The Price is...Wrong? Josh Hamilton vs. Free Agency

Big money, big talent, bigger risk?

That’s the theme around the pursuit of Josh Hamilton on the open market this winter. For all of his prodigious talents, the battle with balancing his downside versus his dollar amount is the bigger story. We all know it’s not the best policy to invest highly in injury and slump-prone player that is losing his mobility past the age of 30. Add in the fact of his well-known substance abuse history, and the stock for red flags here has to be getting low.

But he’s also one of the premier talents in the game, as natural of a power hitter since the son of Ken Griffey arrived on the scene. So the reward is real, but what is it worth? In the case of many of the recent premier free agents, such as Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Mark Teixeira carried set prices wherever they would land, it was all about who could meet it. That’s not the case here, and it greatly depends on who shows up where he lands, and how much he nets.

The publicized contract he’s seeking is seven years, at $25 million per. On such a wide-open and uncertain market, whether he can get anybody to approach those figures will be tough to call. But here are a few expected, and unexpected, candidates that could make a run…as well as what type of money the most known unknown could be seeing.

Baltimore Orioles: In the midst of the entire underdog run that the O’s put on last year, two things were overlooked: #1) they didn’t have a single truly intimidating hitter in their lineup, and #2) they’ve got a lot of bank still. If the O’s are going to stay at the level they are at, they’ll have to lose some of the smoke and mirrors act and start scoring more runs. Josh would be the perfect fit in the middle of their lineup, and they’ve got the bank to do it.

However, a team that’s been burned so many times over the last decade by bad deals may not be too quick to anchor itself to another. Wounds like Brian Roberts and Vladimir Guerrero aren’t so quick to heal. The move, if made: Five years, $110 million. Not bad, if the check book cloud has lifted.

Houston Astros: I know what you’re thinking, and no, I don’t own a single bag of bath salts. The Astros were terrible last year, but they are in the position of making moves of several varieties that could very well make a leap of faith such as this make a lot of sense. They are switching to the American League, revamping their look and have new management ushering all of these changes in. All they are missing now is a reason to get folks to come to the park

The ‘Stros can’t possibly disassemble any further, so the time is now to start rebuilding. Handing Hamilton the $25 million a year he’s looking for would be a surefire way to put folks in the stands and show they are ready to kick things back into gear. Even if it’s not for the seven years he’s wanting, five years at $125 million would be hard to turn back from, even if it’s from a 100-loss stool pigeon.

Philadelphia Phillies: It seems like the Phils have a magic hat with whatever money they need in it at a given time come free agent season. He could fill in at any outfield spot in the immediate, while find a home in left or right long-term.

While the practical approach would be to spread their dollars around to fix multiple issues across the lineup, the National League home of the big dollar boom could just go all in the biggest bat available, and fix their other issues in more understated ways. Adding a fifth $20 million dollar man, with a 5 year, $115 million deal would seem impossible, if not completely improbable. Don’t discount it.

Seattle Mariners: This is it, if it was to happen. The franchise that needs everything he represents, and can afford to take the risk. The infamously Yellowstone-like dimensions of Safeco are being moved in this year, and it will become a much more attractive for power guys like Hamilton. What’s more is that the Mariners have absolutely no real power in their lineup, but have Nintendo money to fix it.

They could meet the price, burn the years off and still be fine. It’s just a matter of if he’d go for it. So six years, (with a club protected option for seven) and about $161 million could be had here I would guess. Not too shabby.

But what if all of this is for nothing. What if he just stays…

Texas Rangers: This isn’t improbable, and it’s actually the default in the whole chase. The big issue is that they have drawn their line in the concrete to pay, and they don’t seem like they are budging. The length is three years, period. They know better than anybody else what he’s all about, and that’s what they are offering. Now it could very well be a high dollar deal, worth between $21 and $25 million annually, but with them basically taking a watch and see approach in length, it wouldn’t make much sense for them to break their bank either behind any deal. Say three years and $69 million, in a take it or leave it, you’re out of options deal.

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