In his handicapping of the race for 31-year-old outfielder Josh Hamilton (Insider), ESPN The Magazine’s Buster Olney noted what makes this “the most unique set of circumstances for any free agent since the system began in 1976, a mix of raw power and doubt and extraordinary natural ability and rumors."
On one hand, you have a guy in his prime that can out up some of the best power numbers in baseball. On the other is a volatile player with a checkered past who, according to Olney, “seemed to struggle to maintain his focus in in a lot of games and weeks last year.”
Olney thinks potential suitors must be asking themselves whether the potential up-side is worth the risk, considering the huge investment in both years and dollars it will take to sign him.
Olney asked a handful of baseball officials and invested agents to make an educated guess about Hamilton’s landing spot, and their answers were all over the map. The Texas Rangers got the most votes, followed by the Milwaukee Brewers, the Boston Red Sox, the Baltimore Orioles and, of course, the ever-present “Mystery Team.”
In his free-agency predictions piece earlier this fall, ESPN's Jim Bowden -- a former major league general manager -- predicted Hamilton would sign for 5 years and $115 million, an average of $23 million per season.
Here’s what one NL talent evaluator told Olney about the possibility of Hamilton landing in Boston: "He could be Boston's impact hitter and would absolutely torch the Yankees. He could easily transition to LF in that ballpark and eventually DH once David Ortiz leaves. In fact, Boston has had experiences with 'special cases' that needed extra attention like Manny Ramirez."
The Red Sox need an outfielder and they have money to spend after freeing up more than $250 million in their trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers. But is Hamilton a fit?
GM Ben Cherington has talked about being disciplined in his spending, and all of the team’s moves so far this offseason have been consistent with that philosophy. A long-term, nine-figure deal for a player who isn’t a “sure thing” probably doesn’t fall into that category.
But it’s tempting, isn’t it?
Hamilton’s up-side is out of this world. He’s coming off a career year in which he hit 43 homers, drove in 128 runs and had a .931 OPS. No other free-agent outfielder available can come close to matching those numbers.
Your turn: What would you do if you were in Cherington’s shoes? Would you take the leap and invest big money and big years in Hamilton? Or would you lie in the weeds with maybe a four-year deal that would pay him an average of $25 million per and swoop in if other teams show reluctance at offering a longer-term contract? Or, would you stay away entirely and focus on filling your outfield needs elsewhere. After all, it’s not likely Hamilton will sign anytime soon and they’d be risking missing out on other options if they wait too long on Hamilton. Vote in the poll above and share your thoughts in the comments section.