Another reason GMs are reluctant to sign Bonds

DMZ · February 28, 2008 at 7:51 pm · Filed Under General baseball 

I neglected this in my writeup the other day, but there’s a huge reason that teams are reluctant to sign Bonds, no matter if he’s a bargain and if he’s a perfect fit: they’re human, and the sports press will absolutely tear into them for it.

A lot of the weird, small moves we see at the edges of transaction wires are due to things we don’t know about: some guy is such a colossal jerk that the team waives him even though he’s a left-handed hitting backup catcher who can steal 15 bases a year. A minor league organizational soldier is called up for a week and given spot at-bats until he gets a major league hit. Two teams that could make a mutually beneficial trade won’t even talk to each other because one side’s still too angry about being dealt a pitcher with a bum shoulder years ago.

No GM wants to have to deal with hordes of national press calling him, clogging the clubhouse interviewing all the players trying to get dirt on Bonds. It’s probably not a big factor — a GM, after all, is supposed to take the heat if it’ll improve the team — but I can see where it would make a big difference in whether they lobbied their owner hard over it.

And for that matter, it’s probably even a bigger deal for owners, who look at the franchise’s marketability and long-term reputation.

As a cautionary tale, I present Tampa Bay. By all indications, some Tampa Bay people, including the manager, talked about Bonds. There’s no evidence they said “I wonder what it would take” or even contemplated what they’d do to fit him into the lineup. And we know that Bonds’ agent’s been actively lobbying teams to bring his client in, so the conversation probably went

“You think we should sign Bonds?”
“What’s the point? We’re the Devil Rays.”
“Just the Rays now.”
“Sorry, I keep forgetting.”
“No Bonds, then?”
“No, we’re rebuilding and we’re already going to end up doing a lot of roster juggling, let’s pass.”

For this, Tampa Bay became the story of the week. I present this article as an example of its kind.
Bonds’ bat not worth taking on his baggage

There’s a lot in the article about how Bonds is a jerk, a bad clubhouse presence, and then Omar’s quoted —

“Nothing against Barry, but having all the things that come along with having him here sometimes made it hard to concentrate on baseball,” says shortstop Omar Vizquel. “We’ll definitely miss a lot of the things that he brought to the table, but there’s a feeling now that we’re a normal baseball team again.”

That’s… well, I would have said nothing.

Do you hear that, Rays? A normal baseball team. There is absolutely no shot at normalcy for any team that signs Bonds.

What does normalcy get you, exactly? A congeniality pennant?

Which takes us to this gem:

For all the pop and on-base percentage he brings to your lineup, for all the fannies he puts in your seats, he brings more negatives.

I know we can argue about chemistry forever, but… really? If you’ve got a crappy DH and you put Bonds in and he’s only healthy enough to get to 300 at-bats and hits a little worse than last year, your team will win three, maybe four more games than they would have.

I don’t understand how you can possibly reason that press attention and having a surly guy in the clubhouse possibly outweighs that kind of contribution. Even if you want to say “it’s not worth it” or “you have a moral obligation not to sign him” I can’t see a reasonable weighing of the evidence that would lead you to the conclusion that adding Bonds to a team that needed him would make it worse.

To find players like that, you have to go back to the totally corrupt days of baseball and look to Hal Chase and Buck Weaver — people who were so dirty they threw ballgames for money.

But not to dwell on this particular article too much — I wanted to look at the larger point. You can find dozens of articles like this. It was an easy column for writers to churn out this week, and they took it.

My point is that Bonds has never had a good relationship with the press. Even when he’s tried to do better in interviews, make himself more available, the detente collapsed pretty quickly. His place as the lightning rod for steroid discussions is due in no small part to the obsession with making him out to be the worst villain.

Every team knows that Bonds’ signing will create exactly this kind of national story, multiplied — the Rays barely talked about Barry, after all — and that no matter how tame the local press is, Bonds and his successes, failures, and his effect on his teammates will be the story that’s told and retold, all season long.

If you’re a GM, or an owner, the possible payoff for signing Bonds and being right has to be immense for you to risk that kind of continual negative attention, knowing the only way you could hope to be redeemed in the public’s eyes would be to get to the playoffs – never a sure thing – and have Bonds perform extremely well in post-season play. And only a World Series victory would assure forgiveness from some fans.

The number of teams with strong ownership groups unafraid of that kind of sustained attack is smaller than the number of teams that could use Bonds. And moreover, you can understand why teams on the edge would be extremely reluctant to make it known that they were even mulling it, given the treatment Tampa Bay’s received for doing nothing.


