Monday, November 27, 2006

The Barry Bonds Dance: Giants Caught Dipping Manny

The SF Chronicle revealed today that the Giants are trying to trade for Manny Ramirez: "Sources on Sunday confirmed that the Giants are among the teams talking seriously to the Red Sox about their disgruntled, temperamental yet unquestionably talented slugger." Pretty shocking if it ever happens and some fans are scared about our farm system, what this would do to it. Obviously, if this ever happens, that would mean the end of the Bonds era in SF, as Manny only plays LF.

Tit for Tat

From past situations where a free agent tries to leverage the Giants into a big contract - Rod Beck, Dusty Baker - the Giants/Sabean surprised each of them with something unexpected - trading for Nen and cutting off discussions with Baker. Perhaps this is the Giants way of telling Bonds and his agent that there's other ways to skin the cat, so don't think that the Giants are going to be pushovers in the negotiations.

And that's good, it's time that people realize that no matter how crazed the salaries get, they are no indications of Bonds's worth in the market - competing bids by other teams are. And if no one is bidding or if everyone is "dissing" him by offering him "Frank Thomas 2006" type of contracts, then he is not worth much on the open market, which I would partially attribute to his inopportune comments made thus far, regarding his free agent status.

Agent Talking Hot Air, No Team Truly Interested

I think that Bonds's agent has been full of hot air and that he's not getting anything other than incentive type deals when his agent brags publicly about the offers he is getting. Especially with his blowhard "yeah, all 30 teams are interested in us" crapola and already the Rangers, Dodgers, Yankees, and Padres have publicly stated that they are not pursuing Bonds plus you know that small market teams like the Brewers, Pirates, Royals, Devil Rays, cannot afford Bonds, at least at the prices he has been quoting. Even the A's, who can use someone like him, after saying that they would love to employ him, then noted that the odds of him fitting into the team's budget to be pretty slim. The agent's fooling nobody by doing the negotiating publicly, though apparently he thinks that it will pressure the Giants.

Everyone knows that SF is where Bonds His Prickliness will be most comfortable and that it would take a huge premium to get Bonds to jump ship. Who will offer a huge premium with all these hanging over Bonds's head, ready to take him away from the team: 1) Balco investigation; 2) income tax evasion; 3) threat of injury, due to age and to past history; and 4) old baseball age, everybody will return to Earth one day.

Who will, when they know that Bonds's agent, one second after getting the call from the other team, will speed dial Brian Sabean and tell Brian, "In yo' face! I got an offer for $X million" and teams know that as long as the Giants get close enough, that Bonds will come back to SF, because there is a "comfort" discount (that most would call "hometown" discount, but he has made it clear that hometown don't mean much to him now; he does, after all, live in Beverly Hills now, with a cement pond and everything, plus said that he is not giving a hometown discount, so he can't go back on his word, can he?), and all the bid would do is just drive up Bonds's price to the Giants. While some competitors would say good on doing that, I think there are those who don't like the negatives that Bonds has brought to the game of baseball in the past few years and wouldn't lift a finger to help him, even if it hurts the Giants.

Two Choices: Giants or Retire

So Bonds' choices are, in my mind, two: re-sign with the Giants or retire. No team is going to approach him with anything more than an incentive based contract and he probably drove away any potentially interested teams with his "I don't do incentive deals" talk. Because, if you can at least get the dialogue started and going, then perhaps you can convince them to sign you at the salary you want.

But talking about getting "Clemens" money with no incentives clause as your opening move publicly just shoots your negotiating leverage down to the minimum, you just drove away the "lookie-lou's". That is what drove the Giants away from Aurilia the first time and appears to be what drove away Feliz this season: high, unrealistic salary and contract expectations. A free agent reduces the pool of interested teams by starting out with too high a price, much like listing a home for sale today: there is a limited pool of buyers, you cannot always afford to scare off prospective buyers with a high demand to start with.

Desperate Home Teams: Who Would Dare Sign Bonds?

