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Hittin’ Season #540: The Phillies apparently refused a Barry Bonds trade

In 1990, the Phils turned down a trade for Barry Bonds, if you can believe it.

Pittsburgh Pirates Barry Bonds Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

On the latest edition of Hittin’ Season, we talked a lot about the latest news concerning MLB’s labor WARz. We talked about the luxury tax, deadlines and saving the season, and we talked a bunch about the pros and cons of instituting pitch clocks in Major League Baseball.

It’s all good stuff and you should stop whatever it is you’re doing and listen to it right now.

But as good as all that labor stoppage content was, there was one nugget of information we talked about on the podcast that blew our collective minds, and it had nothing to do with baseball’s labor stoppage.

The great Twitter genius that is @FranzkeLA unveiled this little nugget of information from spring training 1991, and an alternate universe in which EVERYTHING could have been different.

Yes, you are reading that correctly. The Pirates offered Barry Bonds to the Phillies in the spring of 1990 when Bonds was 25 years old. Von Hayes would have gone to the Pirates as the centerpiece, apparently.

In ‘90, the Pirates won the first of three straight NL East titles and Bonds went on to claim the first of his record seven MVP awards. He joined the 30-50 club (33 HRs, 52 stolen bases), hit .301/.406/.514, led the NL with an OPS+ of 170 and also won his first Gold Glove. Had the Phils traded for him, he would have been under contract through the ‘92 season, so the Phillies would have gotten three prime Bonds seasons. Here are what those three seasons looked like.

Two MVP’s and a runner-up finish.

Here are Von Hayes’ 1990-92 seasons.

Those were Hayes’ final three seasons in the Majors, by the way. He did not win an MVP.

Based on the article referenced above, the refusal by then-President Bill Giles and then-GM Lee Thomas didn’t have much to do with Hayes. It had more to do with Bonds as a human being.

In short, they didn’t want the headache. At the time, Giles said, “I would not take Barry Bonds. I think [the Pirates] would have a hard time trading him if they tried to.”

In the end, the Pirates were too busy winning division titles to trade the best player in the National League, but he did end up leaving Pittsburgh for a huge contract with the San Francisco Giants. And lest you rue that the Phillies didn’t trade for Bonds and keep him on board for their 1993 pennant run, Bonds would have been out the door the second the ‘92 season ended.

At the time, the Phillies consistently spent near the bottom of the league on their payroll ($23.8 million, 6th-lowest in MLB). They were not the Phils of today, a team consistently among the top-five spenders. They were the “small market” Phillies, the Phillies that played in a dilapidated Veterans Stadium, with no Citizens Bank Park on the horizon yet. There’s no chance the Phillies would have met Bonds’ contract demands, and one can only imagine how Bonds’ schtick would have gone over in Philadelphia.

But let’s suspend reality for just a moment and imagine Bonds on the 1990-92 Phils. Would he have been enough to help them win the division in any of those seasons?

The 1990 Phils went 77-85 and finished 4th in the NL East. John Kruk was their primary left fielder, with Ricky Jordan manning first base. Jordan was worth -0.9 WAR that season, while Kruk was worth 2.4. So if Kruk had been the everyday first baseman, they would have gained 3.5 wins by making that move, bringing the Phils to 81 wins. Then, they would have added Bonds’ 9.7 WAR, pushing the Phils to around 90 victories. The Pirates won the NL East with 95 wins, but without Bonds, they lose 10 victories. The Mets finished with 91 wins, so it would have at least been a horse race between the Phils and Mets.

In 1991, the Phillies went 78-84 while the Pirates won 98 games with Bonds. Lenny Dykstra and Darren Daulton missed a big chunk of the season after getting into a serious car accident, which put a huge dent in their early season competitiveness. Wes Chamberlain and Von Hayes split time in left field, totaling about 1.5 WAR. Bonds was worth 8.0 WAR in ‘91, which would have put Pittsburgh at around 90 wins without him and the Phils would have gained 6.5 wins, up to 84.5 or so (these are rough numbers, obviously). The Cardinals finished 2nd in the division in ‘91, 6 games better than the Phillies, at 84-78, so the two teams would have been neck-and-neck in the division, although one would assume St. Louis would have won a few more games without having to play Bonds in Pittsburgh all season long.

Finally, in ‘92, the Phillies finished in last at 70-92 thanks to an incredibly damaging string of injuries to the pitching staff. Even another nine wins from Bonds likely wouldn’t have been enough to save them, even though that 1992 Phillies offense was awesome.

But you never know with the Butterfly Effect. If Bonds isn’t on Pittsburgh and is instead on the Phillies, what other moves might the Phils have made? Who might the Pirates have gotten to replace Bonds? How would a Bonds-less Pittsburgh team affected other teams in the division?

Regardless, it’s crazy to imagine the Pirates offering Barry Bonds to the Phillies, with the 30-year-old, one-time All Star Von Hayes as the likely centerpiece to a deal, and the Phils said “no thank you.”

Just another aspect to the Phillies multiverse to make your head explode.