Barry Bonds defines the Giants. For most of his first 12 seasons with the Giants, he made the team look better than it was. Now that he’s Barry Lite, the weaknesses of the team and the bad decision-making have been exposed.
Throughout the ’90s and into the 2000 season, Bonds was the best all-around player in baseball, a player who hit for average and power, an excellent baserunner with as many as 40 steals in a season, a superb defensive left fielder.
With Bonds as the centerpiece, general manager Brian Sabean was able to make some excellent trades before the 1997 season, getting Jeff Kent and J.T. Snow, among others, and the Giants won the division.
In 2001, Bonds morphed into the most dangerous power hitter in the game, hitting a record 73 home runs and winning the first of four consecutive NL Most Valuable Player awards; he has seven overall. In 2002, the Giants reached their peak, nearlywinning the World Series.
It’s impossible to overstate how important Bonds was in that stretch. It was not just what he did, but how he affected the rest of the lineup. Pitchers and managers concentrated so much on him, they hardly thought about the rest of the lineup. Batting ahead of Bonds and seeing almost nothing but fastballs, Rich Aurilia hit 37 homers in 2001. Batting behind Bonds as the intentional walks piled up, Kent had impressive RBI years.
But after the 2002 high-water mark, the bad decisions started to pile up.
Kent left and his bat has never been adequately replaced. Sabean badly overpaid for third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo, whose bad back had robbed him of his power, and second baseman Ray Durham, a good hitter but poor fielder.
After spending much of his first three seasons with the Giants on the disabled list, Durham had a career offensive year in 2006. That led Sabean to repeat his mistake and re-sign him. Durham has done little this season.
But the Giants still had Bonds at his hitting peak in 2003, winning another MVP award, and the Giants won their division with 100 wins.
The next year came another awful Sabean move when he traded Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser for catcher A.J. Pierzynski. This would have been a bad deal even if Nathan hadn’t done so well with the Minnesota Twins.
Pierzynski did a terrible job behind the plate and tried to blame Giants pitchers for his defensive woes. A class act.
But the Giants still had Bonds. Check out this line: .362 batting average, 45 homers, 232 walks, .609 on-base percentage, .812 slugging average. That makes up for a lot of deficiencies, and the Giants won 91 games.
Then, Bonds missed most of the 2005 season with multiple knee surgeries — and the Giants won just 75 games. With Barry Lite last year, they won 76.
With Sabean putting togetheranother old, old team — the last two Giants teams are the oldest in the last 50 years in baseball — and the reduced Bonds, this team will be lucky to match either of the last two.
Bonds’ great play from 1993 through 2004 masked bad decisions. Now, the Giants have some rebuilding to do, and it should start with Sabean and Dick Tidrow, who has been overseeing the weak farm system. Bonds can no longer cover up the mistakes.
Can the Giants still put a team together around Bonds?
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