Will any team become desperate enough to sign Bonds eventually? Again, risk-reward will tell them about all the risks that would entail and I don't see it happening. Plus the teams who could take that risk don't appear to be in the hunt for a player like him, they either are fully stocked or don't need the upgrade.

If a team is competitive and looking for that final piece or two, will they risk taking on Bonds's baggage and risk poisoning the well-oiled machine they currently got? In addition, he could continue degrading in terms of baseball ability and not be as good as he was in 2004 or even 2006, this is new ground, no matter how good Bonds hit. After all, Willie Mays HR production dropped precipitously after he turned 36 - who is to say that won't happen to Bonds too, he will be 42 next season and will turn 43 mid-season.

And if the team isn't competitive, will they be looking to spend a lot of money just to lose? No, they would only offer Reggie Sanders money that he got from the Pirates ($1M) when nobody would sign him. And Bonds ain't playing for chump change like that, he has too big an ego to follow Sander's path in free agency, jumping from team to team for minimum wage.

Only the Yankees were big enough to combine both money and ability to absorb Bonds baggage, but they are so full up on OF/DH that they traded away Gary Sheffield, why would they pick up Bonds? Plus I recall them saying publicly that they are not interested. And I don't see any of the other big city teams - Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Cubs - needing somebody like him and/or having space for him and his salary and his attitude.

Giants Only Yanking Bonds's Chain

So I think the Giants are just kicking the tires on Manny. Doesn't hurt to get semi-interested, talk some details of what a trade like that would cost the Giants in terms of talents and get the nice publicity that there are other ways the Giants can skin the LF cat. And, much like when Sheffield was asked by the Giants if he would work for under $10M, the Giants would likewise say "no thank you" to the Red Sox and move on.

I don't think Bonds or his agent will be scared into action, but this will certainly be in the back of their minds now - the Giants tried to sign Carlos Lee and they tried to trade for Manny, both players who only play LF, like Bonds - and hopefully spur them to play a little nicer and be more reasonable in their demands. I have to think that they are still asking for the moon and not finding any takers and will soften after New Year's. Particulalry since the Giants are not forced to offer arbitration in order to continue negotiating with Bonds.

In Sabean I Trust, For Now

I think fans' worries that Sabean will trade away the remaining talent in the prospect pool for Manny is overblown by their lack of confidence in Sabean's abilities: the Giants have frankly been in similar situations the past couple of seasons, where they need people just to be competitive, and did not pull the trigger then and gut the prospects - only prospects who ended up being not much more than prospects got traded, though Aardsma did well at the end of last season.

I think Giants management knows that the farm system is the key to the future, despite everyone's worries. Punting a few draft picks is no worse than holding off from buying a California Lottery Scratcher card - the odds are low that he will ever amount to anything; if you don't believe me, then take the time to examine the actual odds of finding a good player - not just a Pedro Feliz type of player - with a pick that the Giants have normally gotten during Sabean's tenure - overall picks 21-30 - and punted. Worrying about losing that pick is like buying a Scratcher and worrying about whether you lost a big winner when you cannot find that ticket. The odds are not that good.

Crystal Ball: Bonds to Giants, $7-9M

My guess now is that Bonds and his agent are waiting for the arbitration date to pass to see if losing a pick is enough to stop teams from negotiating seriously with them. I think they will find that it doesn't and will start ernestly negotiating with the Giants, after all the posturing by Bonds's side is done (not that the Giants haven't been posturing too, but I think it has been reactionary posturing), when they find no teams doing more than kicking the tires.

Meanwhile, I don't think the Giants will lowball Bonds - they need him as much as he needs them so they cannot afford to totally piss him off - but will offer him a contract that takes into account all the risks I noted above - if he wants more, he will have to take games-played incentives. Sure, the Giants could try to lowball him further and offer under $5M or even just $1 more than any other offer. But a pissed off Bonds does them no good either and he could chose to retire instead, I think he's a loose enough cannon, with a big enough ego, to pull that off, if the Giants truly do play hardball with him.

