A little Barry Bonds anecdote.
Years ago, I was talking to a Giants minor leaguer named Jalal Leach, who had a locker next to Bonds one spring training. I asked him if Bonds had given him any good tips or advice. Leach told me a story about a spring training game. As he went to the plate for the first time, Bonds told him, "This guy's going to throw you a first-pitch fastball." Leach instead went up looking for a breaking ball and popped out.
Next time up, Bonds grabbed him. "I'm telling you, he's going to throw you another first-pitch fastball!" Leach sat on a fastball and lined a double into the gap.
Reports say the Miami Marlins are close to hiring Bonds as a coach for the team, giving the Marlins a second hitting coach along with Frank Menechino. This is one of those stories that we'll wait to fully believe until Bonds is officially in uniform -- does he really want to give up a life of leisure and cycling and his home in the Bay Area to spend seven months of the year traveling around the country and dealing with the media? -- but if it happens, it could be a stroke of genius by the Marlins. And that's not a sentence you read every day.
Of course, we have no idea if Bonds would be a good hitting coach. But he's arguably the smartest hitter who ever lived; it wasn't PEDs alone that made him so great as much as his understanding of hitting and pitchers and how they were trying to get him out. One area of the game sabermetricians haven't been able to quantify is the value of coaching, but doesn't it make sense that Bonds could be good at this? He's worked with the San Francisco Giants as an instructor the past two years in spring training. One guy he worked with was Brandon Crawford, who went from a .674 OPS in 2013 to .782 in 2015.
"Everything I heard him talk about this morning [regarded] keeping your swing as simple as possible," Crawford said back in 2014. "And he explains it in the simplest ways. It's cool to just listen to him. The big thing he was telling me was that my hands are fast enough to get to an inside pitch. I don't need to cheat or use my body or shoulders to get to that pitch."
The Marlins, in fact, could be exploiting a market inefficiency in coaching. Think about it: On the free-agent market, teams are paying $6 to $8 million for each Win Above Replacement. Outfielder Chris Young just signed a two-year deal with the Red Sox at $6.5 million per year. Over the past two seasons, Young has been worth 2.0 WAR. What if Bonds is worth even one extra win per season compared to a typical hitting coach? At a coaching salary well south of $1 million, that would be a bargain.
Similarly, the Marlins hired away pitching guru Jim Benedict from the Pirates in October, naming him the team's vice president of pitching development. With the Pirates, Benedict worked closely with major league pitching coach Ray Searage, along with the minor league staff and pitchers.
"There's no question he had a sizable impact on the Pirates during his time here," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said when Benedict left. "Our goal has been and remains to be to help each member of the Pirates organization to reach their personal and professional goals. Sometimes that means they'll leave the organization to achieve those individual ambitions."
In Pittsburgh, the Searage/Benedict duo not only developed Gerrit Cole; it also helped turn around the careers of reclamation projects like Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez and Mark Melancon, and turned A.J. Burnett into an All-Star for the first time. J.A. Happ, who just signed a $36 million contract with the Blue Jays, might prove to be the latest guy to improve under their tutelage.
Again: If Benedict adds even one win of value, he's a bargain, and if he can repeat his success from Pittsburgh, the Marlins could be players in the NL East. Like the Pirates, budget limitations mean they need to make good on some of those reclamation pitchers and to have their young pitchers max out their potential.
Teams have historically been reluctant to pay coaches and managers what players make -- Joe Maddon, Mike Scioscia and Bruce Bochy were reportedly the highest-paid managers in 2015 at $5 million per year -- and there is sort of a gentleman's agreement that you don't raid another organization's staff unless they are getting a promotion.
It seems to me, however, that with so much money in the game, maybe some of that money should go to hiring the best coaches you can find. Isn't Maddon or Bochy a relative bargain at the price of a fourth outfielder? Maybe that's what we will see with Bonds and Benedict.