It was just two months ago that Josh Hamilton was sitting atop the leaderboard of every MLB statistic that has ever been created. In the media, he was virtually walking on water, kissing babies, and mashing home runs all at the same time. He could do no wrong, and therefore was worth any amount of money. If it were up to the fickle media, Hamilton would have been signed to an 8-year, $200 million deal on May 13th of this year and the media would have thought they got a steal.
At that point, it was hard to not get swept up in the emotion of Hamilton’s incredible start to the 2012 season. Up to May 13th, Hamilton was hitting an absurd .402/.457/.877, an OPS of 1.334 and his 18 home runs put him on a record-breaking 86 home run pace. He was headed towards a triple crown, an MVP, and all the negotiating power in the world at the end of the 2012 season when he hits free agency for the first time.
In the 50 games the Rangers have played since that time, Hamilton has hit .250/.332/.470. While his OPS for the season is still 1.025, he has certainly come back to earth in the last two months. In a way, he has looked like Samson after a nice haircut at the plate, consistently flailing halfheartedly at offspeed pitches that are out of, if not nowhere close to the strike zone. Opposing pitchers are taking advantage of Hamilton’s overly aggressive approach, and have rather easily worked their way around him for the last two months. He is yet to make the proper adjustment or get back in a groove where he hits everything. On top of that, tonight Hamilton had to leave the game due to back spasms. These are the second bout of back issues Hamilton has had this year. He previously suffered from some stiffness that caused him to miss three games.
Now, at just about the halfway point of the 2012 season, we have a clearer picture of the player that Hamilton is. At different times he can be intimidating or overmatched, world beating or meek, strong or injury riddled. He is a 31-year old outfielder with a long history of injuries preceded by a long history of drug and alcohol abuse. It’s nearly impossible to predict what he is going to produce on a field from night to night, and certainly over the duration of a long-term contract.
The following comes from the article I wrote on May 10thabout what contract I would offer to Hamilton. I wrote this two days after Hamilton hit four home runs in a game, and just before his incredible hot streak began to taper off. Despite his perceived value never being higher, I aimed to not get swept up in that and still deliver a reasonable proposal:
My best offer to Hamilton would be as follows: 4 years, $84 million, with two option years. The year 5 option vests for $18 million if Hamilton reaches 550 plate appearances in year 4. If it does not vest, the team holds a $12 million option, and the player holds a $6 million option. The year 6 option vests for $15 million if Hamilton reaches 525 plate appearances in year 5. If it does not vest, the team holds a $10 million option, and the player holds a $5 million option.
Given the above scenario, the guaranteed deal for Hamilton would be 6 years, $95 million ($21M-$21M-$21M-$21M-$6M-$5M). The maximum deal for Hamilton would be 6 years, $117 million ($21M-$21M-$21M-$21M-$18M-$15M). Hamilton would also have the option to test free agency again years 4 and 5 if he did not reach the plate appearance thresholds. The core of the contract I proposed is the first 4 years. Beyond that, the team is essentially only paying for what they get. If Hamilton is riddled with injuries, the team isn’t locked in to an extraordinarily back-end loaded deal.
Do I think that is a deal that Josh Hamilton would accept to keep him a Texas Ranger for the rest of his career? I am not sure. This is, after all, Hamilton’s one chance to ensure that he and his family can be taken care of for life. No one can begrudge him the right to use the opportunity however he chooses. I can say that due to the paradoxical nature of the player, this is conceptually the type of contract I expect Hamilton to sign – a creative one.
Now, two months and a prolonged slump later, I am sticking by that proposal. I still don’t believe Hamilton would sign that deal, but I still think it is reasonable, and is the maximum offer I would be comfortable with. Some team is going to sign Josh Hamilton to a contract after the 2012 season, and it will probably be to a much larger deal than what I proposed. There might be 14 teams that think of Hamilton as the player he has been since May 13th, and there might be 15 teams that think of Hamilton as the enigma he is, but one team might think of Hamilton as a perennial triple crown winning MVP candidate. And one team is all that it takes.
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