Bonds: Harper should diversify his game to adapt to walks

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WASHINGTON — When pitchers were intentionally walking Barry Bonds more than anyone else in baseball history, his father had simple message for him.

“It’s your fault,” Bobby Bonds told his son. “You didn’t have to be this good.”

That’s what Barry Bonds thinks when he sees Bryce Harper getting so many free passes to first base. But he also believes the Washington Nationals outfielder and reigning National League MVP needs to diversity his game if opposing teams are going to take the bat out of his hands.

“He’s going to need to learn to steal bases and get to second base and make his teammates’ job easier,” Bonds recently told The Associated Press.

The Chicago Cubs walked Harper 15 times during a four-game series earlier this month, including four times intentionally, and he scored only three runs. Bonds, baseball’s intentional walk king, said too much was being made of Ryan Zimmerman‘s struggles batting behind Harper as the Cubs swept the Nationals.

Teammates had bad series hitting behind Bonds, too, when he was intentionally walked. But Bonds remembers what he said to his children during his playing days.

“My kids used to tell me, `Daddy, I’m sorry they walk you all the time,”‘ said Bonds, who led baseball in intentional walks 12 times and tops the all-time list with 688. “I said, `Yeah, but my job’s now to steal.’ I could run then, so I had to steal bases and my job’s to score runs and keep the pressure on the team regardless of what happened. But I had a different game than him.”

Bonds stole 514 bases during his 22-year major league career. Harper has 43, and it’s an element that Bonds says would make the 23-year-old a five-tool player.

That doesn’t mean that Bonds believes Harper is doing anything wrong.

“Bryce Harper can only do what his job is,” Bonds said. “If they walk him, his job is to go to first base and then run bases. His teammates’ job is to drive him in. Bryce Harper can only do what he’s capable of doing and what he’s given the opportunity to do.”

After the final game of the walk-this-way series against the Cubs, Harper said he was walked a lot during high school and that he can’t get frustrated if the treatment continues.

“You’re getting on base, and that’s what your team asks you to do,” Harper said. “If I can get on base every time I get up there, I’m doing it the right way. If it’s a hit, a walk, I get drilled or whatever. Get on base. Maybe steal second, steal third and get it done.”

Dusty Baker is the common thread between the two superstars, as he managed the San Francisco Giants during Bonds’ heyday and is now managing Harper with the Nationals. Baker said the onus is on Harper’s teammates to make opponents pay for all the walks.

When Bonds was playing, Baker didn’t have to give him any advice because he could lean on his father’s and godfather Willie Mays’ experiences.

“I knew how to deal with it,” said Bonds, now the hitting coach for the Miami Marlins. “I had my own father in me. I had my dad and Willie. I had enough pressure with those two that I didn’t need to add more with Dusty.”

Harper has plenty of pressure on him as the face of the franchise and one of the best players in baseball, but he can only hit what he’s thrown. Bonds became baseball’s home run king with 762 despite walking a major league-leading 2,558 times.

Bonds estimates that he lost four or five years of at-bats from walks. Still, if he were pitching to Harper, he wouldn’t give him much to hit.

“If I was a pitcher and I need to leave it in the ballpark, I’m going to pick somebody who’s going to leave it in the ballpark more than someone who has a chance to hit it out of the ballpark,” he said. “Not every time, but there will be a situation. Even me as a pitcher, he’s going to have to walk if it’s the game on the line.”

AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman contributed to this report.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.