7 Reasons Why Your Favorite MLB Team Shouldn’t Sign Free Agent Josh Hamilton
The 2012 Major League Baseball free agency period has just started, and the biggest prize available on the free agent market is easily Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton. It's a pretty weak free agent class in general, but Hamilton would be the cream of the crop in most seasons.
Almost every baseball fan knows the Josh Hamilton story, but let me just recap it for you. He was drafted as the first overall pick in the 1999 draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but injuries and major drug addictions derailed his career. He turned his life around and finally made the major leagues with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007.
He was traded to the Texas Rangers before the 2008 season, where his career really took off. He led the American League in RBIs and delivered the most memorable performance in Home Run Derby history, belting 28 home runs in the first round. In 2010, he was selected as the Most Valuable Player after he batted .359 with 32 home runs. He led the Rangers to the World Series, winning ALCS MVP. He took the Rangers back into the World Series in 2011, belting what would have been a championship-winning home run in the sixth game before the St. Louis Cardinals belted an epic comeback. And he bashed 43 home runs with 128 RBIs in 2012.
That's five consecutive All-Star appearances, two trips to the World Series, an MVP, and a reputation as one of the best players in the game. What team wouldn't want to sign this player to a long-term deal?
Not so fast. Hamilton may not quite be everything he appears to be. In fact, I'm not sure the risk outweighs the reward. Here are seven reasons why your team shouldn't sign Josh Hamilton this offseason. They're in reverse order.
7. Massive Contract
If baseball had a salary cap, this would be the number one reason why a team shouldn't sign Josh Hamilton. He's likely just going to make too much money. But there is no salary cap in baseball, meaning a team could hypothetically sign Hamilton to a seven-year, $175 million deal like he requested, and they'd still be able to spend for other players.
Look around though. How many players sign older star players to large contracts and come to regret it within the first few seasons? The New York Yankees will end up regretting every single year of Alex Rodriguez's second 10-year deal, which they gave him when he was 32. And the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim look like they're going to be the next team to regret handing a future Hall of Fame player a massive contract, as Albert Pujols showed signs in 2012--for the second straight year--that he is on the decline.
6. Can he be The Man?
Hamilton is not going to the Yankees or the Tigers, where he'll be just one of many great hitters. No, he's likely going to end up signing with a team like the Baltimore Orioles or Seattle Mariners, where he'll be counted on to produce as the three hitter for the next five or six seasons.
Can he do it? He hasn't had to in Texas. He's had All-Star talent surrounding him in the likes of Adrian Beltre, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli, and Ian Kinsler. None of those players are better than Hamilton, but they're all weapons who have helped take the pressure off Hamilton.
In a place like Seattle, he'd be the team's number three hitter and literally their only source of offense. I'd be interested to see how he can handle the pressure of becoming a team's only offensive weapon, especially as he continues to age.
There is just something about Josh Hamilton that would make me cautious to sign him to a deal. I think he's a great guy and I respect him tremendously for turning his life around within the past decade, which has included becoming a born-again Christian and overcoming his drug addictions.
But he's had some relapses within the past few years, and all of them have dominated the headlines. Do I think it's wrong for Hamilton to have a drink at the bar? Absolutely not. But would I want that negative press surrounding my team if he does have a relapse? No way.
Hamilton has been in the major leagues for six seasons. He has yet to show that he can have great seasons in consecutive years, like other great players have done throughout their careers.
He was a good player in limited action in 2007. He was dominant in 2008. He was average in 2009. He was dominant in 2010. He was good in 2011. And he was mostly dominant in 2012. If he follows this trend, he's on track for a down year in 2013, followed by a dominant season in 2014, when he'll be 33.
He's also had inconsistency even in his great seasons, such as last season when he batted .223 in June, .177 in July, and .245 in September. He still finished the season with a .285 batting average, but for a lot of the season, he was a poor player. Nothing about his career has indicated to me that he could put together a great stretch of seasons that would make him worth the massive amount of contract he'll likely receive.
Josh Hamilton has played six seasons in the major leagues and has spent time on the disabled list in at least four years. He's played six seasons and he's averaged just 123 games a year, meaning he's missing 39 games per year on average.
In 2007, he was placed on the disabled list with gastroenteritis. In 2009, he missed time with a bruised rib cage and an abdominal strain. He missed the final month of the 2010 season with a bruised rib cage. And he fractured his right humerus in 2011.
I don't expect any player to play all 162 games in a season. But Hamilton has topped 150 just once. He's almost an injury waiting to happen on the field, and as he ages, it's likely going to get worse, not better.
Hamilton is 31, and will be almost 32 by the time the 2013 season rolls around. How many more great years do you think he has left? Two? Three? This isn't the steroid era, where a player can just stay healthy and productive until he is 38 or 40 (I'm looking at you, Barry Bonds), and I like to believe that Hamilton is not on PEDs, meaning he will decline as he gets older, like a normal player.
Alex Rodriguez started declining when he turned 32. Todd Helton was 31. Vlad Guerrero was 32. Ken Griffey Jr was 30. Albert Pujols is 32, and it looks like he might already be in the declining phase. I have my doubts that Hamilton will remain a dominant player for more than another two years. It doesn't matter that he hasn't been in the major leagues as long as other players. Those years were wasted. They're not going to be tacked onto the end of his career.
I love Hamilton and I hope he proves me wrong. But I expect his production to start declining by 2015 at the latest, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's out of the major leagues by 2018. He has Hall of Fame talent but he won't make it because he started his career too late.
1. Rangers Don't Want Him
Hamilton has been the best player on the Rangers for the past five seasons. He's won an MVP and led them to the World Series twice. Yet the Rangers really don't seem to care if Hamilton stays or goes. Reports have surfaced that they're not prepared to offer him a contract larger than three seasons, which is a pretty big insult to a guy who deserves at least five or six seasons.
Why is that? Could it be his attitude? His addictions? His inconsistency? His injuries? His defense? His age? Whatever it is that causes the Texas Rangers to not want to re-sign their best player, it should be a major red flag to other teams out there. In fact, it'd be enough to prevent me from signing him in the first place.
He's a great player and he could definitely still dominate for a couple more seasons. Or he could turn into a disappointment. I'm not sure the reward outweighs the risk on this one.