A Very Quick Thought On Josh Hamilton
The GM Meetings are going on down in California right now, and while these aren’t the hotbed of rumors that the Winter Meetings are — those happen in Nashville at the beginning of December — there’s still a collection of media and baseball executives in one geographic area. And that breeds conversation, and those conversations often end up spilling over to Twitter and MLBTradeRumors. Today’s rumor – the Mariners are going to be in on Josh Hamilton.
First, it was Jon Heyman linking the Mariners and Orioles as favorites for Hamilton’s services with a column this afternoon. Then, Bob Nightengale of the USA Today jumps in with the same story a few hours later, citing “several GMs” as his sources.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) November 8, 2012
Other GMs predicting things doesn’t mean its going to happen. Being anointed a co-favorite to sign a player on November 7th doesn’t mean anything, especially since that guy isn’t likely to sign any time soon. Remember when people were saying the Mariners were the favorites for Prince Fielder last winter? Remember how that simply wasn’t true?
So, take these reports with the requisite grains of salt. Jon Heyman and Bob Nightengale are not reporting that the Mariners are close to a deal with Josh Hamilton, or that they’ve even made him an offer. They’re reporting what people in other organizations told them what they expect to happen. It’s interesting, but it’s speculative at best. Informed speculation perhaps, but still speculation.
That said, the Mariners interest in Hamilton does pass the smell test. The Mariners are talking up a big game about spending money this winter, with Jack Zduriencik noting that he believes payroll will go up, and Ryan Divish reporting the other day that payroll could be “higher than $91 million”, which would be a substantial increase over last year’s total. Even after re-signing Iwakuma and Perez, the M’s are in the $62 million range, which leaves plenty of money to go after a guy like Hamilton and still fill out the roster. Given that the usual spenders don’t seem overly interested in Hamilton, he’s probably going to have to woo a non-traditional bidder if he wants to land a huge contract, and the Mariners obviously need an outfielder who can hit.
So, there’s logic to it from both sides, and it probably works financially, depending on what else the team wants to do this winter. Of course, Jack can’t just concern himself with whether the price works for 2013, especially if the report that Hamilton is seeking 7/175 is accurate. At that price, he’s just not worth the investment anymore, even though they could fit $25 million into the 2013 payroll. I’m pretty sure the Mariners aren’t going to be interested at 7/175. But, if its 5/110 or 6/130, that’s probably the kind of deal where Jack starts to think about Hamilton as a legitimate option.
And at that kind of price, I’d probably be in favor of the deal. I’m fully aware of the risks that come along with Hamilton, both in terms of health, substance abuse, plate discipline, park factors, aging, and personality, but I think that these kinds of players can often be forced into taking too large of discounts for these risk factors. Last year, for instance, Jose Reyes signed for 6/106 despite being an in-his-prime middle infielder coming off a +6 win season, all because he had a history of leg problems and everyone was scared about his durability. As I wrote at the time of that deal, you can price that kind of risk into a contract and have it turn out to be a worthwhile value even if you assume that the risky guy is going to get hurt or miss time for one reason or another. Value is a balance of risk and reward, and you can’t just say that a player is “too risky” without also calculating the reward when he is in the line-up.
And, of course, Hamilton is a pretty fantastic hitter, even with a maddening approach at the plate. He’s basically Miguel Olivo or Delmon Young in terms of plate discipline, and his inability to adapt his approach is one of the reasons the Rangers are willing to let him walk this winter. But, unlike Olivo or Young, Hamilton is naturally gifted enough to make that approach work, as he can hit a borderline strike a long way. Hamilton isn’t a model for other hitters to follow, but at the same time, we shouldn’t look at his aggressive hackiness and decide that makes him worthless.
Hamilton comes with a lot red flags, and those red flags are almost certainly going to drive his price down from the 7/175 he might be looking for. I don’t think he’s going to get anywhere close to that. I think he might end up in the low-100s for five guaranteed years with some vesting options and incentives added on, which basically pays him like a four win player. And, warts and all, that’s what Hamilton was last year.
If the rumors intensify, I’ll go more in depth on Hamilton’s fit for the organization. But, as a starting spot, I’ll just point out that I’m provisionally on board, assuming that it doesn’t take a contract anywhere near what Prince Fielder got last winter. If they can keep the contract to five guaranteed years (or less) and transfer some of the risk back to Hamilton by making him hit playing time clauses to trigger money at the back end of the deal, then Hamilton could end up being a good value, even with all the risks that are attached.
I’d probably still rather have a guy like Nick Swisher, who is going to come a lot cheaper and is probably capable of providing similar production once playing time is accounted for, but Hamilton’s an interesting option as well. And, who knows, maybe the Mariners are crazy enough to add both. If they’re really planning on pushing payroll back over $90 million, that’d be a fun way to do it.