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In 2013, Brandon Belt was 14th in the National League in OPS. That’s higher than Carlos Beltran. Higher than Jay Bruce. Higher than Justin Upton, Yadier Molina, and Adrian Gonzalez. If you must know, it was also higher than Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, and Pablo Sandoval.
Belt is a Super-Two, Arbitration-eligible player. In layman’s terms, this means he’s played for two years and ranked in the top 22% of all two-year players when it comes to service time. It also means the San Francisco Giants control him for the next 4 years, but at arbitration prices. In three seasons (2 full), Belt has hit .273/.351/.447. More importantly, last season he hit .289/.360/.481 with 17 home runs and 39 doubles in a pitcher’s park, a particularly challenging one for left-handed hitters. It stands to reason that Belt could have easily hit 20-plus long balls had he not spent all his home games hitting in the vast confines of AT&T Park.
A closer look at Belt’s season shows he hit .325 after the All-Star break. His fly-ball rate dropped from 43.9% to 38.2%, and this coincided with a stellar line-drive rate of 27.7% in the second half, which would have led the National League if he had maintained it the entire season. Although he only hit .261 against lefties, something he surely aims to improve upon this year, Belt’s success in 2013 is a stark contrast to the slumped shouldered youngster who seemed to lack confidence at the plate the previous year, his first full season in the Majors.
Many believe Belt’s “break-out” season is merely a foreshadowing of what is to come. Coupled with the aforementioned numbers, such believers point to a change in grip and newfound confidence as reasons to expect Belt can maintain, or perhaps (likely?) improve upon his success in the second half of last season.
Even if Belt doesn’t ascend to superstar status in 2014 and his 2013 numbers represent the average of what fans can expect in the future, perhaps with a smattering of more RBI, then Belt is surely a candidate for extension rather than trade. In addition to his emerging hitting metrics, his defense at first base continues to be solid. Belt made just 8 errors in 143 games at first, and his dWAR rating was -0.5. This number is deceiving, however. Unlike with batting, it’s generally believed that the replacement level fielder is around league average.The idea is that there are more players who can field in the Major Leagues than can hit. Given this, Belt represented a solid anchor on the right side of the infield, especially given the defensive woes the Giants experienced at second base this past season.
2013 was Belt’s most productive season as a pro, and the Giants would be well-served to keep him rather than trade him before the season begins – or at the deadline in July. In fact, as previously mentioned, extending Belt at his current numbers could conceivably save the Giants millions should Belt build off his 2013 numbers, something he appears poised to do. And if not, he would represent at worst a “poor man’s J.T. Snow” with slightly less power and RBI. From 1997-2002, Snow’s most productive years as a Giant, he averaged 142 games or more, 14 home runs and 77 RBI per season – numbers nearly identical to Belt’s output in 2013. Snow’s batting average in 9 years as a Giant? A modest .273. He was also 29 years old when the Giants signed him in 2007. Brandon Belt is 25.
It’s entirely possible the Giants may opt to wait and see what kind of player Belt has become this year before making a long-term commitment to him; however, it might be wiser, more beneficial, and far cheaper to keep the “Baby Giraffe” in San Francisco for many years to come by offering Belt a contract extension now, before heading into the ugly process of arbitration, a process the Giants have tended to avoid in the past with eligible players. Belt is going to get a raise, regardless, and reports suggest the Giants and Belt’s representatives have not agreed on that number yet. If the Giants decide to haggle over one or two million with their young first baseman, they may find themselves tens of millions short should he put together a big season in 2014 and the team wish to extend him later. Perhaps it’s time to finally show confidence in player that has finally shown confidence in himself.
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The San Francisco Giants will face a dilemma with Pablo Sandoval’s pending free agency. As noted in multiple social/media sites, Sandoval has lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 pounds. This is a great sign for the Giants as Sandoval was hovering around the 270 lb mark throughout the 2013 season. When in shape, Sandoval is one of the best 3rd baseman in the game. He can be dynamic not only offensively with his power and high batting average but he is also an above average defensive 3rd baseman.
