Worth The Gamble

By Rob Parker
Updated: May 8, 2008

DETROIT — The Major League Baseball Players Association has opened an investigation into the free-agent market.

It wants to look into why free agents Barry Bonds, Kenny Lofton and other players are still unsigned and whether it should file a grievance on the issue of collusion.

Bonds, however, shouldn’t wait for the union to write a report. If he wants to play this season, he has to force the issue.

In fact, Bonds has to go old-school and take a page out of Andre Dawson’s 1987 book on how to get a job when no one wants you.

Filling the seats

Bonds, baseball’s all-time home-run leader with 762, should pick the American League team he wants to be designated hitter for, give it a blank contract and have it fill in the numbers.

And that team could easily be the Tigers. They desperately need a left-handed bat in their inconsistent lineup, which has been shut out five times in the first 34 games. Last season, the Tigers were blanked three times.

The only thing Bonds — who earned $15.5 million last season with the San Francisco Giants — should ask for is an attendance clause. If he fills the seats, he should get a bonus. It would be hard for a team to pass up that offer, even with Bonds’ alleged-steroid-use baggage.

Without question, Bonds is back in play. His chances of playing this season got a big boost a month ago when a federal judge postponed Bonds’ perjury and obstruction of justice case.

The judge said the indictment was too flawed and needed to be rewritten.

There’s now a good chance the case won’t go to trial until 2009. It opens the door for a team to hire Bonds, knowing he won’t be taken away during the season.

And there’s no reason that Bonds shouldn’t be given an opportunity to play. Other players who were named in the Mitchell Report as players who used steroids are on current rosters, including the Yankees’ Andy Pettitte and the Astros’ Miguel Tejada. Bonds is no different from those players.

It’s not a question of whether Bonds can still play. Sure, he’s not an everyday outfielder any longer. But, even at 43, Bonds is in great shape and can certainly be productive in four at-bats a game.

Last season with the Giants, Bonds hit .276 with 28 homers and 66 RBIs in 126 games. He also had an impressive .480 on-base percentage, his best since 2004. Those aren’t numbers of a guy who is finished.

And the Tigers, in last place in the AL Central, need a spark.

Good fit for the Tigers

Along with a left-handed bat in a mostly right-handed lineup, Bonds, who is close with manager Jim Leyland, could bring some much-needed toughness as well. All it would take is some cash and sending Matt Joyce back to the minors.

Plus, Gary Sheffield and Bonds would have to kiss and make up. And with so much on the line — winning a World Series with the second-highest payroll in the majors — Sheffield would let the past stay there.

Bonds not guilty

Whether you like or dislike Bonds, he hasn’t been convicted of anything. He should be allowed to play like everybody else who has been tarnished by this scandal.

If Bonds is unemployed because he wants too much money, that’s one thing. But if it’s not about that, it’s simply not fair.

If Bonds really wants to get to 3,000 career hits like he has said — he’s just 65 short — he has to take this drastic measure.

In Dawson’s case, he was desperate. The Cubs took his blank contract and filled in $500,000 as a base salary. There was also $250,000 in incentives if Dawson made the All-Star team, started the All-Star Game, or won the National League MVP.

Dawson accomplished all three and enjoyed what might have been his finest season. He hit 49 homers and was named NL MVP, even though the Cubs finished in last place in the NL East.

For sure, no one is expecting Bonds to have that kind of season. But he can still hit and help a team.

Bonds can’t wait any longer. He has to make the move. And Detroit would be perfect.