31 Responses to “Another reason GMs are reluctant to sign Bonds”

  1. coasty141 on February 28th, 2008 8:11 pm

    I can understand that no GM wants bad press. But as a front office I’d jump at the chance to bring Bonds to Tampa. He is going to put butts in the seats and he is going to have a positive impact on the team as far as performance goes.

  2. joser on February 28th, 2008 8:24 pm

    Very true.

    I wonder, though, should Bonds be still available after the season starts, if some team that finds itself in the thick of a tight race in June or July might not give Barry’s agent a call. Or even earlier, a la Clemens last year. The calculus during the season would be rather different that it is now: in Spring Training, there’s nothing much for the press to talk about and it’s easy to be high and mighty in the eternal optimism of March, so a signing now brings down the entire mountainside of attention and criticism without respite. But the local press tends to be more forgiving when there’s the whiff of the postseason in the air, and once there is more than golf to otherwise occupy the national press the 24-7 Barrypolooza can’t go on very long.

    Which makes for an interesting game of chicken for GMs as the season progresses: who wants to be the first to swallow the poisonous power pill? Who dares not to be?

  3. Probablyright on February 28th, 2008 8:35 pm

    Hilarious link and right-on commentary.
    “Congeniality pennant”!

    Glad to hear the Giants will be happier! I mean, what’s not to be happy about when you’re a young millionaire traveling around the country and no one even sees or cares how you perform. The pay’s still good. On top of that, if you really suck, and nobody sees it, do you emanate suckiness? Wonder how long the the Giants will be happy on the way to losing 100, how happy the fans will be when the young pitchers get beat 2-1 repeatedly, and how happy the owners will be when there are wide swaths of empty seats in the mortgaged park?

    As for the larger point, there’s a risk. But, Bonds produces and everything’s fine. Applying it to Seattle, the Mariners have a big star and a few highly paid minimal producers. I don’t think Bonds necessarily overshadows them though he would draw in more fans and get more national attention for the team.

  4. fetish on February 28th, 2008 8:57 pm

    I actually think, at the major league level, ‘personal stuff’ is as much a factor as salaries and players.

    there’s no logical reason for the M’s to deal so heavily with San Diego – especially them being our natural rival and all.

  5. DMZ on February 28th, 2008 9:08 pm

    What I think might happen is that one of the teams will have someone go down with an injury — DH, LF, won’t matter — and that’s what their pretense will be. “We were reluctant to bring in Barry when our team was set, but we’re not sure when Bob will come back from this hamstring injury, and we can’t afford to let that jeopardize the hard work…”

  6. Tek Jansen on February 28th, 2008 9:18 pm

    It would seem to me that the Rays have less to lose in signing Bonds than other teams. They are improved, but they have virtually no shot at making the playoffs. The bad publicity Bonds brings could dampen any sort of fan enthusiasm or support since they do not really have either.

    Yet I take DMZ’s point about how much grief they have taken after merely mulling over the idea. This sort of explanation is valid, makes sense and is certainly better than Bavasi’s “we don’t want NL power hitters” answer.

  7. thefin190 on February 28th, 2008 9:50 pm

    This would be the move Billy Beane would make if he was trying to compete next year.

    That being said, I would think Bonds would be a good fit for the Rays, not just because of his talent, but the Rays are also on the rise. I remember asking Dave a while back what kind of team he predicts the Rays to be next season, and he said around an 88-win team, and that was before any rumblings of Bonds going to Tampa. Imagine them possibly competing with the beasts of the east with Bonds on their team!

  8. cwel87 on February 28th, 2008 9:56 pm

    I could not possibly agree more.

    All the quotes I’ve read from Giants talking about Barry’s lack of presence read multiple ways. I don’t know if that’s a coincedence…or what.

  9. DaveValleDrinkNight on February 28th, 2008 10:05 pm

    I would love to see the Rays sign Bonds. It’d sure make the AL East a lot more interesting. And hey, anything that hurts the Yankees makes me smile inside. As far as Bonds getting signed, my guess is he’s still asking for too much money. If he were willing to play for $5-6 mil this year he’d already be signed. I just don’t see Teams giving a guy $10 mil with the threat of possible Prison Time looming. I’m sure he’d want the contract guranteed as well.

  10. joser on February 28th, 2008 10:31 pm

    The Yankees might even like the Rays to take on Bonds, as long as he doesn’t hurt them too much at the plate, because they will sell a lot more tickets for those Rays games to boo birds who want to heckle Mr Asterisk. Not that Yankee stadium is hurting for attendence, but it’s not the automatic sell-out Fenway is, especially for 9 games against Tampa.

