Josh Hamilton will be the most desired free agent on the market come the offseason. That’s nothing but an obvious statement. However, he might not be wearing a Rangers uniform come April of next year.
While there are your obvious teams to land him (Red Sox, Tigers, Yankees), there are a few under the radar clubs that could emerge as possible homes for Hamilton’s talents as well. This makes bidding wars that more interesting.
Here are three dark horse teams that could pry Hamilton away from Texas:
San Francisco Giants
The need for another power bat to back Buster Posey is there. But the spacious AT&T Park probably won’t draw Josh Hamilton, or any other power threats to the city by the bay anytime soon.
But don’t count it out entirely.
The Giants will have the money to pursue a top tier free agent. Whether it be Hamilton, Michael Bourn, or possibly Ichrio, money isn’t going to prevent them from signing the guy they want.
According to Baseball Reference, the Giants have about $80 million committed to players next year. Their payroll will presumably surpass the $130 barrier, meaning that they need to fill out their roster. Obviously, they aren’t going to have $50 or so million to play with after they extend and resign players who are currently on their team. However, $30 million to test the free agent waters with isn’t too shabby either.
Melky Cabrera won’t be returning after being suspended 50 games by the MLB. And the Giants have made that very clear. In saying that, San Francisco’s front office had already budgeted their offseason plans around resigning Cabrera, of course, before he was suspended. He was their main and only focus. But now that he’s out of their plans, his money can be put to use somewhere else. Granted, Hamilton will demand a much heftier contract than Cabrera might’ve garnered from the Giants, but nothing is out of the question.
On top of being one of baseball’s biggest surprises this year, they could also land the biggest free agent in baseball come the winter meetings. However, the Orioles who average a respectable 4.4 runs per game, could use a jolt, specifically in left field.
I target left field for one reason— production is a rarity from that generally power oriented position. As of September 12th, Orioles’ left fielders are hitting just .231/.291/.386 with only 16 home runs and 51 RBIs. Hamilton had more home runs and more RBIs at the All-Star break than the Orioles do in mid-September. Upgrade? I think so.
Nate McLouth, the current corp in left field, has provided a spark. He’s hit .314/.390/.451 since August 27th, but he doesn’t fit the bill as a left field, considering that he’s not a run producer. It’s doubtful that Baltimore will bring him back either, as he was more of a low-risk pick up to do nothing but fill the void in left field for just the remainder of the season.
On the surface, the Orioles wouldn’t seem to have enough payroll to hand an outrageously big contract to Hamilton. And yes, their low attendance numbers signal that observation to the casual fan. Yet, they could pull some strings to make a deal happen. According to Baseball Reference, Baltimore has just $46.6 million committed to six players. In retrospect, multiple of their good young pieces such as Matt Wieters are arbitration eligible. So, their not completely out of the woods. In total, their projected payroll is expected to sit in the $110 to $115 million range.
It’s a long-shot, but if the Orioles continue to win and eventually make the playoffs, maybe the organization will reward themselves by signing a blue chip free agent to further increase their chances of being a good team for the next decade.
The Phillies like to spend, spend spend. They might have to take a step back with that approach, but that’s not to say that they won’t pursue Hamilton.
The Phillies have voids to fill. And those voids are big ones. After shipping out Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino at the trade deadline, their outfield is bleak. Domonic Brown, the highly touted prospect, has faired well since getting promoted. He could be a possibility should the Phillies elect to completely rebuild. But centerfield is still a glaring problem. Hamilton could easily fix that problem.
However, the Phillies might not be looking to spend big. After he shipped out Pence and Victorino, general manager Ruben Amaro announced that the Phillies were under the luxury tax. Signing Hamilton would likely void that.
With all the money committed to their starting pitchers ($58 million owed to Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Jonathan Papelbon in 2013), it’s unlikely that Hamilton will land in the city of brotherly love. You just can’t count the Phillies out on any big free agent though given their track record though.