded rotation.

Maddux was added to a staff that already included Tom Glavine, the 1991 Cy Young Award winner, and John Smoltz, who had proved his value in the 1991 and 1992 postseason series.

The Braves would win the World Series in 1995 with the three staff aces, who would all go on to be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

But what if the Bonds traded had gone through? What if Bonds had joined Ron Gant and David Justice in the Atlanta outfield in 1992? Schuerholz said in his book he believed the Braves would have re-signed Bonds after that season when he became a free agent.

The Braves could have had Bonds, and Maddux probably would have gone on to sign with the Yankees. Could that have changed history in the 1990s?

Maddux helped the Braves had a great run of success. They won the division in each of his 11 seasons with the team. But they won only one World Series. So, would they have won more rings if Bonds had been in the outfield?

The Braves would have still had Glavine and Smoltz, and they acquired Denny Neagle in 1996 from Pittsburgh, so they continued to add to their rotation. Sure, the Braves got Fred McGriff to add another power hitter in 1993, and the Crime Dog definitely helped the Braves win it all two years later. But this was Bonds, who at the time was a five-tool player.

And sure, we can point to Bonds’ alleged steroid use as something to make us say we should be grateful he never played for the Braves. But how do we know Bonds would have gotten on steroid had he not been in California with the Giants?

Bonds, Gant and Justice would have created the best outfield in baseball, and the Braves would have had one hell of a lineup. Imagine what that might have been, with Terry Pendleton hitting third, with Bonds, Gant and Justice right behind in the heart of the order.

It wasn’t until the Braves got that extra power bat in McGriff that the team really became elite. But if Bonds had been in the lineup, the Braves might have been the best team in baseball a little earlier than 1995.

And could the rotation have survived and still helped the team win division titles if they had only had Glavine and Smoltz at the top, compared to having a third ace in Maddux?

What do you think? Could the Braves have won more than one World Series if they had had Bonds in their lineup compared to having Maddux in their rotation?

Listen to The Bill Shanks Show weekdays at 3:00 p.m. ET on Middle Georgia’s ESPN. You can listen online at TheSuperStations.com. Follow Bill on Twitter at @billshanks and you can email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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