It's the big question of the winter: Where will outfielder Josh Hamilton go? How much and for how long is sure to elicit squeals of outrage and satisfaction, of course. Rather than root for somebody's checkbook, I'm here to say why the winter's biggest free agent should head for baseball's smallest market in Milwaukee, with the hope that Brewers general manager Doug Melvin acts on it.
Point 1: Milwaukee is a place where Hamilton could thrive. Face it, Hamilton is going to get his share of media attention just because we vultures in the Fourth Estate know he's news. If he breathes, opines, succeeds or fails, he's going to get attention. And given his past issues with addiction, he isn't exactly going to be every team's idea of a hero in cleats.
But in Milwaukee, the focus will be on baseball while playing in front of a friendly fan base, and he'll get the benefit of playing in a media market where the ink-stained lifers tend to be supportive. And he'll be joining a team where he won't be the primary focus of attention -- Ryan Braun already owns that job.
Most importantly, the Brewers are an organization with plenty of experience in dealing with players who need a bit of extra consideration. Hitting coach Johnny Narron was Hamilton's off-field “accountability partner” for five years before taking his job with the Brewers in 2012. They don't just have somebody to help Hamilton on and off the field, they have perhaps the guy. And when it comes to handling media access for a player who might need special attention, the Brewers have their recent work with Zack Greinke to lean on.
So the environment in Milwaukee could be a great match for Hamilton, but what about what he'd do for them? Voila, Point 2: The Brewers' lineup needs a lefty thumper.
Why? Well, ponder this: Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks, what do they have in common? They're all right-handed power hitters, and in the season after Prince Fielder left Brew City, the Brewers saw their homers hit by righties and lefties get to a huge 175-27 split. Isolated power (SLG minus batting average) just echoes the issue: Milwaukee's right-handed batters had a collective .194 ISO, against .127 for their lefties.
Now, look ahead to a 2013 season, when the Brewers will be competing against a Cardinals team fronting power righties Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter at the same time for the first time since 2010, while the Reds start an all-righty rotation that has Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey coming into their own. To compete, the Brewers will need some balance against that stack of right-handed power hitters, and perhaps nobody in baseball could be a single-source solution as readily as Hamilton would be.
Beyond offense, there's the question of where Hamilton would play. As it stands, you'd expect him to play a lot of center or a lot of right field, pushing either Carlos Gomez or Norichika Aoki to the bench. That's not as bad as it sounds -- sitting Aoki against some lefties and Gomez against some righties already makes sense as is. But Hamilton's litany of nagging hurts suggests he might be good for 120 starts per year. Add in another 10 days off for Braun in left field, and you wind up with about 210 starts to hand out to Aoki and Gomez, plenty of regular playing time without also using them as pinch-hitters and double-switches.
Looking at that outfield and the rest of the organization brings us to the next reason why Hamilton works for them. Point 3: Adding Hamilton gives Melvin players to trade to fix other problems.
Look at the talent they've got lying around at positions where they won't get to play: Mat Gamel is already blocked out by Hart at first base and is heading into his age-27 season. (Not to mention the Brewers also have Hunter Morris coming up behind him.) Third baseman Taylor Green is 26, and might have to wait another three years before Ramirez leaves. Gomez is sure to be in demand for his combo of glove work in center and power at the plate, even if he's just a year removed from free agency. That's a lot of ready-now talent with power at positions where this winter's market is weak and other teams have needs.
If the Brewers are going to acquire the help on the pitching staff that they need, their best bet at helping themselves is shopping this surplus of ready-now, cheap hitters with years of club control ahead of them. They can use it to acquire a starting pitcher (or two) and a couple of relievers that would be better than those available in this winter's market. Perhaps ideally, they'd hold on to Gomez and get what they need shopping Green and Gamel, but for the right starting pitcher, Melvin should be willing to talk about their center fielder.
The 2012 Brewers' lineup, weighted by playing time, was already the fourth-oldest in the league at 29.1 years old. Even with Jean Segura at shortstop, that number isn't going to go down. Which is brings me to my last point for why Hamilton in Milwaukee works: Point 4: They should fully invest in winning now.
Considering their collective age, the Brewers' clock is ticking. Stars like Braun (29) and Rickie Weeks (30) are already at the tail end of a normal “peak” performance arc. Weeks and A-Ram could be here through 2015, Braun for another six years beyond that. In light of those kinds of commitments, the Brewers should be in the business not just of contending, but trying to win it all.
Add it up, and however much Hamilton might be a risky, high-stakes addition, because of the mutual potential, his decision to go to Milwaukee could be a win-win for ballplayer and ballclub alike.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.