If the call comes, does Theo Epstein pick up the phone?
From a pure baseball standpoint, it makes sense to reach out and snatch the receiver to his ever-ready listening ear. From the standpoint of everything else, just let it go to voicemail.
It's natural to conclude that Barry Bonds has noticed the suddenly gaping hole in the Red Sox lineup now that David Ortiz has been lost indefinitely with tendon sheath damage in his left wrist. It's probably pretty easy to figure out that Boston might be willing to seek replacement avenues should the relatively sunny forecast (out a month) turn into the dreary possibility of season-ending surgery.
That's not an avenue the Red Sox seem willing to go down just yet. But I wouldn't bet on Ortiz calling his shot at Yankee Stadium come All-Star time either.
Granted, this same team managed to survive nearly a month without Manny Ramirez late last summer, when the left fielder went down with an oblique injury. Boston managed to hover around .500 for those 23 games, and went on to win the American League East title for the first time since 1995.
This is different.
Unlike Ramirez a season ago, the prognosis for Ortiz is mostly unknown, a scary factor when it is the wrist in question for an athlete who depends on such a function as flipping them in time to beat a 95 mile-per-hour fastball. Depending upon the severity, Ortiz could return to the lineup by late July but that in no way guarantees top-level effectiveness, or where the Red Sox will even be by that point. When the Sox played their first game without Ramirez last August, they held a six-game lead over the Yankees, and 13 over Toronto. By the time Ramirez returned to the lineup on Sept. 25, Boston's lead over New York was just three games.
Such comfort doesn't exist in this year's AL East of parity, with Boston facing a 1 Ĺ-game deficit at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays nearly 40 percent into the 2008 campaign. The Rays, who are THE story in baseball, come to Boston tonight to kick off a four-game series in the Fens, but their success has managed to overshadow the recent run of the Toronto Blue Jays, who went 20-10 last month with a baseball-best 2.91 team ERA. They were 14-17 a month ago, in last place. Today they are 31-28 and making a case to be around for the long run.
Mix in the perplexing Yankees, and it's a safe bet that the division isn't going to be dominated by any one squad, which is precisely why any serious blow like losing Ortiz for any significant amount of time hurts the Sox more than it would have a season ago.
Brandon Moss is a decent replacement in the outfield, as the Red Sox could employ him in a rotation with Jacoby Ellsbury and Coco Crisp as Ramirez takes over full-time DH duties. But will that get it done if this does, in fact, turn out to be a long-term or even permanent loss? The Red Sox are essentially faced with replacing a player with an .839 OPS, not an easy task. Even for them.
But what if I told you there was a free agent on the market who last we saw put up a 1.045 OPS, slugged .565, and had an OBP of .485? Interested, right?
Of course, he is Barry Bonds. Still interested?
Putting aside all talk of steroids and perjury charges, it's hard to imagine Boston becoming even more of a media circus, but it would happen. Pedro Gomez would have to start re-using his Marriott points. As much as America hates the Red Sox already, Bonds would add an extra element of hatred for fans across the country. Boston fans, on the other hand, would face yet another moment of pure hypocrisy, reasoning why the man they derided so viciously in the past was an OK dude. Aside from all that, Curt Schilling -- the man who last summer famously boasted that Bonds cheated on his taxes, family, and the game -- and Bonds on the same team? The Jim Rice-Joe Morgan and Mo Vaughn-Mike Greenwell snafus of years past could potentially look like thumb wars if these two got together.
But if Ortiz is not soon to return, where else can you get a bat like Bonds without having to surrender Jed Lowrie, Moss, Justin Masterson, or Daniel Bard?
In case you hadn't noticed, there aren't too many clubs banging down Bonds' door these days, teams not exactly wanting to get involved for obvious reasons. I mean, baseball has apparently already gone and somehow decided to strike him from the list of 600-homer players (along with Sammy Sosa). You think it will be easy for Epstein to justify to his Bud Selig-buddy owners why they should pick up the tab on Bonds and bring the game back into that whole tainted spotlight again?
For Bonds, the possible opportunity has to be tantalizing. Boston would give him just as much of a shot as anyone at the elusive World Series ring. For the first time in his career, he'd be playing in the American League, but as a full-time DH, a luxury that he couldn't enjoy in the senior circuit, limiting his at-bats the past few seasons. As for the clubhouse issue, who knows what effect Bonds would have on what is currently a tight-knit group. It could be a recipe for disaster. Then again, Randy Moss sort of worked OK, no?
Yes, he's a liar and a cheater, but some might say the same about the ol' coach down on Route One. And he's only going to have a statue someday in these parts. If Ortiz is feared gone for any extended period of time, strip this down to just baseball. Take away the personality and the controversy that has defined his otherwise Hall of Fame career. What you have left is a risk staring the Red Sox in the face, one for which they would be irresponsible to not discuss internally.
Bonds once called the city of Boston racist despite never having been here, but it was a statement he seemed to retreat from last summer when his Giants visited Fenway, saying how much he enjoyed the city. His son spent time at Valley View School in North Brookfield, a private boarding school. And as one teammate summed up the slugger's experience here last summer:
"He genuinely enjoyed himself here. He walked around the city a lot and people were really nice to him. They weren't yelling at him, or yelling stuff at him or anything like that. People were very respectful of him. I think for a lot of us, this was kind of a test because we heard Boston would be rough on him. In the ballpark, sure there were the asterisks that people were holding up, and the "Steroids!" chants and all the things he's seen and heard before. So that part wasn't any different. The part that was different is the reception he got on the streets. And even the reception he got when he hit the home run."
If there is to be an indefinite hole in Boston, how can you not at least consider Bonds to fill it?
That phone is eventually going to ring. What do you do?