  11. MKT on February 28th, 2008 10:53 pm

    What does normalcy get you, exactly? A congeniality pennant?

    Even though I suspect that the media reports of Bonds’ jerky behavior are overblown, if the reports are indeed true, then that IS a factor. Haven’t any of you ever worked at the workplace-from-H*ll, with the Boss or Co-workers from H*ll? People who made the workplace so unbearable that you considered leaving — or even did actually leave — vowing that there was no way they could pay you enough money to stay in that dump?

    Baseball players of course get paid handsomely in return for putting up with surly teammates, working in Cleveland, etc. etc. But keep in mind that because they are indeed such highly skilled and highly paid players, then unlike you or me (who would likely jump at an offer of a major league job, even if it was in Cleveland or had Barry Bonds as a teammate), they have other choices (once they reach free agency). And that’s where chemistry actually does start to matter. What sorts of teams or clubhouses will be attractive to players? Andy Pettite’s presence on the Astros helped them sign Roger Clemens.

    Is clubhouse attractiveness/surliness the most important factor in attracting players? No, of course not, not compared to salary or (for many players) wins and losses. But it’s not a non-factor.

  12. joser on February 29th, 2008 12:04 am

    Yeah, but it would be a one year deal and the teams already have their rosters mostly set.

  13. DAMellen on February 29th, 2008 2:26 am

    I thought Weaver wasn’t really involved with the scandal. He knew about it and didn’t report it, but didn’t he not participate? Or did Eight Men Out lie to me as so many sports movies that are “based on true stories” have?

  14. milehighmariner on February 29th, 2008 2:51 am

    I thought that about Weaver too. Obviously movies aren’t always the best source of information for the truth but is there more information out there that implicates Weaver as the biggest cheat of that bunch?

  15. SBG on February 29th, 2008 7:40 am

    Tampa Bay should do it. The prospect of Bonds playing 19 games in Fenway/Yankee Stadium would be delicious.

    As for the main point here, what does Tampa have to lose? Yep, there might be some bad pub, but hey, this team has been playing in a vacuum for a decade. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s apathy. Bonds would make Rays baseball a big story and if they won some games, TB could actually, you know, establish a fan base.

    I grant that there would be a media circus and the idiots at SI would be tut-tutting over the decision to sign him but, good grief, this could really be fun for TB fans.

  16. everett on February 29th, 2008 9:10 am

    And most importantly, it’d make Tampa relevant nationally, which they’ve never been.

  17. demolition65 on February 29th, 2008 9:21 am

    I have an objection to the actual number of wins that BB might add to the M’s. MKT kind of skirts the issue in his comment.

    While it is certainly true from a sabremetric POV that he is likely to be a solid addition, the possibility of poisoning the clubhouse would in fact SUBTRACT wins from the overall total. That funny, immeasurable component of team play, call it what you will -atmosphere, bonding, chemistry- does play into a team’s W/L total, and no amount of sabremetric analysis can quantify it.

    Nevermind the headaches it might cause the GM to sign Bonds. I believe that Bavasi would sign Ghidra the Three-Headed Monster if he was absolutely convinced it would add to the team’s win margin. Bonds, due to his toxic personality, of which his us/them mentality re: the press is a portion, may well seem to be in the end a net loss as a signing.

    Don’t get me wrong about my commentary re: sabremetrics. I firmly believe that a front office guided by metric principles has a leg up on the more “traditional” (whatever that term actually means) organizations; but there are times when metrics may not predict well. I believe Bonds is one of those cases.

  18. DMZ on February 29th, 2008 9:31 am

    The possibility subtracts wins? Because every player is possibly a bad influence.

    We’ve talked about the chemistry argument before, but the short version is that it doesn’t play into a team’s W/L total, and no amount of sabermetric analysis can quantify it because it’s not that significant if it exists at all.

    I’m seriously going to have to write up the chemistry post to end all chemistry posts and just cross-apply it all the time.

  19. marjinwalker on February 29th, 2008 9:53 am

    Even though I suspect that the media reports of Bonds’ jerky behavior are overblown, if the reports are indeed true, then that IS a factor. Haven’t any of you ever worked at the workplace-from-H*ll, with the Boss or Co-workers from H*ll? People who made the workplace so unbearable that you considered leaving — or even did actually leave — vowing that there was no way they could pay you enough money to stay in that dump?

