Baseball is a very, very unfair game.
The New York Yankees are the equivalent of a sophisticated billionaire, while the Oakland A’s are the equivalent of a beggar on the street. Only the rich teams can throw lots of money at players, much like the Angels and Tigers did with Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.
While there aren’t as many coveted players in this year’s free agent class, there is a man by the name of Josh Hamilton. And, he will have a big impact on how free agency turns out.
Hamilton hit .285 with 43 home runs in 2012, posting decent numbers while propelling Texas to another playoff berth. He knows how to use the bat, although he swings at bad pitches often. Hamilton has speed, but he has been known to play lazy defense in center field.
The center fielder will command a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract, one that only some teams will be able to afford. Some teams need sparks and need a superstar to lure fans into the stadium, while others simply need a big bat in the middle of the lineup.
Whatever is needed, there’s no doubt that Hamilton can provide it. He has the potential to hit .320 with 45 homers and 135 RBI in any given season, which is a rarity with pitchers being as dominant as they are and steriod use shrinking. So, he will probably get an average of 15-20 million dollars per year.
While there is a possibility that Hamilton continues to dominate, there is a possibility that he performs like he did down the stretch in 2012. His struggles cost Texas the AL West title, and they lost in the one-game Wild Card playoff, at home, to the Orioles. Hamilton went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in that game, probably his last in a Ranger uniform.
Teams like the Giants, Marlins, Nationals, Red Sox, Rangers and Yankees may make a run for him, and one of those teams will probably land him. However, San Francisco and Miami play in huge ballparks, which will be a factor in where Hamilton signs.
Plus, Angel Pagan hit .288 for the Giants while playing superior defense in center field. His contract will expire after the 2012 season, but I don’t see any reason why they won’t want him back. Pagan has some power, and he shattered the franchise record for triples with 15.
Hamilton won’t be able to cover much territory in the spacious AT&T Park, and he won’t be able to help much in Miami. Boston is a great hitters park, especially for lefties like Hamilton, but the Red Sox and Marlins are struggling. New York has an overcrowded outfield, and Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Michael Morse seem pretty safe in Washington.
There aren’t many good fits out there for Hamilton, who will likely draw boos by striking out a lot and being very streaky. When he struggles, Hamilton gets lazy, and he seems to be on the decline. He isn’t the exciting player who gets on base, makes diving catches, steals bases and goes yard, and he will demand a long-term deal, which will be problematic for most teams.
Yes, teams will still pursue him. But is there really any reason to throw so much money at him, with the risk of him hitting .260 with 35 homers, 100 RBI, a 30 percent strikeout rate and poor defense? That doesn’t sound horrible, but it’s not worth 20 million per year.
So, unless you have a bag of bones in your outfield, there really isn’t any reason to pursue Hamilton. Why not go after Cody Ross, Angel Pagan or Michael Bourn, who have similar talent but won’t command as much money? Heck, even Nick Swisher, who will come at a high price, and Melky Cabrera, who, well, got suspended, will be better fits.
Because it’s time we learn not to give high-risk players long-term contracts. We should have learned that a while ago, and we didn’t. So, once a sorry team spends tons on Hamilton and he turns into a bust, maybe then we’ll learn.