Softbank is Looking for a Slugger…

» 16 July 2008 » In nichibei, npb »

…and there’s an accomplished one available, Barry Lamar Bonds.

I had been thinking of Bonds since I read that the Hawks are looking for a new foreign power hitter a couple of days ago, but kind of dismissed it as being unrealistic. But after thinking about it for a while, it makes a certain degree of sense. There would be some drawbacks, too. Let’s run down the pros and cons:

The Case For:

  • The Hawks are 4th in the Pacific League with 70 home runs, and tied with Rakuten (who have played fewer games) for 3rd with 370 runs. Bonds in the middle of the lineup would change that.
  • The Hawks only have one foreign batter on their roster currently, Michael Restovich, who has mostly played first base. Softbank has used five foreign pitchers this year, and would still have to do some roster juggling to come in under the foreign player limit.
  • Restovich has underperformed this year with only three HR’s. The Hawks can put him on the bench and create a rotation of Bonds, Nobuhiko Matsunaka and Hiroki Kokubo between LF, DH, and 1B.
  • The Hawks are managed by Sadaharu Oh. Oh holds the world record for professional home runs with 868 and has been under the microscope. He seems to sympathize with Bonds as well, probably for these reasons.
  • The Hawks’ parent company, Softbank, is owned by Japan’s richest man, Masayoshi Son. Son has made several statements that he wants to build a world-class baseball team and even once offered to host a “true” World Series, with $100M of his own money going to the winner. Signing Bonds would make a splash.
  • It would be a chance for Bonds to compete again. The Hawks will certainly make the playoffs and with a healthy Bonds could be the favorite for the Pacific League title. He hasn’t won a championship in MLB. A Japan title wouldn’t replace that but it would be a great achievement in it’s own right.
  • I’ve actually seen Bonds do interviews with the Japanese media, including one where they followed him around a spring training. Maybe he gets along better with the Japanese press.

The Case Against:

  • Bonds’ popularity in Japan has plummeted since all the BALCO stuff came out. He was once a star there; not so much any more.
  • He would probably be immediately subjected to a drug test.
  • There would still be intense media scrutiny over there; if anything it may be more intense than what it would be in the US.
  • It’s possible that Bonds’ tarnished reputation could backfire with fans.
  • Bonds’ presence could create a distraction for the other players.
  • It would probably be a month before we see him in action.

It would certainly be a gamble for Softbank to sign Bonds, but it makes sense for baseball reasons. I think it makes sense for both sides. As a fan of Japanese baseball, I was a little conflicted about writing this — in some ways I’d kind of like to see NPB prove itself on it’s own terms, without a guy like Bonds around. But then again, it would be great to see Bonds face off against pitchers like Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Yoshihisa Naruse. And maybe it would draw a little more attention to NPB internationally, which I think would be great.

Bonds’ agent issued a “no comment” when asked about Japan (SFGate via mlbtraderumors.com), which suggests to me that it’s not out of the question. Unlikely, yes, but not out of the question.

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