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August 12, 2007

Every Given Sunday

The Future Stock of Bonds

by John Perrotto

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The record has been broken, but now there is this question: Where does Barry Bonds go from here? The Giants left fielder broke Hank Aaron's all-time home run record this past Tuesday night by belting No. 756 off Washington's Mike Bacsik, who seemed a little too happy to play an ignominious role in history. Bonds added to that total in each of his next two starts, connecting off the Nationals' Tim Redding on Wednesday, and then Pittsburgh's Matt Morris on Friday. So, just how high can the 43-year-old Bonds raise the mark before Alex Rodriguez (presumably) takes aim at it? Can he get to 800?

"I don't know, I really don't know," Bonds said. "I've set the bar a couple of notches higher but I don't know how many more I can hit. I do know this much, it doesn't get any easier. I'm 43 years old now and it's not as easy as it looks. You just don't walk up there and hit one out of the park anymore."

Whether by artificial means or not, Bonds is not the typical 43-year-old. After a July in which he admits the pressure of chasing Aaron got to him as he hit .186/.429/.424 in 84 plate appearances, he looks poised for a big finish. "You can see the weight has been lifted since the broke the record, and he's the old Barry again," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He has swung the bat in the last few days as well or probably better than he has all year. He's in a better frame of mind now. He's not pressing anymore. He's back to waiting on his pitch to hit. I think you're going to see him end this season on a really good note."

There had been much speculation earlier in the season that Bonds would retire at the end of the year if he passed Aaron. But Bonds, energized by being on top of the home run chart, is already thinking ahead to 2008. "There is no doubt I'm going to play next season," Bonds said. "I know I can still be productive. I wouldn't play if I couldn't produce, but just take a look at my numbers. They are still good." Bonds is still clearly the Giants' biggest threat as his 49.7 VORP is more than four times higher than any of his teammates'; right fielder Randy Winn ranks second at 10.9. Bonds' rate stats of .280/.497/.590 in 392 plate appearances are also impressive, and he's hit 24 home runs.

"He's obviously not quite the player he was a few years ago when you expected him to hit a home run every single time he stepped up to the plate but he is still awfully good," said Pittsburgh manager Jim Tracy, who knows Bonds well from managing against him in the National League West from 2001-05 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. "You don't pitch to him with the game on the line, that's for sure. He is still extremely dangerous."

Bonds is also healthy again after being limited to just 14 games in 2005 while undergoing three knee operations, and then having elbow surgery at the end of last season. Bonds has played in 101 games this season, perhaps more than originally planned, but Bochy has taken to removing him in the sixth or seventh inning of most games recently in an effort to give him rest. "I think his legs have been staying a lot fresher by not playing him all nine innings," Bochy said. "He's held up very well by playing in a lot of games this year. I think he has answered any questions about his durability. He looks like he still has some good years left in him."

Where Bonds will spend those years is open to debate. Neither Giants General Manager Brian Sabean nor Bochy will discuss Bonds' future beyond this season, and he can become a free agent in November. However, Giants owner Peter Magowan has said the team is going to get younger in 2008 after what figures to be a second straight last-place finish in the National League West. That seems to indicate Bonds' 15-year run in his hometown is nearly over. "I don't know what's going to happen," Bonds said. "I have no idea."

Bonds became a free agent last winter and drew interest from only the Giants and Texas. Though the Giants were bidding against just one other team, they wound up giving Bonds a one-year contract worth $16.5 million in a deal that stunned many throughout the game. It seems few teams will be bidders when Bonds enters the open market in the offseason. Despite his 2007 productivity, he figures to eventually quit defying the natural laws of aging, regardless of whether or not he is getting help from modern chemistry. What will also scare suitors off is the continued threat of Bonds being indicted on perjury charges by a federal grand jury, now in its third incarnation, to determine if he lied under oath during the BALCO investigation when he claimed he only used steroids unknowingly.

Yet, one reason why Bonds is good bet to be a threat in 2008 is that he has one more statistical goal in mind. He wants 3,000 hits, and is only 83 away. "I want to get 3,000 because my godfather (Hall of Famer Willie Mays) got 3,000," Bonds said. "It would mean a lot me. It's one of the great milestones in the game."

Bonds' history suggests he is capable of doing whatever he wants. After a sub-par 1989 with Pittsburgh in his fourth major-league season, then-Pirates General Manager Larry Doughty dangled Bonds in trade talks. That motivated Bonds to set a goal of becoming the best player in baseball. The next season, he went on to win his first of a record seven NL Most Valuable Player awards. Angered that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had make him an afterthought during their 1998 home run chase, Bonds decided he wanted to become the game's greatest slugger. Though he allegedly used steroids to do it, Bonds set the single-season home run record in 2001 with 73. "When I set my mind to something, I do it," Bonds said with a smile.

  • While the Giants are destined to finish last, the news isn't any better across the bay, as the Oakland Athletics are out of contention in the American League West for the first time since 1998. Highly-regarded Athletics GM Billy Beane has also been taking some serious shots from former outfielder Milton Bradley, who was traded to San Diego in June after being designated for assignment.

    "I was pretty honest with them when I left," the mercurial Bradley told the Oakland Tribune. "I told them I had more fun playing baseball in Oakland than I ever have. Last year is last year, though. It just wasn't the same this year, not only in the clubhouse but on the field. It just seems like everybody-the coaching staff, everybody-was afraid of their own shadows. Everybody's scared to death of Billy Beane. Not me, though, and people could see that."

