Legal experts weigh in on Barry Bonds’ post-trial strategy

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A lot of people have been asking in the comments recently about whether the somewhat inexplicable jury verdict against Barry Bonds will be overturned, vacated, appealed, whatever. I’m not a criminal procedure expert so the specific mechanics relating to a trial judge’s ability to set aside a jury verdict are a little amorphous to me, and NBC doesn’t pay me enough to go hit the law library to figure it out. Not that I’d really want to anyway.

My sense, though, is that it’s a really tall order to have a verdict set aside — it’s certainly the case in civil trials, and I would guess that it’s harder in the criminal sphere — but that Bonds’ appeallate avenues are wide open and pretty, um, appealing given the bad jury instructions that were given on obstruction of justice and the unusual and, in my view, incoherent he-didn’t-perjure-himself-but-he-did-obstruct-justice outcome of the trial.

Today the New York Times tracks down people who know more about this stuff than I do and tries to hash it all out.  Worth noting — though they’re obviously biased — is that Bonds’ own attorneys considered the verdict the other day to be pretty good news all things considered. They they think that Judge Illston will vacate the conviction on May 20th and that Bonds will go free (you know what I mean).  Other legal experts believe that such optimism is “reasonable” but that appeal may be a more sure route to success:

Bradley Simon, a former federal prosecutor who specializes in white-collar criminal defense, said the defense might say that Bonds’s evasive statements to the grand jury did not rise to the level of obstruction of justice. He said that it was one of the arguments that make a strong case and that the issue might set off an appeal that would last for years.

“I think there’s a reasonable chance the judge will agree with the defense, but even if she doesn’t dismiss it, they have a really good appellate question,” Simon said. “No matter how you look at it, this is a great result for the defense because they have an issue that calls the conviction into question.”

I don’t think he means “great result” in terms of the conviction being great. I think he means things are set up well for appeal purposes, even if an acquittal would be preferable.  But hey, what do I know?

But even if I don’t know anything, my gut tells me that contrary to what one of the other experts says in the article, this case doesn’t seem likely to settle with a plea.  I am highly skeptical that the prosecution will go through a retrial of the other counts, and barring that as a legitimate threat, they have nothing to offer Bonds (i.e. they’re not going to come off of him admitting to one count). Bonds, in contrast, has to believe that he’s got a great shot on appeal.  As such, my guess is that this either ends with the judge setting this aside in May or after a lengthy appeal.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.