After the 2007 season, the Royals had finished last or second to close to it in most significant offensive categories.
Second to last in runs per game, on base percentage and OPS+. Dead last in homers, slugging and total bases. With a pitching staff and defense that gave up 4.8 runs per game – just a shade under the league average – it seemed like the Royals needed a boost in the offense to complement a good bullpen and a rotation that boasted Zack Greinke and Gil Meche (and Brian Bannister, who at the time had just finished third in Rookie of the Year voting).
The proposed solution was a bold one, even controversial.
Sign Barry Bonds.
On paper, Bonds looked like he could have been an immediate improvement to a dismal Royals lineup. In 2007, Bonds’s production in 126 games would have led the Royals in most categories. Despite knee injuries (and being past age 40), Bonds had more homers (28) in 126 games than any Royal all season (John Buck had 18 to lead the team). He was an on-base machine. In fact, he’d always been an on-base machine, and even at 43 years old going into the 2008 season, it was thought he could still be a force at the plate when pitchers were forced to throw to him (regardless of the means that allowed him to be such a threat, he still was a threat).
Surrounded by baggage and well past the age that teams would usually bring on a player, the rumors were there. It started with little mentions and later, more official acknowledgments. With the allegations of steroid use still in the air, obviously some fans were against the idea altogether, but it still made sense to some. Bonds would have immediately added a power bat to the lineup and could have been a force at designated hitter, even if just for one season.
On June 27, 2008, the Royals won to improve to 37-43 and had won six in a row. That same day, Joe Posnanski wrote that the Royals should revisit the Bonds question. There was an argument to be made that Bonds would be willing to play nice in order to improve his image, and a Midwest team playing the underdog wouldn’t be a bad spot for him. Also, the Royals were soon to unveil renovations at Kauffman Stadium and the spectacle alone combined with new surroundings could have been a boon for the team’s ticket sales (or, it’s possible the signing could have ticked off a large portion of people who would then stay away.) Dayton Moore had less than two years on the job and a move like this would have been a big splash.
As it turns out, the Royals never did sign Bonds. Nobody did. There were plenty of whispers of collusion, and it wouldn’t be hard to see how teams would be blacklisting Bonds. Despite his 2007 performance (enhanced or otherwise), nobody came calling. Maybe they just didn’t want the circus.
The Royals finished 2008 scoring less runs per game than in 2007.
The question resurfaced for the 2009 season as well. In spring training, Bonds hinted that he’d be willing to play for the league minimum just to get the opportunity to play. Bonds was under felony charges and teams weren’t going to overlook that. And, again, there was the issue of age. With a year off and set to turn 45, there were significant questions about his ability to pick right back up and play. There isn’t much of a precedent for 45-year-olds taking a year off and being effective (for one, how often do players of that age get the opportunity?), and there wasn’t much to show that Bonds would be much more productive than any other player.
Jason Whitlock went through the locker room to see what the reaction might be to a Bonds-in-KC situation, and the responses were surprisingly open to the idea. I could understand that they would be optimistic about the idea. Whitlock’s article was written at the end of April and the night it ran, the Royals improved to 11-10 while Zack Greinke had won his fifth game of the month and seen his ERA balloon to a gaudy 0.50. The 2009 season was also the year that the Royals traded off bullpen pieces to get Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs with the idea that they’d be set to contend in the division. It’s possible that with all the baggage, all the questions and a young team they thought was ready, the Royals simply didn’t think they needed Bonds on the roster.
Maybe they didn’t, but their average runs per game fell again.
In my memory, there was enough chatter about the potential signing that I think it was more than messageboard hope and rumor, but it never seemed like something the Royals would do. While Bonds may have still been able to hit the ball out, Billy Butler wasn’t the hitter he is today, Alex Gordon had improved but wasn’t a huge threat yet. David DeJesus had a good year but isn’t exactly lineup protection, nor was Mike Aviles. Bonds’s power could have been negated in the same way it had been in the year’s prior – just walk the guy and move on to the next one.
And the injuries and physical breakdown can’t be overlooked either. Even in his play in 2006 and 2007, he wasn’t the overwhelming monster at the plate he had been. He’d probably had hit 20+ homers in another season of play, but it’s not likely he’d have been in the lineup every game and may have been destined to be stranded on first quite often.
Finally, I think there’s enough sense of baseball history in Kansas City that would have led to fans being upset with such a move. There’s enough outrage over a reasonable signing of a guy like Jeremy Guthrie with no character questions around him in Kansas City. Billy Butler’s hit like crazy the last few years but sometimes looks surly, so he gets occasional backlash. Bringing in a guy with a rap sheet and multiple red flags? That’s not Kansas City.
No other team ended up signing Bonds and 2007 was his last season in the big leagues. He’s up for Hall of Fame election in January. Odds are, he won’t make it on the first ballot.