Jobu ponders the Josh Hamilton question.
Without a doubt, Hamilton is the biggest bat and, short of maybe Zack Grienke, the biggest name period on the free agent market this off-season. Unlike some other free agents, Hamilton deserves to be the top name out there. Simply put, he’s one of the scariest hitters in all of baseball, and he deserves to be paid as such. But for how long?
A rumor spread last week that, while the Rangers want to bring Big Josh back for 2013, they won’t be giving him anything longer than a three year deal. When you couple this news with the report that Hamilton is apparently looking for $175 MM this off season, it seems to me that we’ll be seeing Big Josh swinging his axe in greener pastures in 2013. Well, unless the Rangers want to pay him $58 MM a year. So, now that we know Hamilton is probably headed elsewhere because the Rangers contract offer will no doubt be insulting, what kind of contract will it take (or will he settle for) to get Hamilton? Let’s examine the facts.
There are many positives to having a guy like Hamilton on your major league team. When he’s on, he’s an absolute beast. I had him in fantasy baseball last season (Dude Booth, 2012 champions), and I still poke fun of my friend Matty V because Hamilton had 9 home runs and 18 RBI in one of the weeks I faced Matty. It got to the point where I started speaking like former WWE manager Paul Bearer (great name) and threatening to unleash my Undertaker on him the next time we played. Overall, Hamilton had an MVP type season, hitting .285/.354/.577 with 43 home runs and 128 RBI. He probably won’t win the MVP because Miguel Cabrera won the triple crown, but those kind of numbers can play in a lot of major league ballparks.
Unfortunately, Hamilton comes with some caveats. First of all, let’s just get to the 500 lbs pink elephant in the room. Hamilton basically blew his hall of fame talent up his nose (or into his arm, or whatever he did). He didn’t reach the big leagues until he was 26, and didn’t have his first full season until he was 27. He has “problems” that other high priced talent on the free agent market isn’t saddled with. You don’t have to worry about him playing in a big market (or even a small market) because of the night life. You don’t have to worry about chaperoning a guy like Nick Swisher around town, or only letting guys like B.J. Upton carry a certain amount of money on them for fear of what they might do with a couple of extra 20s in their wallets. It’s just not a concern for most major league teams when it comes to their $100+ MM guys.
I just wanted to get that out of the way, because it’s not even my biggest concern about a team potentially giving Hamilton the king’s ransom he seems to be demanding this off-season. Frankly, I’m more concerned about his health. In the six years since he managed to clean up his act, he has been on the field for the entire season once. That season came in 2008, his second year in the majors. His rookie season he had troubles with gastroenteritis. In 2009, he tore an abdominal muscle and bruised his ribs while slamming into the wall to make a great catch in center. In his MVP season in 2010, Hamilton missed most of the last month with another wall related rib cage injury. In 2011, he was held to just 121 games because of a broken right humerus after a play at home plate. Even this past season, although he played in 148 games, he missed some time because of some strange trouble with his eyes (it was blamed on too many energy drinks…).
I’m not saying Hamilton is damaged goods, but he couldn’t stay healthy through the prime years of his 20s. When he suits up on opening day for his new team, he’ll be 31, and he’ll turn 32 a month and a half later. He’s not going to suddenly get less prone to injury in his early, mid or late 30s (depending on the length of his next contract).
There are also his state of mind and mental health to deal with too. Soon to be former teammate, reliever Mike Adams, was quoted said some pretty interesting things about Josh on “Inside Pitch” last week.
“Josh is a special talent and sometimes you have to let Josh figure it out himself. He’s a different guy sometimes. Every day you hope that Josh comes to the ballpark, shows up and plays like Josh Hamilton. Sometimes he shows up and you don’t know which Josh is going to show up at the ballpark. It’s nothing to be negative about toward Josh; that’s just the way it is. That’s what you get with Josh.” – Mike Adams
While that’s not exactly saying he’s a loon, or someone who isn’t always in the mood to play baseball or anything like that, it’s still an interesting quote. If you’re going to commit six or seven years and somewhere between $150MM and $175MM to someone, you probably want assurances that the same guy will show up to the stadium when you need him to. If you recall, Josh went through a prolonged second half slump during which he sent cryptic tweets related to his battle to quit chewing tobacco.** It was an odd year indeed.
Anyway, I’m not saying Josh Hamilton can’t help a team win. He’s one of the best hitters in the league. I just don’t think anyone should commit more than a few years to him at this stage in his career. He’s basically the face of the Rangers franchise at this point. They have watched him every day for the last five years, and they’re seemingly not even willing to give him more than three. You know it’s not about the money. They’ve always been willing to spend for the right guy (remember when they outbid everyone by $100MM to get A-Rod?). If he Hamilton was in his prime, not a bit of a head case and not an injury risk, they’d pony up to keep him in town.
In the end, I think Hamilton should get a four year, max money deal. If that means four years and $100MM, I think that’s reasonable. He’ll most likely find someone to pony up a fifth year if he waits long enough, but he’s not worth the risk of more than four years right now. That’s what I would want the Yankees to spend on him.
**By the way, kudos to Nolan Ryan for being “old school” and criticizing Josh for quitting tobacco during the season because it hurt his performance and therefore the team. Mouth cancer be damned, Nolan wanted a World Series!
Featured image courtesy of: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
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