Moises Alou is 41 years old.
In baseball terms that's old, but age is never the issue with Moises in a couple of different ways. He will always have the bat speed of a 25-year-old and the physical resilience of a 55-year-old — a 55-year-old leper in a minefield. He's out until May, and if you really believe May means May when an Alou return is what's being discussed, you've apparently forgotten all about last year. (Which I acknowledge wouldn't be a bad idea.)
Between now and Moises' return, the Mets will apparently fill the left-field job with some combination of Endy Chavez, Angel Pagan, Damion Easley and Marlon Anderson. Oh boy. Endy is a superlative defender and dear to our hearts, but he's a fourth outfielder who'll be exposed — as he has before — as a regular player. Pagan is much the same player, with less superlative defense. Neither Easley nor Anderson is a natural outfielder or likely to develop into much of one. And there's no help in the pipeline — Carlos Gomez and Lastings Milledge are gone and Fernando Martinez isn't ready to arrive.
The Mets have a young core, but they also have a fair number of key players (Delgado, Castillo, El Duque, Pedro, Wagner) that are old and/or infirm, making the stakes especially high for this year. The difference between the NLCS and the World Series was agonizingly small in '06; the difference between ignominy and the playoffs was agonizingly small (as well as just plain agonizing) in '07. Given the state of the NL East in 2008, we could easily be looking at the wrong side of another razor-thin margin this year — only to find ourselves with a team that's forced to retool in '09. In a situation like that, in the right spot, seems to me that you go for it — especially if the going for it doesn't demand an enormous commitment.
What does going for it mean? You probably guessed already: employing Barry Lamar Bonds.
Buster Olney started the talk; since he works for ESPN, that turned this into a story. Witness David Lennon addressing it today.
I know, I know: Barry's 43, has Castilloesque knees, is being pursued by the federales and is, well, a jerk of rather astonishing dimensions. But his on-base percentage last year was .480. He hit 28 home runs. He slugged .565. That's a heck of a replacement for Alou, let alone Chavez/Pagan.
There are all sorts of objections, I know. (Emily's reaction: “What? Do you want Clemens to pitch, too?” No, I don't.)
What if he gets hauled away in a paddy wagon? Well, then we're back to Pagan and Chavez — which we will be anyway when in July or August Moises pulls a hamstring or falls out a window or whatever insane thing will inevitably happen to him.
But isn't he awfully old and a lousy left fielder? Indeed. You also just described Moises.
What about the effect on clubhouse chemistry? Chemistry? Really? Last year's team spent four months playing bored, lackadaisical baseball when they weren't needlessly provoking umpires and pissing off the other team. That's not exactly the clubhouse chemistry you figure out how to bottle. Lennon quotes one veteran as saying he wouldn't want to be “answering for Barry all the time.” Fine, Mr. Veteran — let's talk some more about how you were two games under .500 after Memorial Day. That sound better?
Bonds knows this would be his last go-round. He knows — or, one presumes, would quickly find out — that there's no room beneath Shea Stadium for a row of lockers and a recliner and a pack of hangers-on. The prospect of his own baseball mortality isn't going to turn Bonds into Cal Ripken on a farewell tour — he wouldn't be Barry Bonds if he contained such possibilities. But he's no longer the man who held the San Francisco Giants hostage, and it's lazy to automatically make comparisons to that.
Would Bonds be a mercenary with a noxious relationship with the media and a difficult relationship (I'd guess it would equal parts cheers and boos at first) with the fans? Well, yeah — he's Barry Bonds. But we're not talking about bringing in Bonds through 2012 and making him the face of the franchise. We're talking about a one-year deal, with all the escalators and escape clauses you can imagine, and if Barry finds that beneath his dignity he can go back to swatting away court orders. His name and ours wouldn't be tied together for eternity — that link would be more the stuff of last-campaign trivia, like Babe Ruth as a Boston Brave or Hank Aaron as a Milwaukee Brewer. (And like you were going to remember the late-aughts as the Moises Alou era, anyway.)
I'll confess to complicated feelings about Bonds — two years ago I called his story the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy, and while I don't like him and will never like him, I'll stand by that. Part of what motivates me, I confess, is something I know must motivate Bonds: He has 2,935 hits. For a lot of fans, Bonds's 762 home runs will always come with a king-sized asterisk. Three thousand hits, though, would be harder to dismiss. I don't want that goal for Bonds's sake — I don't particularly care what he wants, or think he deserves any sort of reward for anything. But he's a player we're going to be discussing and remembering and arguing about for our entire lives, and I do think we'll come to regard him somewhat differently, as we get more of a grasp on the steroid era. We won't necessarily regard him any more kindly than we do today, but we will look at him differently.
Is he a cheater? Only the most-committed fantasist would say otherwise. Was he the best cheater in an era of rampant cheating? I bet that description will come to fit Bonds. A player with Hall of Fame numbers if he hadn't cheated? That will come to fit him too. With that in mind, it makes me uneasy to think he'll be kept short of a milestone because he was blackballed and made the scapegoat for an epidemic of cheating. It's not unfair — Barry's karma is pretty godawful — but somehow it doesn't sit right with me.
And more simply: He wants at least 65 more hits. We could use those hits on our ledger. He wants a ring. We want a bunch of those too. He's a left fielder, and still a pretty good one, all things considered. And man could we use a left fielder.
I know it's not as simple as that. But given everything at stake and the alternatives, I think I'm willing to live with a year of it.