By Trevor Freeman
I am pretty sure that I approached this baseball season the same way every Oakland A’s fan did. Hopeful that our youngsters would be better than expected and that we would avoid the AL West cellar. Maybe it was because I approached the season with low expectations that I have all of the sudden been jolted by a 5-1 road trip and an 8-5 start to the season. If somebody had told me before the season that we would be 8-5 after playing Boston, Toronto and Cleveland twice, I would have told that person they need to dial back the amount of herbs they have been purchasing in the Humboldt County area.
It was after Saturday’s game against Cleveland that I got an energetic phone call from a friend who asked a million dollar question that I never even thought of. The question was, “Do you think we would sign Barry Bonds if we are in the mix in June?”
I thought about it long and hard. And my answer was…….how do we not go after Barry Lamar Bonds if our youngsters show that they are in this race for the long haul?
Right now our starting pitching has been excellent. Maybe it won’t continue that way but I have a sneaking suspicion that it could as long as Justin Duchsherer gets healthy and Rich Harden gives us 15-20 starts. The enigmatic Rich Harden turned in two quality starts before rediscovering his role on the disabled list. When he comes off the DL, it will be interesting to see if Oakland doesn’t just convert him to becoming a Sunday starter. Justin Duchsherer is coming off of the DL as well at the end of the month. Joe Blanton is a walking quality start who is morphing into a solid second starter. Dana Eveland and Gregg Smith have both looked great since coming over from the Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren trade and they aren’t even considered the best of that haul. Carlos Gonzalez is apparently a breathtaking outfield prospect who will force his way into the majors by July. As long as Chad Gaudin can repeat the season he had last year and the rookies can continue to be solid, the A’s may have a rotation that can continue to surprise.
The A’s bullpen is looking solid as well to start the season. Keith Foulke has taken a dip into the Fountain of Youth and has a 2.57 ERA through seven outings. Youngsters Santiago Casilla and Joey Devine (received from Atlanta in the Mark Kotsay trade) have been brilliant. The only real question marks have been Allen Embree and Huston Street. Street should come around. Embree on the other hand makes me cringe every time I see him warm up. He’s like the friend you have that every now and then gets a little too drunk and does something so completely inappropriate that either A) renders the current watering hole you are at off-limits forever or B) moves an entire group of females to write you and your friends off as an….ummmm….. bad investment because of him.
The biggest question mark for this team is the lack of a big bopper in the middle of their lineup. Travis Buck and Daric Barton are both playing great baseball but they seem to be line-drive hitters who will hit around 20 dingers. Kurt Suzuki feels like somebody who will settle in as a .280-290 hitter and belt between 15-20 homers. Eric Chavez is what he is. Take the 25-30 homers and the 80-100 RBIs and prorate them for the amount of time he plays this season. Ryan Sweeney has been a revelation in centerfield, but he is another youngster that you aren’t quite sure what you are getting in a full season. I loved the Emil Brown and Mike Sweeney pickups as both those guys bring a little pop from the right side. Bobby Crosby finally seems to be realizing his potential but nobody knows what the ceiling on that potential is. Finally, Mark Ellis is a highly skilled defensive player with a respectable stick.
When you look at this lineup on paper it screams out for a lefty, power-hitter. It is almost like we designed our lineup with that hole in it. If this team stays in the race through June, the question shouldn’t be “will we go get Barry Bonds”; it should be “how do we not go get Barry Bonds.”
Say what you want about Barry Bonds and the national media has. However Barry Bonds is still a Bay Area deity. The Serra High product was a multi-sport star that has always been viewed by many as a hometown kid done good. Booed in every other park in America he has always been cheered by Bay Area fans. Even though Bonds played for the rival San Francisco Giants, he received a standing ovation in Oakland when he parked 714 on May 21, 2006. That home run was at the height of the steroid accusations and he still received rousing cheers. In this offseason, when Oakland briefly flirted with Bonds, I would bet 87.8% of all Oakland fans were quietly rooting for the signing to happen. Signing Bonds makes more sense from a fan standpoint for the Oakland A’s than any other team in baseball (other than the Giants).
From a monetary standpoint it also makes sense for my beloved A’s. There is no guy whose projected production and price make as much sense for the A’s that is out there. Last year Bonds had an OBP of .480, which is absolutely incredible and belted 28 home runs in 340 at bats. Bonds did that last season playing in the outfield for the Giants. In Oakland, I see him in a platoon DH situation with Mike Sweeney. Sweeney plays against lefties and Bonds against righties. It makes perfect sense since both guys have a history of problems staying on the field. You could use Bonds as well as a late game pinch hitter in games that Sweeney starts. You preserve Bonds by playing him less and you always have the fear of Bonds in big games. Even last season, Bonds was drawing walks based on the outright fear pitchers have of throwing him anything decent.
Signing Bonds really comes down to two factors. Is your team truly in the race and would signing Bonds put you over the top and into the playoffs and is your GM gutsy enough to pull the trigger? Luckily for Oakland, Billy Beane is the kind of guy who always doubles down on ten or eleven. So really it comes down to how good is this Oakland team. Is this strong start against AL contenders an aberration or is it a sign of things to come? I’m not sure, but I do know one thing. If on June 1st, we are in first place in the AL West we need to pick up the phone and go for it. Barry Lamar Bonds may have baggage but he also is the best slugger of our generation.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]