    Bradley's description of his final days with the Athletics also wasn't flattering to the GM. "I ran into him in the hallway when I came in for treatment (of a strained groin)," Bradley said. "He points his finger in my face and tells me, 'I need to talk to you in my office, and if I don't see you before you leave, your bags are packed.' Prior to that meeting with Billy the last day, the way he talked to me in that hallway was reason enough for him to get his teeth knocked out. So I told him and everybody else before I went in there, 'You better get your paramedic on duty, because if he talks to me crazy again, we're going to have a problem.' I'm a man. Nobody's going to talk to me that kind of way."

    Bradley also felt Beane's constant presence in the clubhouse was a distraction, particularly with a first-year manager in Bob Geren. Beane and Geren are close friends. "It was just one of those situations where you knew somebody was talking behind your back about something," Bradley said. "I'd say things out loud in the clubhouse on purpose, because I knew it would get back to Billy. I don't know what you call it, there was a pipeline going on there. So I'd say things on purpose just to see if Billy would bring it up to me, and he always did."

    Beane's only response was to say, "I always publicly stay above board on these things. We wish him well. It's disappointing he has this reaction, considering the fortuitous position he is in now with the Padres, and the contributions he's already made."

  • Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is deploying one of his old tricks, hitting the pitcher eighth in the batting order instead of the traditional No. 9 spot. The theory behind the move is to have another position player batting ahead of third-place hitter Albert Pujols after the first time through the order, so that the first baseman can have more RBI opportunities. La Russa started hitting the pitcher No. 8 on August 4, and the Cardinals are 4-4 and averaging 3.1 runs a game. Pujols has just three RBI while playing in seven of the eight games.

    La Russa used the same maneuver in the second half of the 1998 season when Mark McGwire was the third-slot hitter on his way to a then-record 70 home runs. The Cardinals went 43-33 after compiling a 40-46 record before the All-Star break, but increased their average runs per game only slightly from 4.9 to 5.0. McGwire hit 33 of his 70 homers after the break, but had only 60 RBI in the second half after driving in 87 runs in the first half. The primary reason for the Cardinals' better second half was improved pitching and defense, as they allowed 4.4 runs a game following the break after giving up 5.2 before.

    The Cardinals' second base platoon of Adam Kennedy and Aaron Miles are getting most of the at-bats from the ninth spot. That isn't new to Kennedy-he had more than 1,400 at-bats at the bottom of the order while playing in the AL with the Angels from 2000-06. "Initially it's a little shot to your confidence, to your ego," Kennedy admitted to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about being dropped behind the pitcher. "It's a little embarrassing at first, but it's not worth making an issue of it. Whatever it takes to get us going."

  • After surprising people in Wayne Krivsky's first season as GM by contending for the NL Central title until the penultimate day of last season, the Cincinnati Reds are battling with Pittsburgh to stay out of the cellar this year. Reds owner Bob Castellini indicated this past week during an impromptu press conference with reporters who cover the Reds that Krivsky's job isn't in jeopardy. Keep in mind, though, Castellini is perpetually upbeat and optimistic. "This is a good club, we just haven't shown it," Castellini said. "I've said that since spring training. Do I have rose-colored glasses? No. But you can give up. These players haven't given up. If you hang around these guys, you can feel the optimism." Asked about Krivsky, Castellini said, "Wayne is a plugger and just keeps after it. He has a lot of determination. Wayne is taking a studied approach to everything, and we're on the same page. He is doing a real good job and he is trying real hard."
  • From the rumor mill: The Cubs put a waiver claim on White Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik, but if they are unable to work out a trade with their crosstown rivals, they will look to acquire Oakland outfielder Shannon Stewart. The White Sox claimed Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada, but the Orioles pulled him back. Look for the White Sox to make a run at trading for Tejada in the offseason unless they successfully woo Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez to the South Side as a free agent. Boston outfielder Wily Mo Pena reportedly cleared waivers, and the Red Sox are likely to trade him for relief help after signing free agent outfielder Bobby Kielty to a minor league contract this past week. Atlanta hitting coach Terry Pendleton has strong ties to Kansas City GM Dayton Moore, and figures to be the front runner when the Royals begin their search to replace manager Buddy Bell at the end of the season. Despite the lack of progress in their win-loss record during his second season with Tampa Bay, Joe Maddon is expected to be retained as manager. Arizona will look to trade young outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Carlos Quentin in the offseason for a frontline starting pitcher. Both became expendable with the emergence of 19-year-old Justin Upton. Now that Mets left-hander Tom Glavine has reached 300 wins, speculation turns to his contract status; his deal expires at the end of the season. However, he won't make a decision on retirement until at least October. As much as they would prefer not to because of his defensive deficiencies, look for the Yankees to use Jason Giambi at first base more than Andy Phillips down the stretch in order to get more offense into the lineup. Oft-injured Minnesota outfielder Rondell White is almost certain to retire at the end of the season. Though Atlanta outrighted 49-year-old first baseman Julio Franco down to Class A Rome, look for him to be on the Braves' postseason roster if they make it. The Braves dropped Franco from the 40-man roster because they knew he would be easier to get through waivers than first baseman Scott Thorman.

    John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
    Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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