Josh Hamilton: Big Stats = Big Dollars in Free Agency

Friday June 15th, 2012

Bryan Sheehan (MLB Writer): For better or worse, Josh Hamilton has been one of the most talked about ballplayers in the past four seasons. He started out as an inspirational story for overcoming drug and alcohol addiction, returning to baseball after three years on the restricted list due to failed drug tests. His talent always peaked the interest of teams, going first overall to the Devil Rays in the 1999 draft and third overall in the 2006 Rule 5 draft to the Chicago Cubs, when he was “the biggest name in the Rule 5 in many years,” according to Baseball America. Immediately after he was traded to Cincinnati, where he spent most of the 2007 season in the Majors. Another team interested meant another trade, and Hamilton landed in Texas for the 2008 season. Since then, he has been an All Star every year, a Silver Slugger winner twice, and the American League MVP in 2010.

Hamilton will no doubt gain even more attention if he hits free agency after this season. Though he is eligible to file for free agency at the end of the year, there are rumors circulating that the Rangers may try to sign the tattooed center fielder to an extension.  Age 31, Hamilton is in the prime of his career and he’s currently on pace to hit 60 home runs in 2012. That, along with a career .311 batting average that is only getting better, makes for a huge payoff in the near future. At the same time, Hamilton is in danger of relapsing, as he did when he was seen drinking at a Dallas bar in February, and some teams may not want to invest in a potential addict. Either way, this Fall and Winter will be very interesting for the star who has brought his team to the World Series twice in two years.

It’s hard to gauge how much Hamilton could make on the free agent market. Though Jayson Werth‘s seven year, $126 million deal with the Nationals may be a good litmus test, both hit Free Agency at age 31 and headlined their outfield-heavy class, but the differences between Hamilton and Werth swing the pendulum both ways. On the positive side for Hamilton, he is a much better hitter than Werth was when he signed with Washington. Negatively, Werth’s deal serves as a warning for other teams not to overpay, in years or dollars, for talent. Perhaps the better comparison would be to Andre Ethier’s five-year, $85 million extension with the Dodgers that was signed on Tuesday. The deal averages out to $17 million a year for the 30-year-old All Star, and provides a hint at what Hamilton may get. Both Hamilton and Ethier have made the All Star team in each of the past two years, but Ethier’s sub .300 batting average (though it’s nothing to scoff at) isn’t of the same caliber as his counterpart.

The final price tag hangs mainly on if he files for free agency or takes the extension with Texas. The Rangers may be a little weary of extending him, not only because of the Jayson Werth effect but also because of his potential for a relapse: Hamilton has an appointed life coach to keep him on the right path, but reports indicate that it’s an extremely tough job. If Texas does resume talks with the star, they’ll no doubt try for the “hometown discount,” removing the uncertainty of a packed market for he price of a pay cut. If this deal is done, I predict a salary near $20 million for five years. Matt Kemp of the Dodgers resigned for eight years at $160 million, and will be under contract until he turns 35. Both Kemp and Hamilton are marquee power/average hitters in the outfield, and have hit over .300 since the beginning of the 2011 season.

On the other hand, if Hamilton reaches free agency, his stock may rise even higher. His situation both on and off the field make him a very unique character with no real precedent on the open market. Considering his amazing ability on the field, he can garner a Pujols-esk deal, but accounting for his struggles off the field may drop him down significantly. Judging by the lack of concrete talks between Hamilton and the Rangers, he may be destined for free agency. This sets off a major red flag in my mind: why wouldn’t the Rangers want to keep their star player at a discounted price? Maybe Texas knows more about his situation than the rest of the league. Other General Managers across baseball might also see this, which would shrink the market for him.

Despite his struggles with drugs and alcohol, Josh Hamilton is still one heck of a ballplayer. His numbers are almost unfathomable in “the Golden Age of Pitching,” and he shows no signs of slowing down. Even with the risk of failure, teams will still be willing to throw Andre Ethier type money at him and hope for a big return on their investment.

Today’s feature was prepared by  Baseball Writer, Bryan Sheehan. You can follow Bryan on 

Twitter (@BaseballHipster), read his interviews with Phillies’ minor league prospects at PhightingOn.com and PhuturePhillies.com, and catch him writing the occasional article for ThroughTheFenceBaseball.com. Tweet him about this article and give him a follow and he will follow you back!

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Posted on June 15, 2012, in MLB Player Profiles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Josh Hamilton: Big Stats = Big Dollars in Free Agency.

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