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There’s value in this Bonds

As baseball winter’s meetings begin in Nashville, the all-time home run king lurks elsewhere, unwanted. Who wants Barry Bonds? SportsBiz Spotlight by David Sweet.
Image: Barry Bonds
Though Barry Bonds raked in more than $15 million from the San Francisco Giants last season, he is more likely to accept a contract around $6 million for a final hurrah.Ric Feld / AP file

As baseball winter’s meetings begin in Nashville, sponsored by Bank of America (when even business meetings can lure corporate cash, no wonder MLB’s revenue is on the upswing), the all-time home-run king lurks elsewhere, unwanted and unloved.

In a weak free-agent market, Barry Bonds has received no nibbles. Of course, this is not a surprise, given that his off-season has consisted of a federal  indictment on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. It’s hard to imagine that his reputation — marred by allegations of steroid use and a career’s worth of boorish behavior — could get worse, but it has. The indictment means the value of everything Bonds, from his trading cards to home-run balls, has fallen — along with his worth on the open market.

Controversial and despised the slugger may be, but at the same time, amid the maelstrom, Bonds does have value. And don’t be surprised if a franchise hires him at a bargain rate to play in 2008.

Let’s go to the numbers. At age 43 during the 2007 season, Bonds pounded out 28 home runs and batted a respectable .276. His number of walks alone (132) was impressive, and his on-base percentage (.480) topped the majors. Though he raked in more than $15 million from the San Francisco Giants last season, he is more likely to accept a contract around $6 million for a final hurrah. Teams pay a middling outfielder that salary these days, and there’s no doubt Bonds possesses more talent than, say, journeyman outfielder Jacque Jones.

The outfielder’s defense may be creaky, but Bonds would be an attractive investment for an American League team, where he could serve as a designated hitter. Any candidates?

  • The Oakland A’s across the bay from San Francisco would be a logical choice, but the team is on record as saying it has no interest.
  • The perennially bad Tampa Bay Devil Rays might get a boost by signing him; every home run he hits there would make history, the first of any sort for the hapless team. He would fill seats in the Devil Rays' grim stadium.
  • Maybe fans in Toronto would be more forgiving of Bonds than their American counterparts; after all, even though Canadian native and baseball great Ferguson Jenkins was arrested for cocaine possession, he still was inducted into the Canada Walk of Fame.

Would the bad publicity of his trial next season be too much of a detriment? His new team could hire a public-relations guru to try to put a positive spin on things (as Steve Forbes wrote in Forbes magazine recently, “Bonds didn’t violate existing laws or Major League Baseball rules,” a mantra that could be repeated in his new city). Other players sullied by rumors of steroid use, such as Sammy Sosa, have kept playing with less impact than Bonds. How about the missed games as he shuffles to a courtroom? Not being in the lineup for a dozen games would not be fatal, since Bonds would not be the go-to player on any team he joins anyway.

In a bizarre twist, the Mitchell Report, which is due out soon, might help Bonds. The report, lead by former senator George Mitchell, is expected to link more current and former players to the widening steroid scandal. For Bonds, his bad news is out there. If dozens of ballplayers previously not accused are revealed to have used performance-enhancing drugs, the spotlight on Bonds’ troubles would fade.

It is almost hard to believe an American sport faces this situation. Imagine Wayne Gretzky sitting on the open market in his final days, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Joe Montana, record-setters all. One would think a slugger of Bonds’ stature could have a yearlong farewell tour (like an Abdul-Jabbar), packing ballparks on his final visit and creating a big market for each home-run ball he swats after his present 762. Bonds calling a press conference to admit steroid use is more likely than that scenario.

Twenty years ago, Andre Dawson appeared at the Chicago Cubs’ spring training camp, hat in hand, and asked the team to fill out whatever number it would like on the contract, and he would play for that price. Bonds, desperate to add to his record and to try to win his first World Series, may end up following Dawson’s playbook. Whatever happens, don’t be surprised to see the indicted home-run king swinging for the fences again in 2008.