Yes kids, it's true -- Barry Bonds will be activated off the 300-day DL on Monday, and apparently will be inserted directly into the starting lineup. I'm sure many of you have noticed that Bonds return comes just in time to face the division-leading Padres, and are already constructing elaborate scenarios in your mind where his return sparks a Giant hot streak which leads them into the playoffs.
Personally, I'd be perfectly happy just to see him look anything like the pre-surgery Bonds. That's the only real positive I see to his return at this point -- it will give us fans, and more importantly, Brian Sabean, a chance to see what we really have in Bonds. And that's really the only way anyone could formulate a decent plan for the construction of next year's team.
Those of you who've read my posts here already know I've been a big supporter of Sabean in the past. Circa 2002/2003, I might have even been his number one fan. I was growing out a goatee AND a mullet. I started calling my dog "Ned", and consulting him on all major decisions. My admiration had rushed past Fanboyville, headed straight for Zealotburg, with the brakes cut.
But even as I was writing a diary in this space (actually, a space just off to the right a little bit) defending him just before the season, I was acknowledging a negative trend had begun. The Russ Ortiz trade hamstrung the team in 2003, and may have cost them a shot at that long-awaited title. The unspeakable Neifi signing and the horrific Pierzynski trade had him looking not-so-genius-like either, even to me. The very questionable Matheny signing and the unbelievable Christiansen re-signing were signs he didn't learn his lessons about overpaying on the free agent market for deeply flawed players. The Hawkins trade a couple of months later displayed the fact that he didn't learn his lesson about how valuable good young arms can be in relation to highly-paid role players. Even the Winn trade, while improving this year's team, was another case of exchanging young, cheap talent for a well-paid veteran non-star. That's not a great policy unless you're knock, knock, knocking on championship's door, but you know Sabes -- always trying to win today, tomorrow be damned. And there's something to be said for that as long as Bonds is still dressing in a phone booth.
But if 2006 still has any chance of being The Year, Sabean needs to right his ship right now. First, he has to hope Barry is still Barry. But at least now he's got a chance to see what the big guy's got left in the season's last 20 days. Secondly, he must address the team's weaknesses - starting with the rotation and power production (preferably left-handed, preferably firstbase) - despite a lackluster free agent market. And lastly, he must decide just what kind of veteran/youth mix the team should have. Many of the young players (especially the pitchers, and double especially the relief pitchers) have performed well and are worth a longer look, but it's tough to win in October with a team half-filled with first or second year major leaguers. Of course, the budget may require just that.
It won't be easy, but it's less difficult than what Sabean did in 1997, turning a hapless team with no direction into a perennial contender.
COMMENT STARTER: The question is, does Sabes still have some magic left, or has he lost his mojo?