In 2007, Barry Bonds hit 28 home runs in 340 at-bats. He led the majors in both walks (132) and on-base percentage (.480). That .480 on-base percentage, it was the fifth-highest of Bonds' career. It was also a number no one other than Bonds has reached since Frank Thomas in 1994. (And before that, Mickey Mantle in 1962.) Bonds also led the majors in OPS that year at 1.045. You can make a strong argument that Bonds was one of the five best players in the major leagues in 2007, at the age of 42.
Even better: Bonds did this in a free-agent walk year. What better time to have yet another historic season -- one, by the way, in which you set the all-time record for home runs in a career -- than right before you hit the open market? Any team in baseball could use a player with an on-base percentage 100 points lower than Bonds, even in offense-happy 2007. It is difficult to find a larger market rarity than "guy who gets on base nearly half his at-bats willing to sign a one-year contract," but there Bonds was. He would play anywhere. "I'm not going to retire. I don't think that's going to happen," Bonds said. "I'll come back in July if I have to."
But Bonds had a problem. Fewer than three weeks after the last pitch of the 2007 World Series, Bonds was indicted on five felony charges, for claiming under oath that he never used PEDs. This was ultimately lowered to one count of misdemeanor obstruction (a charge Bonds is still fighting, by the way) but no one knew that then, and it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway. A few teams briefly kicked the tires on Bonds -- the then-Devil Rays looked into him, and Tony La Russa and the Cardinals probably would have signed him had team management not stepped in the way -- but it was easy to look at this particular free agent and conclude that he wasn't worth the trouble. (Even as some screamed collusion.)
To make sure we're clear on this: Barry Bonds was one of the five best hitters in baseball, still retaining his power and his otherworldly batting eye, willing to be a designated hitter and not holding out for a particularly high salary. And no one touched him.
So tell me again how you think Alex Rodriguez is ever going to play baseball again?
Alex Rodriguez, as you might have heard, has been suspended for the 2014 season. (Amusingly, he might show up at spring training anyway, in which case the Yankees might send him to minor league camp and order all their instructors to ignore him. That would be hilarious and I sort of desperately want it to happen.) That story still has a little bit left to play out -- notably, and perhaps most worryingly for those of us who have always felt baseball's true cancer isn't PEDs but labor woes, the MLBPA isn't exactly happy about MLB's victory lap on 60 Minutes Sunday night -- but the basic outline is clear. A-Rod can't play until 2015, when he is under contract with the Yankees for $61 million for three more years.
Now, that contract situation would seem to render the question of whether or not A-Rod is going to play again moot. Three years, $61 million? Teams, not even the Yankees, are in the habit of just flushing $61 million away for nothing. If a free agent had just signed a three-year, $61 million contract, it would have been the third highest AAV of the offseason, behind Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury. (And the fifth-highest total value overall.) That's not the sort of money people just let go. And the Yankees don't exactly have a plan outside of A-Rod for third base, in either the short-term or the long-term.
But jeez: They still have to cut him, don't they? The team's relationship with the player has mutated into the openly hostile; remember, the general manager told A-Rod to "shut the f--- up" just a few months ago, in response to Rodriguez's apparently galling excitement that he'd soon be recovered from his injury. (They're really gonna be checking with A-Rod all season and see how he's preparing for 2015? They'd block his number if they could.) A-Rod's scorched-earth policy in response to this whole business -- even if you find it understandable, which I kind of do -- torched any possible partnership with the Yankees, and maybe any other team.
No one's going to trade for A-Rod; the Yankees can't salvage any of this deal. The only reason not to cut A-Rod is if they actually think he will contribute something to that team from 2015-17. As a player, he might, though that's looking increasingly unlikely, particularly after a year off. But is whatever production he might provide possibly worth everything that comes with it? No, right? And that's ignoring that, oh yeah, if A-Rod hits six more homers, the Yankees owe him $6 million because of that home-run milestones clause in his contract. (He gets $6 million when/if he gets to 660, 714, 755, 762 and 763.) $61 million is in fact the floor. It's good money after bad.
In many ways, that contract is the only thing keeping A-Rod's baseball life alive. If you look at him through the Bonds context, it makes even less sense for anyone to sign him. Bonds' public esteem at the end of 2007 was at roughly the same spot A-Rod's is right now, maybe even higher, considering it's difficult to imagine ESPN airing a self-produced reality show about A-Rod the way it did with Bonds. And Bonds was still hitting: He was still one of the best players in the game. A-Rod is rather far from that, and will be even further after sitting out a season.
If Bonds had three years left on his deal with the Giants, you can bet the Giants would have kept playing him. (At the very least, Giants fans still loved him, which is more than you can say about Yankees fans' affections for A-Rod.) But Bonds didn't: He was a free agent. Once he hit the open market, no one wanted to touch him. And he was good. If the Yankees cut A-Rod - and again, it is just common sense at this point - is anyone going to take a chance on A-Rod? If they wouldn't with Bonds, why would they with him? A-Rod would have to be superhuman to be worth all that comes with him. And even then he might not be. After all, owners seemed to agree that Bonds wasn't.
There's still plenty of time for all this to play out. As of this moment, though? Officially, MLB suspended Alex Rodriguez for the 2014 season this weekend. But I bet he's done. I bet we never see him in uniform again. I bet they just got him out of the game for life.