So here we are at the quarter mark of the 2008 season. The time of the season when General Managers take a step back to look at what they’ve assembled. It is now that teams begin to decide whether or not they’re going to be legitimate contenders as the season wears on.
Once that decision is made it’s up to the GMs to determine what the next course of action should be. If the team has decided it’s not likely to contend; the next move is generally a sell-off of high-priced veterans with an eye toward the future. However, if the team believes it has a shot—that’s when things get interesting.
Coming into the 2008 season the Mariners, Blue Jays and Tigers were all thought to be potential contenders and in the case of the Tigers, one of the odds-on-favorites to win the World Series. Right now all three are struggling offensively and could use a serious shot in the arm (pun VERY MUCH intended) by the name of Barry Bonds.
I’m going to take a look at all three teams and how Barry Bonds does or does not fit into their playoff hopes going forward.
The Mariners entered 2008 on the heels of a successful campaign that led to the resigning of Ichiro Suzuki and saw the team improve the rotation with the additions of Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva. Many picked the Mariners to unseat the Angels atop the AL West on the back of the retooled pitching staff, strong bullpen and a solid offense. Unfortunately, someone forgot to inform the offense.
The offense currently ranks 23rd with a .250 average and 29th with an on-base percentage of .309. These low totals explain why the team has only amassed a whopping total of 165 runs thus far.
The team is predominantly right-handed with lefties, Ichiro and Raul Ibanez, and switch-hitter Jose Vidro being the only regulars to mix up the parade of right-handed hitters. Bonds is–without a doubt–the best lefty on the market and even at age 43 can still produce at a high level both in terms of power and on-base percentage (28 homers and .480 OBP in 340 at-bats in 2007).
The Mariners—who are currently ten games under .500 and 8 ½ games out of first in the AL West—have already made attempts to shake up the lineup by jettisoning Brad Wilkerson and Greg Norton and replacing them with minor league standouts Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien. There were discussions regarding Frank Thomas, when the slugger was released by the Blue Jays in late April, but Thomas’ decision to rejoin Oakland quickly put an end to any chances of the Big Hurt bringing his Hall of Fame credentials to the Pacific Northwest.
Why It Will Happen: Current DH Jose Vidro is “hitting” .193 with two home runs and a .244 OBP, Bonds could hit better than that right-handed…and blind-folded. Needless to say Bonds would be an immediate upgrade and would love having Ichiro on base in front of him all season long, almost as much as Ichiro would love having Bonds batting behind him.
Why It Won’t Happen: The oft-rumored Ken Griffey Jr. to the Mariners deal seems more likely than Bonds landing in Seattle. Griffey would provide the offensive upgrade and the left-handed bat the team so desperately needs. Throw in the fact that he is a hero in the Emerald City and it only makes sense for Griff to return to Seattle for a storybook ending to his career.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
As is the case every season in recent memory, the Blue Jays entered the season as a popular “dark horse” candidate to make a playoff run in the powerful AL East. The team boasts one of the best rotations in all of baseball and was supposed to have a dynamic offense with Alex Rios, Frank Thomas, Aaron Hill and the returns of a healthy Scott Rolen and Vernon Wells.
What the Blue Jays got was one of the lowest scoring offenses in the American League. The Jays currently sit at 153 runs scored with a .255 team average. As a result of the low output (and the unattractive vesting option he was closing in on) Frank Thomas was released in late April and Seattle cast-off Brad Wilkerson was brought in along with the streaky, yet underachieving Kevin Mench from Texas.
The Blue Jays currently sit in last place in the AL East, five games out of first-place and the only reason they’re that close is because the pitching has been stellar thus far. Without some sort of offensive wake-up call the Jays can right off contending in 2008 and potentially beyond with the window closing on much of the team’s aging core.
The Blue Jays have gotten sufficient results from Matt Stairs, but Adam Lind is overmatched and belongs in Triple-A. Wilkerson, Mench, Shannon Stewart and the plethora of other outfielders the Jays have sent out are not getting it done. The team would be wise to move Stairs to left and put Bonds in the DH slot and use both Bonds and Stairs to split up the right-hander heavy core of Wells, Rios and Rolen.
