The asking price for Josh Hamilton's services will undoubtedly see a boost on the heels of his explosive four-home run assault on Baltimore on Tuesday, but not because league talent evaluators have suddenly been convinced of something new.
Hamilton’s stock ratcheted up to the next level Tuesday night because of one word: marketing.
Anyone with a working eyeball was able to see Hamilton is the second coming of Mickey Mantle long before Tuesday. We’re not talking about a coming-out party here. The secret of Hamilton’s elite skill set has never been a secret. He was Bryce Harper before Bryce Harper was Bryce Harper.
When he made the 2008 Home Run Derby in Yankee Stadium look like a fat whiffle ball bat promotion by effortlessly attempting to send every fan in attendance home with a souvenir, you knew he was special. Securing an MVP award, stacking up a plethora of gaudy statistics and leading his team to back-to-back trips to the World Series have cemented Hamilton’s place among the best of the best in his sport.
In case his Triple Crown start hadn’t grabbed everyone’s attention, Tuesday’s massive missile-launching party and subsequent media storm merely confirmed that Hamilton is more than just one of the best players going -- he also remains one of the biggest draws.
The legend of Hamilton’s brand, already an epic riches to rags -- and back to riches -- Roy Hobbs-style fairy tale, is once again on the rise. Special players get big contracts in free agency. Special brands get ridiculous, stupid, Albert Pujols/Prince Fielder money in free agency.
The team that signs Hamilton will not only land an extremely skilled outfielder for its lineup card, it’ll also be adding a virtual baseball god to its marketing portfolio. When a team needs to inspire a dispirited fan base, jump-start lackluster merchandise sales and announce to the world that it intends to do everything within its power to improve its chances, it needs more than a player. It needs a brand.
Home runs sell ... and so do real-life fairy tales.
The Los Angeles Dodgers' new ownership group is likely in danger of pulling a tongue muscle while licking its money-to-spend/desperate-to-make-a-splash chops at the prospect of having wonder twin super teammates Hamilton and Matt Kemp impersonating the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in its batting order.
Every GM understands a long-term Hamilton commitment will come with significant risks. He’s a recovering addict with a lengthy injury history who will soon turn 31. But thanks in part to his historic power surge Tuesday, every GM has now been served a reminder that Hamilton is more than just an immensely gifted player, he’s also the closest thing to Superman in the upcoming free-agent class.
Considering what the Angels and Tigers paid the last two superheroes who reached free agency, no one should expect Hamilton’s price tag to do anything but climb from this point forward.
While spit-balling the loftiest of lofty Hamilton contract possibilities, a wise, old baseball lifer recently reminded me, “All it takes is one team.”