    Ok, but I think that kinda misses the point of the post. It’s not that Omar thinks Barry’s a jerk (he implies otherwise– “Nothing against Barry”), but that it’s the media that is a distraction. So really, your rhetorical question should be– “Haven’t any of you worked in the workplace from H*ll, where the press and the media attention made you want to leave that job?” I have never worked in such a place; I imagine I would not like it, but if Omar is to be believed, he is relieved not precisely because Bonds was gone (he was known to stick up for others in the clubhouse against certain motor(cycle)heads, for example), but because of the press.

    Of course, that same press will probably return in, say, June and ask very different questions of Omar, like “did you think this team was capable, at the beginning of the season, of losing 100 games? Where wold you be if Barry were here?” Or even better, if by some miracle the Giants are a few games out (ha!) by July, won’t the Bonds issue be again a question raised by the press? Even in Bonds’s absence, he could “haunt” the Giants….

  20. Jeff Nye on February 29th, 2008 9:56 am

    I never ceased to be amazed by people who are willing to talk about chemistry as if it was a given, despite the lack of, well, ANY evidence that it has a measurable effect.

    It certainly doesn’t have enough of an effect that there is any way that adding Barry Bonds to the 2008 Mariners would end up being a net LOSS in wins.

  21. bakomariner on February 29th, 2008 10:00 am

    The chemistry issue isn’t valid…

    You think that the team will go out and lose because they don’t like Bonds?

    Richie: “I’m going to strike out now because Bonds is an asshole and I hate the media all over the clubhouse.”


  22. joser on February 29th, 2008 10:27 am

    Or did Eight Men Out lie to me as so many sports movies that are “based on true stories” have?

    They lied to you. So did the book on which the movie was based. John Sales (who I greatly respect — see “Lone Star”) was interested in a telling a good story, but it wasn’t necessarily what really happened.

    Read Derek’s book. Seriously, there’s a whole chapter on the scandal where he integrates and summarizes the work of all the other authors who have written about it (there are a lot more than you’d guess, and you can go read them for background if you want). Everybody likes John Cusack, but I don’t know that “Pushing Tin” was an accurate depiction of air traffic controllers either.

  23. Probablyright on February 29th, 2008 10:50 am

    Chemistry in baseball is about as important as chemistry in golf or single’s tennis. Plays are handled individually. There is a professional effort that affects the team. That is, guys that make outs by swinging at bad pitches or on bad baserunning hurt the team. Guys that don’t cover the ground they are supposed to or position themselves properly hurt the team. Relievers who refuse to throw a strike when the team is ahead 6 runs hurt the team. But this is all individual professionalism instead of chemistry. At the major league level, short of when the team is completely out of contention, one player’s individual professionalism is going to have minimal effect on another’s. Avoiding a critical mass of slackers is a good idea, but how many of those are in MLB?

  24. Peter on February 29th, 2008 12:35 pm

    Would Bonds be worth it at $10mil if he went to jail halfway through the season? It seems like half a season of him at that price would be a lot better than what most teams have at DH, but I don’t know where to get the numbers to find out.

  25. Karen on February 29th, 2008 2:32 pm

    A similar situation is going on with the Houston Astros and Roger Clemens.

    Clemens trailed along with his son Koby to Astros minor league camp, with the intent of pitching (for nothing, I might add) to the minor league hitters for 3 days this week.

    Immediately two things happened: the media descended on the Astros ST camp in a horde, and the Astros owner has been forced to 1) announce that Clemens is doing this for nothing, because he has not officially retired and his personal services contract hasn’t kicked in; 2) wonder out loud if Clemens will decide on one…more…year…of…pitching (and for whom); 3) voice concerns about the media attention being a distraction to the kids and to the organization, and 4) voice concerns about the effect a 23-year veteran’s split finger fastball is having on those young psyches, particularly when said pitcher says he’ll be pitching with more velocity when he comes back wearing his spikes… (and when said pitcher has been known to put a scare into rookies by buzzing them high and tight)

    Clemens apparently is oblivious to the effect his Mitchell-Report fallout is having to everyone around him — in his private life, and in the state of limbo his professional life is in — but is not so oblivious to the media impacting his own personal space.

    At least Bonds is keeping it simple; looking for a job, and staying out of the limelight otherwise.

  26. Probablyright on February 29th, 2008 3:45 pm

    Bonds isn’t worth $10 million for a half-season IMO, if the half season is the first half. If it’s the second half and a team is on the cusp, can’t think of a better way to spend $10 million. Doubt he’s going to jail anytime soon though, or ever. See Littman’s article on the MLB page on Yahoo Sports.

