Friday, September 29, 2006

Bye Bye Bonds?

I was reading this article from the San Jose Mercury suggesting that the San Francisco Giants should not re-sign Barry Bonds for next year. I was driving to San Francisco on Sunday morning, listening to talk radio, and many of the callers were saying the same thing. The crux of the arguments is that the Giants will have to pay Bonds a lot of money, and if they do so, then they will not be able to make the many upgrades they need to change the team into a contender. The pundits go on to say that if they spend the Bonds money on free agents, then the team will be back in the playoffs. However, the pundits fret that the Giants ownership will be afraid that ticket sales will fall if the Bonds is breaking the home run record for another team. Of course, these guys are all wrong.

First off, the Giants are not going to contend next year anymore than they contended this year. They are 11th in the NL in runs scored, 11th in OPS, 9th in runs allowed, and 11th in ERA. They are not good at anything. The Giants are not an Alfonso Soriano away from contending.

But it gets worse. If the Giants add Soriano, they are letting go of Bonds. Now Soriano ranks third in the NL in runs created, just behind Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols. However, if you look at runs created per 27 outs, then he falls to 13th. That's still pretty good. Bonds is 24th in the NL in runs created, but is 4th in runs created per 27 outs. So when Bonds plays, he is a much better offensive player than Alfonso Soriano. Obviously he doesn't play as much because of his age, thus Soriano winds up creating more runs over the course of a season.

Now will Soriano be a much cheaper player to sign than Bonds? That seems unlikely. Of course he will be around longer, so one could say the Giants will be better in 2008 with Soriano on the team. However, it's hard to argue that they would be better in 2007. They won't be able to improve in other areas if they had Soriano instead of Bonds, because they'll spend as much money on Soriano as they would Bonds. Soriano will play in more games, but will probably not be as productive as Bonds on a per game basis.

The fact is that Bonds is the best player on the Giants. Yes, he's (finally) starting to show his age and is not as good as he was a couple of years ago. But he's still an elite player when he plays. It takes a lot of money to replace an elite player.

Now of course the Giants could sign some other players instead of Soriano, I just picked on him because that's the guy that is being targeted by a lot of the anti-Bonds crowd. So maybe several other players together could more than compensate for Bonds. It's still not going to be cheap.

Once you realize that Bonds is still the best player on the Giants, then you realize that the decision to sign or not sign is not just about him breaking the home run record. The reason the Giants have struggled is they have not produced any quality players from their farm system in recent years. There is Matt Cain, who looks like he's on the brink of becoming an elite pitcher. That's it though. Their best everyday players are all free agent signings, thus they are mostly very old: Ray Durham, Moises Alou, Omar Vizquel.

You can't buy good young players, you must produce them. Look at the NL's top run producing teams: Philadelphia, Atlanta, and New York. Philly has Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, both home-grown. Atlanta's old vets of Chipper/Andruw Jones happen to also be homegrown, but they also have several young homegrown hitters: Brian McCann, Adam LaRoche, and Jeff Francouer. The Mets are in some ways the exception, with highly paid free agent pickups like Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado, but they also have homegrown talent David Wright.

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