When Sandoval is out of shape, he tends to be injury prone, his offense suffers and his range/consistency with routine plays is less than average at 3rd base. The question that Brian Sabean will need to address is: Should the Giants look to sign Sandoval before he reaches free agency or let him test the free agent market after the 2014 season is over? Also, can Sandoval keep his weight off if he signs a big contract or do the Giants think he will go back to his old ways and fall back out of shape and then regret signing him to a big contract. The 3rd base free agent market is weak and Sandoval, potentially, could be in high demand if he puts up big numbers this season. Sandoval is set to make $5,716,667 dollars in the last year of his contract. The average 2014 salary for the top 10 3rd baseman (Not including A-Rod) is close to 10 million dollars a year. Keeping Sandoval may mean that the Giants will have to fork over around 10-12 million dollars a year over at least 4 years. If the Giants let Pablo test the free agent market they run the risk of losing Pablo to big spending teams like the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and even the Los Angeles Dodgers who have the money to outbid the Giants. 10 million a year is a big risk for a player who has weight issues but the Giants may be forced to sign Sandoval for this amount as there may not be an alternative in the free agent market and the Giants are not looking to trade an elite prospect for a top 3rd baseman. Would you trust the “KungFu Panda” to keep his weight off if he signs a big contract? Should the Giants let him walk as the risk of Sandoval gaining weight and the large amount of money may not be something they are willing to gamble with? Post your comments below.
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Returning to the playoffs in 2014 will not be an easy task for the San Francisco Giants. Not only do they have to perform better than the Los Angeles Dodgers, they were also behind the Arizona Diamondbacks and tied with the San Diego Padres in the 2013 regular season standings. The Giants need to be firing on all cylinders if they want to be serious postseason contenders, but it is possible and here are a few reasons why:
Brandon Belt. Belt, or baby giraffe, is the underrated 25 year old first baseman who had a sneaky good year in 2013. He hit .289/.360/.481 with 17 homers and had a 139 wRC+. He worked his way into the three-hole in the lineup and in the second half he exploded offensively, hitting .326/.390/.525 and had a wRC+ of 161. If he stays healthy, Belt could easily hit .300/.380/.490 for a full season and provide a huge boost to the Giants offense.
Buster Posey. Posey is arguably the best catcher in the major leagues. At the young age of 26 he already has two World Series rings, a NL MVP, NL ROY, Silver Slugger, two All-Star selections, and he also won the 2012 Hank Aaron award. He wasn’t as productive in 2013 as he was in 2012, but he still hit .294/.371/.450 with a 133 wRC+ and a 4.8 fWAR. Barring injury he should continue to put up elite offensive numbers and be the key player to the Giants’ postseason hopes.
Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner is the ace of the Giants pitching staff at the youthful age of 24. In 2013 he threw 201.1 innings and had a 2.77 ERA while compiling 199 strikeouts. He is quietly putting together a very nice career and is expected to get even better as he has not even reached his prime. I could see Bumgarner inserting himself into yearly Cy Young award talks if he continues at his current pace.
Pablo Sandoval. In past years when you think of the Giants’ third baseman you think of an overweight player who breaks a lot of hamate bones. Well based on recent rumors and pictures, that will be no longer. It is said that Sandoval has lost 42 pounds since the offseason began. In 2013 the panda hit .278/.347/.417 with 14 homers and a 2.3 fWAR. If he can keep the weight off it will help his offense and defense tremendously. If he can perform the way Giants fans know he can then Sandoval could be the player that boosts the Giants’ offense enough to put them into the playoffs.
The Giants will have to outperform the Dodgers, who are loaded with seemingly endless money and elite talent, if they want to win the National League West. It won’t be easy to do, but the Giants are stocked with a good mix of young talent and veteran leadership to have a legitimate chance at reaching the 2014 postseason.
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In a very forgettable season for the San Francisco Giants, there were few bright spots in 2013. One of those bright spots was Brandon Belt. Belt was one of the top three hitters for the Giants and was very productive all around, but I believe he didn’t reach his full potential. Belt was a 4 win player while hitting .289/.360/.481 and “belting” 17 home runs. He also had a 139 wRC+ and a .365 wOBA. Many people would consider that a breakout season for him, but I think he will be even better in the coming year. At 25 years old, Belt has the makings of being a star for the Giants. No, he isn’t going to hit 40 homers and drive in 100 runs, he isn’t that type of player, but he is the kind of player that gets on base at an excellent rate and has good power while playing very good defense. He has the potential to hit .300, get on base at a .385 clip, hit 25 homers, and steal 15 bases. I predict we see Belt do that in 2014.
