Will Barry Bonds play this season? Probably, if he stays in shape and is patient, because he’snot likely to be signed before midseason.
Bonds’ market is limited. He can’t play for a National League club because he can no longer play in the field. Giants fans saw that last year. All he accomplished was giving shortstop Omar Vizquel more opportunities to make spectacular over-the-shoulder grabs of pop flies that should have been handled by the left fielder.
But the man can still hit. Though he broke down in September because he had to play in the field, he still hit 28 home runs in 340 at-bats. His bat could be valuable to an American League club that is trying to reach the playoffs.
The American League is incredibly strong this year, with seven teams battling for just four spots in the postseason. It’s quite possible that one of them will look at its prospects in July and think that a hitter such as Bonds could make the difference.
So, here are the possibilities:
» New York Yankees. The Yankees are loaded again, and they have a logjam with their outfielders and designated hitters — but none of them is as feared a hitter as Bonds.
They’re also in the same division as the reigning world champion Boston Red Sox. The Steinbrenner family, with alpha male son Hank now running the operation, doesn’t like the thought of finishing second. If they’re looking up at the Red Sox at midseason, even if they’re leading the wild-card race, they’re likely to make a move. Bonds would be a serious upgrade over Hideki Matsui or Jason Giambi. If they have to eat a contract … well, money is never a concern for the Yankees.
» Seattle Mariners. The Mariners upgraded an already strong pitching staff with the addition of Erik Bedard, but they don’t have the offense to catch the Los Angeles Angels — and probably not enough to get the wild card, either. Bonds would be a huge upgrade over Jose Vidro as a DH.
» Cleveland Indians. The Indians won 96 games last season with a team payroll of less than $62 million, 23rd in the majors, so they have some flexibility. Their DH, Travis Hafner, had a big falloff last season and he’s 31 now. Baseball Prospectus notes that comparable players such as Boog Powell and Kent Hrbek were basically through at that age. If that comparison holds, Bonds will look very inviting at midseason.
» Detroit Tigers. Many baseball people think the Tigers could be the best team in baseball this year, after acquiring Miguel Cabrera and Dontelle Willis. Their offense is already strong, but would you prefer Gary Sheffield or Bonds as your DH? If the Tigers are leading the AL Central at midpoint, they probably won’t make a change. But if they’re not …</p>
Other AL teams in the playoff race are set at DH, unless an injury changes the equation.
The Angels can rotate Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson. The Chicago White Sox have Jim Thome, who has hit 77 homers in the past two seasons, though a good left-hander can get him out. The Red Sox have David Ortiz, perhaps the greatest clutch hitter in the game.
So, it will be a three-month waiting period for Bonds. Stay focused, Barry.