Is Barry Bonds really getting a “fair hearing?”

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In the wake of yesterday’s Barry Bonds press conference, Ken Rosenthal talks about Bonds’ Hall of Fame case. Rosenthal opposes Bonds’ induction. He says this about those who do not:

I hate when some in favor of Bonds’ and Clemens’ candidacies disdainfully describe voters like myself as “gatekeepers of morality.” Guilty as charged, I guess, but I don’t see it that way at all. Maybe in five years I will view my current stance as too harsh. Opinions evolve, perceptions soften over time.

Bonds is eligible to remain on the ballot for 13 more years—he received 36.2 and 34.7 percent of the vote in his first two years, well short of the 75 percent needed for induction. The crowded ballot probably isn’t helping him any, but if Bonds cannot get elected by 2027, I doubt many will complain that he did not receive a fair hearing.

A “fair hearing” entails more than just being subjected to a previously set-up process. It also entails being judged by the same standards as everyone else who went before the tribunal in the past and the presence of impartial arbiters. Barry Bonds may be getting the BBWAA-allotted 15 years on the ballot, but is he getting a “fair hearing?” Based on those criteria, I think not.

Bonds is being judged by historically arbitrary standards, in that there are several PED users in the Hall of Fame (and worse) and the “character clause” which is keeping him (and others) out has never been applied by the BBWAA as it is currently being applied against him. In a fair system, precedent and deterrence are important concepts. The accused either knows or should know that whatever act he takes can and will be punished in such a fashion and has a chance to tailor his behavior accordingly. Bonds took PEDs, of this I have no doubt, but he did so at a time when doing such things had never been sanctioned in this way before. That is, unless I’m missing the fierce debates about Mickey Mantle and all of the players who took amphetamines.

Moreover, in his case, the judge (BBWAA voters) also happen to be his prosecutors. The same can’t be said for Pete Rose or Joe Jackson, who aren’t being barred by writers. In those cases it was MLB leveling charges and disabilities to their candidacy. Here, MLB is perfectly fine with Bonds (and Clemens and McGwire) being in the fold, even in uniform. The ones who would disqualify him are the same ones who have built the case against him. The writers.

I’m never going to claim that Barry Bonds was some angel. Nor do I believe that Barry Bonds being in the Hall of Fame (or not) validates him in some way that truly matters. I know he was great. You do too. Even the people who would keep him out of the Hall of Fame, like Rosenthal, know he was.

But if you do want to bring up the topic of his treatment before the Hall of Fame tribunal, it’s hard to say how his hearing has truly been “fair.” He engaged in behavior that was entirely acceptable within baseball circles for decades and is told only later that, as it applies to him, it is a Hall of Fame disqualifier.  And, even if he is getting a hearing, the prosecutor also happens to be the judge.  Against that backdrop, as far as I’m concerned, the trial can last 25 years and it wouldn’t be fair.

Pressure is on Phillies to finally spend “stupid money”

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For the Phillies, the term “stupid money” has defined their offseason. Coined in November when owner John Middleton said, “We’re going into this [offseason] expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.” While Middleton caught himself, adding, “We just prefer not to be completely stupid,” it was a rare promise — especially these days — by a team owner appearing to actually commit to spending money. Austerity measures, it seems, have been implemented by most other front offices across the league.

One of two bombshells finally dropped on Tuesday: infielder Manny Machado reportedly signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres. The deal also apparently includes an opt-out clause after the fifth year. The other bombshell, of course, is free agent outfielder Bryce Harper.

While the Phillies have been more strongly linked to the superstar Harper, the club’s connection to Machado could not be overlooked. Several prominent members of the front office, including president Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak, worked with Machado during his years in Baltimore. Upon learning today’s news, Klentak said (via Matt Gelb of The Athletic), “If the reports are true, this contract will exceed our valuation. Sometimes you have to walk away.”

The Phillies, mind you, spent the last five years actively and publicly rebuilding, which included a complete overhaul of the front office. All of that losing was designed to have the club be built up just in time for this offseason, featuring two mega-free agents in Machado and Harper. There are free agents every year. Few of them are of Machado and Harper’s caliber and at the age of 26. The free agent market has stagnated in recent years, in part, due to more analytics-focused front offices being hesitant to pay players lots of money beyond their prime years. Machado and Harper still have plenty of prime years left and, arguably, may not have even entered their primes yet. As far as free agency goes, there are no better bets than Machado or Harper.

So, the pressure is now on the Phillies to go get Harper and live up to Middleton’s “stupid money” proclamation. Despite adding J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson, and Jean Segura this offseason, PECOTA still projects the Phillies to finish tied for third place in the NL East at 85-77, just four games behind the projected first-place Nationals. The whole point of rebuilding is to avoid being an 85-win team, teetering on playoff contention. To these more analytically-oriented front offices, it’s either boom or bust. Failing to get Harper would not only make the spurt of activity over the last four months and the entire rebuilding scheme pointless, it would be a slap in the face to fans who endured the pitiful quality of play the club has shown over the last half-decade. Klentak, hired after the 2015 season, subjected fans to things like Jeanmar Gomez, closer; Rhys Hoskins, left fielder; and whatever the heck you call the last three editions of the starting rotation beyond Aaron Nola.

If the Phillies do fail to sign Harper, Klentak will likely say something similar to what he said today, that Harper’s ask didn’t match up with their internal valuations. There will be claims that the Phillies can still spend “stupid money” elsewhere in free agency, like going on a binge and signing Craig Kimbrel, Marwin González, and Dallas Keuchel. No one player left in free agency is a better bet than Harper and no group of players would impact the Phillies’ strength relative to their competitors more than Harper alone would. For the Phillies, it is now Harper-or-bust, and fans should revolt if the club opens the regular season not having signed a free agent superstar.