In 2013 on a trip to play the Philadelphia Phillies, Belt talked to Phillies’ slugger Domonic Brown. Brown gave him advice and told him that he had similar problems his first few years in the major leagues. He told Belt to grip the bat differently and Belt said that clicked in his mind and he decided to try it himself. That helped him greatly and Belt ended 2013 with very solid numbers. In 2014 the Giants project Belt batting in the three spot of the lineup behind infielder Marco Scutaro and ahead of catcher Buster Posey.
Belt is the first baseman that nobody is talking about and I think that will change in the next few years. He is young enough and has the potential to become an All-Star at his position. Belt is going to be a huge part of the Giants for the near future and their playoff hopes can hinge on how he produces in a power-lacking lineup.
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If only the answer was simple. In a team sport, success and failure can almost never be attributed to a single event or player’s performance. Usually, it is a combination of many things that contribute to winning and losing. In retrospect, let’s look back at the 5 biggest factors responsible for the San Francisco Giants’ fall from grace in 2013.
5) Losing Angel Pagan: Pagan spent much of the season on the shelf with a hamstring injury. The Giants never found a capable replacement to man center field in his absence. While Pagan is not necessarily a stellar defender, he is more than capable with the glove. However, the Giants experienced better defensive metrics with Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez roaming center. Where Pagan’s injury hurt the team the most was in the leadoff spot. Without Pagan, the team struggled to get men on base and set the table for Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence. A healthy Pagan is a must if the team wants to win next season.
4) Marco Scutaro’s rapid decline: By all accounts, Scutaro’s final stat line was rather solid for the two-hole as he hit .297/.357/.369. The problem was that his production was spread out across 127 games (compared to 156 in 2012). Given Scutaro’s age (38), the team knew Scutaro wouldn’t continue to hit .362/.385/.473 over 61 games as he did when GM Brian Sabean acquired him at the trade deadline two years ago. However, it was quite apparent that Scutaro is more of a liability in the field (13 errors) with decreased mobility and range, which can be quite detrimental to a team short on power that relies on defense and pitching to win. The Giants knew they wouldn’t keep getting 156 games a year out of Scutaro, but it’s reasonable to assume they didn’t expect his body to start breaking down as quickly as it has. Once again, the Giants never had a capable replacement to start at second base when Scutaro couldn’t go. With no Pagan or Scutaro on so many occasions, the Giants lacked the table-setting dynamic they had when they won both World Series titles.
3) A Down Year for Pablo Sandoval: The Kung Fu Panda had a rough year, showing up to camp out of shape and missing more than 20 games on the DL. Sandoval hit an uninspiring .278/.341/.417 with only 14 home runs and 79 RBIs, nearly replicating the production of the previous year in which he only played 108 games. Had Sandoval had the career year many were expecting, the Giants would have had an easier time scoring runs, making life easier on his teammates. Posey only hit .244 after the All-Star Break, and more production from the Panda would have helped take the pressure off Buster’s shoulders. A healthy, in-shape Sandoval will be vital if the Giants aim to contend in 2014.
2) A Lack of Depth: The Giants have been luckier than most teams in recent years, avoiding major injuries to their roster (the 2011 Posey injury notwithstanding). In the end, DL stints for Ryan Vogelsong, Pagan, Scutaro, Sandoval, Chad Gaudin, Jeremy Affeldt, Matt Cain, and more exposed the lack of depth that Sabean knew was a glaring weakness when the 2013 season began. The revolving door of replacements (Mike Kickham, Sandy Rosario, Kensuke Tanaka, Juan Perez, Roger Kieschnick, Nick Noonan, and co.) simply couldn’t give the team the production it needed to win. Injuries to backups Juaquin Arias and Tony Abreu only further exposed the need for depth.
