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.

Six of seven players decline $17.9 million qualifying offers

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Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu was the only one of seven eligible players to accept his $17.9 million qualifying offer. Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, Craig Kimbrel, Patrick Corbin, Yasmani Grandal, and Dallas Keuchel each rejected his, officially making them free agents. Teams that had their QO’s rejected will recoup a draft pick once the player signs elsewhere.

That Harper rejected his QO comes as no surprise, as he is expected to strike perhaps the largest free agent contract in baseball history. Though the free agent market has been less lucrative lately than in previous years, the combination of Harper’s elite talent and his age — he’s only 26 years old — makes him a primary target for more than a handful of teams. Harper reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million contract extension offer from the Nationals, so that would seem to be a baseline.

It is also not surprising that Kimbrel, 30, turned down his QO from the Red Sox. Despite a so-so showing during a championship run, Kimbrel is still young and talented enough to land another lucrative contract on the free agent market.

Keuchel bet on himself in turning down the Astros’ QO. He’s been solid since winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, owning a 3.77 ERA across 83 starts over the last three seasons. However, he turns 31 years old at the beginning of 2019, and his already mediocre strikeout rate declined even further this past season, so there may be some skepticism about his ability to perform over the course of a multi-year deal. Keuchel will still get one eventually, but his market may be slower to develop.

Pollock, soon 31 as well, will be the outfielder most coveted once Harper is off the market. When he’s healthy, he’s a dynamic five-tool player. However, Pollock hasn’t played in more than 113 games in a season since 2015, so that may be a red flag. Pollock ended 2018 batting .257/.316/.484 with 21 home runs, 65 RBI, 61 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases in 460 plate appearances while playing above-average defense according to various defensive metrics.

Grandal, 30, could’ve gone either way with his QO, but ultimately chose to decline. He had a disappointing postseason, both offensively and defensively. Given how humans are prone to recency bias, it stood to reason that his October performance could have hurt his market. The catching position, however, is rather weak and Grandal stands out in a market that is otherwise focused on Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. Grandal did swat 24 home runs with an .815 OPS in 140 games for the Dodgers this past season.

Corbin, 29, was the most obvious QO decline after Harper. The lefty is coming off of a career year, finishing with a 3.15 ERA and a 246/48 K/BB ratio in exactly 200 innings. Corbin is the best free agent pitcher on the market this offseason. The Yankees have been seriously linked with Corbin even before the season ended.

Ryu likely chose to accept his QO because of his age and injury history. It would have been a gamble to pursue a multi-year deal. He did, however, make 15 starts during the regular season to the tune of a 1.97 ERA with 89 strikeouts and 15 walks in 82 1/3 innings. Those are great numbers. And most clubs would have been smart enough to look beyond his 5.21 ERA in the postseason, which has more to do with a leaky bullpen than his own personal failings. Still, it’s hard to fault Ryu for playing it safe and taking the guaranteed $17.9 million for one year.