Time to Invest in Bonds Again?

The San Francisco Giants’ season ended Sunday, and not a moment too soon. They reached September a decent 68–68, but went a gruesome 5–21 the rest of the way, culminating in a 15–0 loss to the Dodgers. Their offense, which sputtered all year, shut down completely after Buster Posey left for hip surgery and Andrew McCutchen left in a trade to the Yankees.

Thanks to improved pitching, the Giants finished nine games better than they did last year. According to ERA+, a statistic that adjusts a team’s earned run average for stadium characteristics (some ballpark configurations are friendlier to hitters, others to pitchers), the 2018 pitching staff was a speck below average. If the Giants can hold their bullpen crew together, get full seasons from starters Madison Bumgarner (assuming they don’t trade him) and Dereck Rodriguez (assuming he doesn’t regress), and eke a quality month or two from Johnny Cueto (assuming he recovers from Tommy John surgery), they should have superior pitching in 2019.

But the Giants scored just 603 runs this year, 29th out of 30 teams. They tallied two or fewer runs in 39% of their games. Even the best pitching staffs need more support than that.

So they have to beef up the attack. Its shortcomings are especially glaring in the outfield, ironic to an old fan like me who remembers the Giants bringing up stars like Bobby Bonds, Gary Matthews, Gary Maddox, and even Dave Kingman (as a homer-or-strikeout guy he’d fit right into a modern lineup) to flank the aging Willie Mays. The Giants used to produce hitting outfielders as bountifully as Iowa produces corn. But can you name a hard-hitting, homegrown Giant outfielder over the last 25 years? Me neither, unless you count Marvin Benard, which I don’t.

That said, one guy was kinda homegrown: Barry Bonds. He didn’t come up through the Giants’ system, but his dad was the aforementioned Bobby Bonds, and his godfather is the aforementioned Willie Mays. He grew up on the Peninsula. The Giants tried to sign him out of high school, but he chose to attend Arizona State.

Lots of teams will pursue Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, and the handful of other good outfield free agents this winter, raising their price beyond what the Giants can or should pay. Why not offer Bonds $5 million or so to play left field next year?

I know, I know. Because he hasn’t played in 12 years. Because he turns 55 next July. Because he probably can’t run or field worth a damn. And because he’s an egotistical ass.

To which I say, so what? Barry Bonds ranks among the five best hitters ever — with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and his godfather — and was still raking during his final season at age 43. A couple of years ago Bonds worked as a coach for the Miami Marlins, got into a hitting contest with Giancarlo Stanton — the best slugger in the game — and did fine. My guess is he can still handle a bat at a major league level.

So why not send him out for three at-bats a night, and if you’re winning after that, sit him for a defensive replacement? Can he do any worse than Gorkys Hernandez, who finished second on the team to McCutchen for most plate appearances by an outfielder?

And think of the buzz it will generate! One of America’s duller athletic franchises (especially in this market, where it has to compete against basketball’s Golden State Warriors) will become instantly interesting again.

One other thing: if Bonds returns, it might re-set his Hall of Fame clock. To this point he’s been snubbed because of steroid use, which is nuts. To hell with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Bonds belongs in the Hall, and if outliving the old-fart voters in the press box is what it takes to get him in, so be it.

Bonds in 2006.

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.