1) Subpar Pitching and Defense: As much as critics want to harp on the effect of injuries and a lack of depth, the single biggest factor in the Giants’ losing season was disappointing play of the pitching staff and team defense. The team won both its titles on the strength of its pitching and glove work. The Giants committed 107 errors in 2013, tied for 3rd most in the National League. They ranked 13th among 15 National League teams in starter’s ERA (4.37). Madison Bumgarner had a stellar season (13-9, 2.77 ERA), but a brutal first half for Cain (4.00 ERA despite posting a 2.36 second-half ERA) deprived the team of the consistency it had come to depend on from its ace. Tim Lincecum tossed a no-hitter but still struggled to the tune of a 10-14 record and 4.37 ERA. Vogelsong spent much of the year on the DL and was only able to register 19 starts in which he posted a 5.73 ERA. Barry Zito (5-11, 5.74 ERA) was utterly overmatched away from AT&T Park, possibly pitching his way out of baseball altogether. All of this led to early exits that overtaxed the bullpen and deficits that an offensive-challenged team simply could not overcome. Had the team played better defense and Lincecum, Vogelsong, Zito, and Cain each won another 3 or 4 games, the Giants would have finished above .500. In truth, they probably still miss the playoffs, but the memory of the 2013 season becomes more disappointing than disastrous. If the Giants are to remain even competitive next season, they will be counting on bounce-back years from Cain, Vogelsong, and Lincecum, and solid pitching from Tim Hudson who was acquired to replace Zito in the rotation.
After sweeping the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 Fall Classic, the San Francisco Giants were expected to be a force in the National League. After going 76-86 and finishing in a third place tie with the San Diego Padres in the National League West, the Giants had a very disappointing 2013. The front office entered the offseason with some pretty big expectations from some of the most devoted fans in baseball. The checklist for the offseason was to resign Tim Lincecum, acquire a power hitting left fielder, and to replace Barry Zito. So far, the Giants have re-signed Hunter Pence (5 years, $90 million), Lincecum (2 years, $35 million), Ryan Vogelsong (one year, $5 million before incentives), and Javier Lopez (3 years, $13 million). The Giants also signed free agent outfielder Michael Morse to a one-year, $6 million deal and free agent starting pitcher Tim Hudson to a two-year, $23 million deal. Although they have filled a lot of holes on their roster, I believe there are two more spots that need to be improved upon.
One of those spots is a closer. In 2013 Sergio Romo pitched a full season as the full-time closer for the first time in his career. He had a 2.54 ERA, an 8.7 K/9, and a 1.077 WHIP. All of those are very good numbers, but they aren’t consistent with his career stats. From 2010-2012 Romo averaged a 1.82 ERA, an 11.2 K/9, and a 0.842 WHIP. I believe he could maximize his potential in the eighth inning and the Giants are better off acquiring a closer like Grant Balfour. Balfour’s two-year deal with the Orioles recently fell through because of a supposed problem with his physical, although he says he is baffled at what happened and that he is 100% healthy. Balfour was very similar to Romo in 2013 and would be well-suited in the ninth inning for the Giants. If the Giants signed Balfour to close, they would have one of the strongest bullpens in baseball. They would have Balfour in the ninth, Romo and Javier Lopez in the eighth, Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt in the seventh, Heath Hembree in the sixth, and Yusmeiro Petit as the long man and replacement starter.
The other problem that needs to be fixed is the situation with the backup catcher. Although Hector Sanchez is very young and could possibly develop into a solid offensive player, he just doesn’t belong in the major leagues at this time. In a combined 150 games since 2011, Sanchez has averaged a 91 OPS+, .299 OBP, .370 SLG, and collected a 0.6 fWAR. In 2013 he had an ISO of .101 and a 5.0 BB%. He is below average defensively and doesn’t run the bases well. The bottom line is that Buster Posey doesn’t catch 162 games per year so the Giants would benefit greatly by getting a competent backup catcher.
All together, the Giants’ offseason is filled with a lot of question marks. Lincecum, Hudson, Vogelsong, and Morse are all very high risk players. Hudson, Vogelsong, and Morse are coming off of injury-plagued seasons and Lincecum, as we all know, used to be one of the best pitchers in baseball until he completely tanked in 2012 and slightly improved in 2013. The Giants are banking on him somewhat returning to form in 2014 so he isn’t a waste of money. If the Giants signed an effective closer/reliever and a backup catcher, I think they would be set for the upcoming season and can feel fairly confident about the possibility of returning to the postseason.
