Frank Thomas’ release could lay a “Big Hurt” on MLB…

O.K. Barry-haters hit backspace now. I am not defending Barry Bonds—I would be doing this regardless of the player involved. If you want to read an article that discusses that the only reason Barry Bonds is unemployed is due to bad attitudes, BALCO and Barcoloungers, click this link and in the second box titled “with the exact phrase” enter the words “Barry Bonds” and enjoy. If you wish to pass along the sentiment contained therein as proof that I have once again taken leave of my senses, be my guest but don’t expect a response. We’re just going to have to agree to disagree and you’ll have to content yourselves with rip jobs on forums and blogs.

You’ll read none of that here because this is not about Barry Lamar Bonds.

I have never met the man so Barry Bonds may well be an Oedipus Complexing spawn of unmarried parents who, before patronizing a death-care establishment of choice, would be well served to engage in an act of coprophagy (I’ll let others judge that)—however, I greatly doubt that he is the worst clubhouse presence in the history of the sport. Up until Ball Four, players’ seamier sides were often hidden from public view, so there is a paucity of information on that count alone.

Even if he is the Worst. Teammate. Ever. his personality did not prevent two teams from reaching the postseason a combined seven times—in fact, he was a big reason the Pirates and Giants made it to October.

Right now, Frank Thomas is a free agent, a designated hitter. We read through the offseason how there were no spots available for Bonds since he would be limited to that role. If Thomas is picked up by another club in short order, the questions arise. At the moment, it appears several teams need a possible upgrade and another bat…

  • Blue Jays: released Thomas, Adam Lind a possibility as DH if healthy.
  • Orioles: Aubrey Huff .238/.324/.413 … unless the Orioles are for real (doubtful), an upgrade at DH is required.
  • Yankees: Hideki Matsui is hitting well at DH but Jason Giambi isn’t at first base (.109/.288/.283). There are discussions about cutting their losses and releasing him. Matsui could probably handle the (first base) position OK, and it would create an opening at DH to strengthen the lineup.
  • Tigers: Gary Sheffield is .192/.364/.308 and again injured. Shoulder miseries can sap a slugger’s power as well. The Tabbies are averaging about four runs per game and desperately need offense.
  • Angels: Gary Matthews Jr. is hitting .238/.303/.350 and his .313/.371/.495 PED-enhanced season where he batted .324/.396/.512 in half his games in Arlington (in 2006) appears to be a major outlier. At 33, a repeat seems unlikely.
  • A’s: Oakland is using Mike Sweeney (.275/.356/.333) and Jack Cust (.157/.368/.255) in this role. With Seattle’s offense looking problematic and the Angels having lost Kelvim Escobar and John Lackey the A’s theoretically could find themselves in contention with a bit more offense (OPS+ of 98). If not, I’m sure Billy Beane could pick up a nice minor league bauble or two at the trading deadline were they to employ Bonds.
  • Mariners: Jose Vidro’s .208/.278/.319 line is not a complete surprise in that since he battled right knee, ankle and quadriceps muscle injuries in 2005, he has slugged .361 over his last 1,083 at-bats. Since he turned 30, his OBP have been .339, .348, .381 and .278. He will be 34 in August, an age when middle infielders seemingly start to fade (he’s played 1,046 games at second base).

Obviously, there are early-season sample sizes that come into play; however age and career norms all give clubs pause to wonder if an upgrade is required.

There are as many as seven job openings available for a player who can wield a big stick, and it could make the difference between making the playoffs and making tee-times come October.

Teams that feel they have a shot will do unusual things. In 2005, Sammy Sosa looked finished at 36 years old. After he left, the Cubs’ tales came out about what a pain in the ol’ beast of burden he was in the Wrigley clubhouse, going so far as abandoning ship in the final game of his final season in the Windy City. The Cubs had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory (and a playoff berth) in the waning days of the ’04 campaign and Sosa left the club before the final game of the season started.

He was given a shot in Baltimore where he batted .221/.295/.376 with 14 home runs and found no takers in 2006. In 2007, the Texas Rangers needed a DH and—despite the year off, the clubhouse issues (Bonds had the Barcolounger, Sosa the boom box … both had entourages larger than the Marlins’ attendance), the 78 OPS+ and the steroid suspicions—gave him a shot at the job.

As we’ve discussed before, every complaint made regarding the problem of signing Bonds has been contradicted by other moves year after year. The only time in baseball history when teams passed on a talent, regardless of temperament, when they stated in effect that ‘we’d rather lose than sign‘ occurred during collusion. Many have stated that a big issue is Bonds’ demand of at least $10 million to play this year. I’ve had direct discussions with sources close to Bonds regarding the alleged $10 million minimum (required to sign him) and they have stated firmly that there have been no monetary demands, contract requirements or minimums to employ Barry this season.

That being the case, I can’t help but wonder if Bonds’ agent Jeff Borris has mulled the Dick Moss/Andre Dawson approach used to sign with the Cubs in 1987 during the original collusion of the free agent era. Simply send blank contracts to every major league team and let them stipulate financial terms.

Frank Thomas will be the true litmus test, and you can bet Bonds’ agent and the MLBPA will follow his job search closely due to similarities: both are future Hall of Famers, both renowned home run hitters, both known for being on-base threats, both over 40, both with recent injury histories, both outspoken with “selfish” reps (having the “clubhouse cancer” label dropped on them at times), both cast solely as DH candidates and both currently unemployed.

Bonds has a few advantages that Thomas lacks; he has a little more speed and could probably play in left field for limited periods. Further, Bonds has the advantage in that he hits lefty while Thomas bats right handed. Strictly from a platoon advantage standpoint, Bonds would be the more valuable commodity. If Thomas finds work in short order then some uncomfortable questions will have to be asked.

Finally, as I have mentioned, this isn’t about Barry Lamar Bonds. It’s about trust—the fans’ trust that the team they invest so much physical, mental and emotional capital into is doing everything within its efforts to put the best product on the field at all times. There are several clubs out there where Barry Bonds could make the difference between playing in October or watching the playoffs on TV.

I don’t buy for one minute fans that write on message boards or spout off at bars that they would rather their team miss the postseason than employ a certain player. It’s easy to say during spring training, early in the season or when your rooting interest is 30 games out. When the time comes though when a key hit or a key run is required and doesn’t come to pass, finally crushing any remaining postseason hopes in late September, there is a long offseason of post mortems. Rare is the fan under those circumstances who will take any consolation in the fact that, while the team missed the playoffs and a shot at the World Series, at least a certain player wasn’t on the roster.

More Bonds and collusion…

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