They still need his bat in the lineup. So they cannot afford to piss him off. I think that would put the contract in the high single digit millions of dollars range, $7-9M, for one year. There is no need to option him, else it could be another 2005 redux. Plus he most probably will degrade some and we should be able to sign him to an even cheaper contract should he want to return and we want him to return.

Other Giants News

Other news over the weekend is that the Giants are very close to signing Dave Roberts and Rich Aurilia, though both still need some work to finalize. Aurilia appears to be closer to the finish line but Roberts is talking positively about coming to the Giants so they are pretty close too. Obviously Roberts would take over CF, but right now there is no talk about Aurilia starting anywhere, there has been no starting position promised to him, though obviously with all the open starting positions where he can play - 1B, 2B, 3B - he probably thinks that his best chance to start anywhere is with the Giants.

In addition, the Giants are rumored to be talking with Mark Loretta, Dave Weathers, and Greg Zaun. Loretta would take over the 2B spot but I'm worried that the Giants will overpay him, I don't think he is worth more than what Aurilia gets and the rumor is a 3 years at $3M deal. I would rather offer Durham arbitration and hope he takes it. Lefty Weathers is the new Stanton, he has closer experience but wasn't as great at it as Stanton last season, so we could end up swapping with the Reds, they signed Stanton and if we sign Weathers. Makes too much sense - Giants need lefty and they need closer backup - to not happen. Zaun is a good defensive catcher who has been a backup but probably could start pretty regularly, which matches well with Alfonzo who is an offensive catcher who has been a backup and probably should stay one, at least for 2007. I would still prefer my Piazza suggestion, to boost the offense for 2007 plus free money for 2007, but would be happy with getting Zaun.


  1. Hello Martin -
    Well, so far, it's been a difficult, confusing offseason. As I have stated on every board I comment on, I am very much in favor of Roberts and Aurelia as they give a safety net and competition for Frandsen and Linden. Both of our young guys get a chance to beat out the older vets and show that they have earned a starters position. If the fail, a la Niekro, we are not in the position we were last year of having to go out at the trading deadline, give up a prospect, and get a repolacement - becuase the 'replacement' will already be here. I think I regard Loretta as more of the same. Regardless, these pickups protect the club and give both Frandsen and Linden in the vicinity of 400 ABs - more than enough to wrest away the starter's position - either sometime in 07 or in 08.
    Weathers and Zaun also make sense. I am particularly hopeful we get Zaun as, particularly if he ploays, say, 5 days a week, should provide good defense and decent offense.

  2. Hey Martin: Allfrank and I are on the same page. If, IF, the Giants force a Manny Ramirez deal, I sincerely hope that they're able to pry Coco Crisp away from the Red Sox. I know that I've been on a Crisp kick, but I really believe that 1) he's good, 2) will get better, and 3) will be leaving the Red Sox by next summer anyway (read: Jacoby Ellsbury). If it's just Manny for prospects, I'm cringing.

    Hope's not lost, Sabean can still construct a solid team here.


  3. 1. Manny Ramirez wouldn't accept a trade to the 55-win Giants with him and the loss of a pitcher.

    2. The question is whether Barry Bonds is willing to start the season on the 60-win Giants (assuming they sign Loretta instead of Durham, and Roberts is their Alou replacement), not whether the Giants will offer him. He is ALL they have and the only reason to go to a Giants game in 2007. I bet those tickets are flying off the shelves right now so that folks can go be first in line to see Randy Winn as the Giants all-star rep.

  4. Notice I wrote that "if" the Giants "force" the Manny deal. I wouldn't keel over if Manny came this way. But, I'd rather have Bonds for a year...until next year's crop of free agents. I agree with Martin that Bonds really doesn't have many places to go. However, the argument that Manny wouldn't fill seats is probably incorrect. If Manny was playing Lonnie-Smith-2007-type-defense in LF, casual Giants fans would be excited.

    Take Bonds, certainly.




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