  27. MKT on February 29th, 2008 9:12 pm


    Ok, but I think that kinda misses the point of the post. It’s not that Omar thinks Barry’s a jerk (he implies otherwise– “Nothing against Barry”), but that it’s the media that is a distraction.

    True enough for Omar, but that was not the only point that Derek made; he also said this

    There’s a lot in the article about how Bonds is a jerk, a bad clubhouse presence, and then

    If those claims are false or exaggerated (which is what I’m inclined to believe), then they are obviously irrelevant or of little relevance. Most people here seem to believe that even if the claims of Bonds’ jerkiness are true, that’s STILL irrelevant because “chemistry doesn’t matter”.

    But how would you like it if your boss brought into the cubicle next to yours the biggest jerk in the world?

    Now I am not making a claim that this lack of chemistry leads to reduced wins. What I am claiming is simply the commonsense notion that you as an employee are going to be less inclined to keep working at that horrible workplace. Conversely, good chemistry can attract you, as Pettite attracted Clemens to the Astros (obviously that was not the only reason, the hometown advantage was probably more crucial).

    And that’s where I claim that chemistry matters — not in a direct impact on how well players play or a direct impact on wins and losses, but in an impact on the team’s ability to attract and retain players. We see this all the time when free agents weight various offers; obviously salary is a very paramount factor, but there are others that players look at such as hometown advantage, attractiveness of the city as a place to live, and who knows in Ichiro’s case maybe Nintendo’s ownership was a factor, or Sasaki’s success, or Seattle’s relatively substantial connections with Japan.

  28. Catherwood on February 29th, 2008 10:35 pm

    24, the people I’ve heard tossing it around (on ESPN, so caveat emptor) have suggested that any team picking up Bonds would a) pay him a tiny base salary, but with LOTS of incentives, and b) would have a major escape clause to the effect that if he has to go to court, the team’s off the hook for everything.

    And I also have heard several (again, ESPN) talking heads seriously saying the M’s SHOULD pick him up, for the obvious reasons: he’d put fans in the seats, and he’d be a DH who actually manages to hit it more than 120 feet now and then, something we don’t currently have.

    As for the chemistry stuff, I just don’t know enough to judge, but wouldn’t the team getting Barry B indicate to the rest of the players that by golly, they’re really going all out to win RIGHT NOW? Might that not outweigh whatever schmuckiness he might bring to the clubhouse?

    I’m sure that management won’t do it, because of the fear of negative publicity, but jeez, he’s probably still one of the best five hitters in or near the majors, isn’t he? If a team could get him and be able to dump him if it gets too hot, why wouldn’t they? Don’t they, as Herm Edwards says, play to win the game?

  29. joser on March 1st, 2008 11:13 pm

    Would Bonds be worth it at $10mil if he went to jail halfway through the season?

    Well, consult Dave’s Win Values post. Assuming I did the math right, and assuming Bonds duplicates his ’07 line… his wOB is a remarkable .453

    From there, we have to estimate how many plate appearances we think Bonds will get. Bonds only had 477 last year, playing when he felt like it; normal estimate for a starter is something like 600. So does he get 300? Less? More? Let’s take a nominal worst case scenario and assume he has half the PAs he had last year, so ~240. Taking that and applying the DH positional adjustment, he works out to something like 3 wins above replacement value. Now, quoting Dave

    MLB as a whole is paying about $4.4 million per win above replacement in the free agent market, and we know a league minimum player makes about $400,000, so (Win Value * 4.4) + .4 will give you the player’s dollar value in terms of wins added for the upcoming season.

    So Bonds is worth 3*4.4+.4 = $13.6M even assuming he gets half the plate appearances he had last year.

    So, yeah, strictly in on-field production (and assuming he hasn’t declined significantly) even half a year of Bonds is worth $10M. If you get more out of him than that, it’s gravy.

  30. BigJared on March 2nd, 2008 10:25 am

    In the simplest terms:
    Vidro or Bonds, which would you rather have?

    Vidro as a DH is just an awful joke.

  31. Probablyright on March 2nd, 2008 1:04 pm

    Put it this way, Bonds would accept a diminished skills clause in his contract that stated he could be released if either component of his OPS was less than Jose Vidro’s after one month of the season. There’s just no way he could approach Vidro’s career numbers, much less last season’s slugging. If Bonds were hitting at that level, he would want to retire anyway.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.