Why It Will Happen: Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi has shown that he’s not afraid of shaking up his roster. He’s already made a handful of transactions this season in an attempt to improve his struggling offense and as a student of Billy Beane’s on-base percentage philosophy, Bonds is the perfect fit for this squad and wouldn’t deal with nearly the level of media scrutiny north of the border.
Why It Won’t Happen: The Jays are a middle-of-the-pack spender and don’t figure to increase their payroll. Signing Bonds, even at a discount, wouldn’t be in line with the team’s spending philosophy. The Blue Jays are far more likely to deal from their strength, young pitching, to acquire a slugger such as Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, etc…rather than spend to bring in Bonds.
Ask just about any baseball “expert” and coming into the 2008 season the Tigers were neck-and-neck with the Red Sox as the odds-on-favorite to win the World Series. Now, with a month and a half of the season in the rearview mirror the Tigers are mired in last-place in the American League Central, four and a half games behind the overachieving Minnesota Twins.
What makes things even more interesting is that the Tigers vaunted offense, which sputtered out of the gates, has finally gotten on a role and the Tigers are in the top five in the AL in team average, on-base percentage and runs scored. The Tigers are getting destroyed by their own overrated starting rotation and the one thing that most experts overlooked in the preseason, the absolute void that is a bullpen.
Detroit currently ranks dead last in ERA (5.03) and saves (5). They are also the only team in the AL without a complete game and one of only two (the Mariners) that have yet to produce a shut-out.
So why am I recommending the Tigers bring in Barry Bonds when he surely can’t help where the team needs him most? What the team lacks—offensively—is a consummate presence at DH and another reliable lefty bat. Bonds could fill both of those voids.
Gary Sheffield and his ailing shoulder have moved back to the outfield with the end of Jacque Jones’ month-long tenure in left-field. That leaves a rotation of aging stars and overweight sluggers like Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez, Ivan Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera to take their turns at DH and super sub – and dispatched starter – Brandon Inge to fill-in around the diamond. The logical move would be to bring in Bonds, plug him in at DH and watch the lineup continue to rake in an attempt to overcome the inequities of the pitching staff.
Why It Will Happen: The Yankees have proven that a team can make the playoffs without a pitching staff and the Tigers appear to be built in the same mold. With a rapidly aging core and much of the youth sold off in offseason the Tigers’ window to win a championship is closing fast. Throw in the fact that Jim Leyland has proven he can manage Bonds in the past, the Tigers appear to be a perfect fit.
Why It Won’t Happen: The offense is set and with Brandon Inge around the team can afford to appoint Carlos Guillen and Miguel Cabrera as the full-time DHs and let Inge get plenty of at-bats whilst upgrading the defense at third-base. The priority right now is pitching and guys like Joe Blanton, Rich Harden, Huston Street, George Sherrill, etc are more likely to be on the Tigers’ radar than another aging slugger for their collection.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
It seems that the Royals have put together a respectable rotation and a solid bullpen. What the team lacks is someone to generate runs. The Royals currently own one of the lowest OBPs in the AL as well as the fewest home runs and runs scored. Kansas City would be wise to give Billy Butler a first-baseman’s mitt and give Barry Bonds the DH-role for as long as he’d like to crush baseballs in the Midwest summer heat.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
Sure, sure they’re in first in the AL East and sure, they’re not expected to compete all season long, but let’s throw logic out the window and just say…what if. What if the Rays brought in Bonds and let him DH all season long. With the likes of BJ Upton and Carl Crawford on base in front of him and sluggers Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena behind him in the lineup—I feel like that offense could hang with the Red Sox and Yankees until September.
NEW YORK YANKEES
This isn’t a logical move for a team that is lefty-heavy and possess about half-a-dozen DHs already, but with Hank Steinbrenner at the helm, anything is possible.
NEW YORK METS
This is another move that doesn’t seem logical, especially given Bonds’ diminished skills in the outfield. However, a left-field platoon of Bonds and Moises Alou would allow Alou to stay healthy and would work to get them both sufficient at-bats throughout the course of an entire season. Also, the luxury of having Endy Chavez as a late-inning defensive replacement nullifies any damage they could do in crunch time while still allowing Willie Randolph to have one or the other on the bench as a pinch-hitter.