Left Fielder, check. Complete the starting rotation, check. Re-sign Javier Lopez, check. Add depth to the outfield, infield and if possible the bullpen; check?
Winter meetings have come and gone. While there still remains a number of high-profile free agents (and some not so “high-profile”), the San Francisco Giants and Brian Sabean have said that they’re basically done with major league deals for this offseason.
So… that’s it then?
If that’s the case, then I say we take a look back at the last two months and decide just how good the Giants offseason moves were. Before we get into it, I’ll tell you upfront what I think.
Overall Grade for the SF Giants 2014 Offseason: B+
“Impossible!” you might shout at this point, especially based on what I’ve seen on Twitter. But I’ve got to say; overall I’m impressed with what the Giants have done to prepare for next year.
9/29 – Giants extend RF Hunter Pence
Okay, okay, so it’s not technically the offseason. But I’m still going to look at this move as one that the Giants needed to make, and in fact, it’s even more impressive that they made it before the season ended. Pence provides power, speed and that overused, crutch-of-a-word, “chemistry” to this team. The 20+ steals was unexpected and a huge boost and I don’t expect anything less than that to go with at least 23 homeruns this season.
Individual Grade: A
10/25 – Giants extend RHP Tim Lincecum
While I fully admit to being a Lincecum fanboy, this move (details here) is one of my least favorite signings of the offseason. It has everything to do with the dollar amount, and even now, months later, I’m still conflicted. Ultimately, while I don’t necessarily agree with the move, I can understand and appreciate it. Lincecum (like the next guy I’ll discuss) is here to fill a void for two more years until we see the next crop of young, talented, homegrown Giants pitchers. It’s also a strategic marketing move to help keep loyal fans loyal and excited until we pick our new favorite to root for.
Individual Grade: C+
11/18 – Giants sign free agent RHP Tim Hudson
I’ve already written a piece on why I think the Hudson signing was a great one. He provides 2-years of above average pitching and a very strong veteran experience/presence on a staff that is in a transitional period. I strongly believe that Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong, and Lincecum are not a part of any long-term plan and will be gone after two years, but those two years are going to be instrumental in shaping the rising crop of young Giants arms. This is, in my opinion, what makes Hudson so valuable.
Individual Grade: B+
11/26 – Giants sign free agent LHP Javier Lopez
Can you imagine the uproar if the Giants let Lopez slip away? Lopez is baseball’s top left-handed specialist and genuinely enjoys and likes playing in San Francisco. It was a no-brainer, right? It seemed like Lopez might be interested in jumping over to his hometown Washington Nationals for a bit, but the Giants made sure to bring him back. He is a staple in what has, over the last couple years, been one of the most solid bullpens in baseball. Losing Lopez would have meant Jeremy Affeldt (or someone new, maybe?) would take over the lefty-specialist role, and I don’t know about you, but that idea doesn’t leave me quite as comfortable.
Individual Grade: A
12/2 – Giants sign free agent RHP Ryan Vogelsong
This is in the running for, in my opinion, the most disappointing move of the offseason. The Giants chose to decline Vogelsong’s option, and the general thought was that they were going to bring in someone better. All that actually happened is that the Giants brought Vogelsong back for a little less money (if you consider $1.5 million to be “a little”). Like Hudson and Lincecum, he won’t be around for more than two years, but does serve a valuable role in helping bridge the gap to the new generation. Also on the positive side, locking in a pitcher at a small contract gave them more time and money to focus on LF.
Individual Grade: C-
12/17 – Giants sign free agent LF Michael Morse
This one is what bumped the Giant’s offseason from a C+ to a B+. Morse brings the Giants a longball threat that they can place pretty much anywhere in their order (3-7, although I’d like him 6th, behind Pence and before Pablo Sandoval). While his defense and health are certainly questionable, the upside is undeniable. In his last full season, Morse played 146 games and batted .303 with 31 homeruns and 95 RBIs. Over his whole tenure with the Nats, he averaged 115 games, 21 homers, 66 RBIs and a .296 average. He may not match that again (ever), but the potential is there, and at only $5 million, it’s definitely a risk well worth it. Adding Morse also gives the Giants one of the most offensive lineups they’ve seen in the last decade, with Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, Pence, Morse and Sandoval. Each one of those guys can hit 20+ homeruns.
Individual Grade: A
And there you have it. The Giants have made a lot of other moves at the minor league level, and will probably continue to do so throughout the offseason. In terms of the big league squad, though, this is it. Many might say that the Giants missed out on a real pitcher (Masahiro Tanaka comes to mind, as does my personal favorite, Ubaldo Jimenez) or that Morse is a joke of a signing, but in the end, the Giants have improved. Lincecum can’t be worse than he was last year (at least it’s not likely), Hudson is an upgrade from Barry Zito, and Vogelsong will at worst be the same. And the offense, despite what the Morse naysayers have to naysay, is better with him in it.
This team is upgraded, and for that, this offseason has earned a B+.
One of the hottest topics in baseball since last year’s offseason has been the Hall of Fame ballot. The reason this class is different than all the others is because one of the best baseball players to ever live appeared on the ballot and he received a sorrowful 36.2% of the 75% needed to be inducted. That man’s name is Barry Bonds. Bonds played seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates and fifteen seasons with the San Francisco Giants. He is one of the most polarizing and controversial players in the history of the game. By just looking at his statistics, Bonds is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of the top five players to ever put on a uniform. As we all know, there is one roadblock keeping Bonds from Cooperstown immortality and that’s the issue of performance enhancing drugs. Bonds played in an era where steroids were all-too-common and he has been made the poster boy for one of the darkest periods in the history of the game. In my opinion, Bonds should still be inducted into the Hall of Fame and here are five reasons why:
1. Bonds’ numbers were like no other. He had a career on-base percentage of .444 and a career slugging of .607. Both of those would be MVP numbers for any single season, and he averaged it throughout his career. In 2001 he peaked with a .536 ISO and broke the single season homerun record with 73. He also compiled a 164.1 fWAR and had a 173 wRC+ throughout his career. All of those astonishing feats and it doesn’t stop there. He is the only player in the 500 stolen base/500 homerun club and from 2001-2004 Bonds didn’t have a batting average under .325, an OBP under .515, or a SLG under .745.
2. Nobody knows who did or didn’t take steroids during that period. Sure, the evidence against Bonds is compelling and truth be told he probably took them knowingly, but I’m not ready to exclude someone from the Hall of Fame because of a probably. Also, what about the pitchers throwing to him that could have been using steroids? What about the fielders who were faster and stronger to catch fly balls and make the otherwise impossible plays? It is absurd to penalize one player because he happened to be better than everyone else.
3. Why decide to let him keep his awards and keep his name in the record books, but not put him in the Hall of Fame? In my opinion, it is hypocritical to say he is still a seven-time NL MVP, the homerun king, and the all-time walks leader, but say he shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame because of steroids. If you’re going to penalize him for one thing, why not penalize him by taking all of his awards away?
4. What is the criteria for being a Hall of Famer? Is it Bonds’ treatment of the media, which we all know to be pretty harsh at times, or was it how he performed between the lines? Being inducted into the Hall of Fame is not earned by being nice or being everyone’s favorite player, it is awarded by being one of the best players on the field. If people want to exclude Bonds because he cheated and is a bad guy, then why not exclude Ty Cobb, who confessed in his autobiography that he may have killed a man during his playing career? Excluding Bonds because of his character, or lack thereof, is too much of a gray area to make a legitimate decision.
5. In my opinion this point is often over-looked and that is that Bonds already had Hall of Fame numbers before he allegedly started taking steroids. It is said that Bonds began taking steroids in 1998 after he switched trainers. Before then he already had 411 homeruns, a .408 OBP, and a 99.2 fWAR.
Love him or hate him, in my opinion to exclude a rare talent like Bonds from baseball’s highest honor would simply be a travesty. I believe, for the Hall of Fame to remain credible, there must be a plaque bearing the likeness of Bonds.