Updating the Top 7 Destinations for Josh Hamilton Next Season
Last year, there were several big targets available on the free-agent market.
Any team looking for a player who could change the fortunes of a franchise or strengthen an already powerful contender could find just such a talent in Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder.
But during this coming offseason, there's only one name that will truly move the needle and make other teams take notice. Josh Hamilton is really the only free agent available who can change the balance of power in the American or National Leagues.
Fortunately for him, plenty of teams will be interested in signing him, each likely willing to give Hamilton the long-term, multi-million contract he seeks. Even if typical big spenders like the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox decide not to bid for Hamilton, he'll find plenty of opportunity elsewhere.
Here are seven teams that look the most eager to pursue Hamilton with urgency this winter.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants could also decide not to bring back center fielder Angel Pagan next year, thus creating two openings in the San Francisco outfield that need to be filled.
Josh Hamilton would be more expensive than bringing back both Cabrera and Pagan, of course. But if the Giants were to sign him, they could get by with a lesser hitter and better defender—such as Gregor Blanco—in either left or center field.
Giants general manager Brian Sabean might prefer to go with two lower-cost options to fill two outfield spots and devote his available resources to a contract extension for Hunter Pence. But if the team can afford it, signing Hamilton would give the Giants a superstar outfielder. Left or center field wouldn't be a concern for years to come.
Nabbing Hamilton would also have the added bonus of keeping him away from the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers, who might be looking to assemble a powerhouse outfield with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier.
It's possible that the Dodgers might not be as willing to pursue Hamilton after giving Ethier a five-year, $85 million contract. But why take a chance at letting him go to a fierce division rival?
The Giants may not have the Dodgers' megabucks ownership, but they have the opportunity to create more payroll with Barry Zito's contract expiring after next season and Tim Lincecum possibly leaving in free agency. After a tough one-year hit, the Giants could find plenty of room for Hamilton afterward.
Los Angeles Dodgers
It would be silly to write off the Los Angeles Dodgers despite giving Andre Ethier a five-year, $85 million contract extension, right?
Money is clearly no object for the Dodgers now, as they've shown a willingness to take on huge contracts—such as Cliff Lee's—in an attempt to strengthen their roster. Instead of eating another team's remaining contract, the Dodgers can just offer whatever they'd like to Hamilton.
Playing center field probably isn't in Hamilton's long-term future, so he would fit nicely in left field next to Matt Kemp. By adding Hamilton, general manager Ned Colletti could also get by with signing lesser bats to play first base and/or third base.
The New York Yankees reportedly want to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold next season. Hank Steinbrenner couldn't accomplish that objective by signing Hamilton to a huge multi-year deal.
That leaves the Dodgers as the most likely team to throw big free-agent dollars at Hamilton.
The team's new ownership wants to make a big move; one that serves notice to the rest of MLB. Cole Hamels is no longer available after signing a new contract with the Phillies, leaving Hamilton as the one star player who would turn heads around baseball.
During the All-Star break, Hamilton told Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi that his preference is to stay in the American League.
But if he doesn't re-sign with the Rangers and the Yankees don't enter the bidding, the best AL option might be the Baltimore Orioles.
As of Aug. 22, Orioles left fielders are hitting a combined .222 with a .655 OPS. A massive upgrade is required at that position, and the O's need another big bat to go with Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters. Hamilton would fill both of those needs perfectly.
He could also save wear and tear on his body by playing designated hitter, and Baltimore doesn't have an entrenched player at that position. Chris Davis gets the majority of time at that position, but could be the first baseman next season. That would allow manager Buck Showalter to rotate several players in that spot.
After emerging as a surprise contender this season, the Orioles need to make a big statement to show their fans—and division opponents—that they intend to compete for a division title and playoff spot for years to come.
Baltimore has missed out on several big free-agent signings in recent years. Getting Hamilton would erase any remembrance of that.
The Marlins turned many heads last offseason by spending big money after playing it cheap for so many years.
That approach backfired on them, as the team didn't play up to expectations, resulting in one of this season's biggest disappointments.
After holding a midseason sell-off, the Marlins have tested the faith of their fans yet again and need to prove that they truly intend to field a contender, not just collect money from their new ballpark.
Signing Hamilton would show Marlins fans that they're serious about putting together a winner that can compete with the Nationals, Braves and Phillies in the NL East. But it would also be a good baseball move. The Marlins need a center fielder. Hamilton could also play left field if they prefer a speedier leadoff type in center.
The idea of a recovering addict like Hamilton spending at least six months near South Beach would surely make many people nervous. But Hamilton would be under more scrutiny than ever before, and the Marlins would surely take steps to ensure he's constantly supervised.
The Philadelphia Phillies want a new center fielder next season.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has said publicly that outfielders will be his top priority during the offseason. He traded Shane Victorino because he wanted an upgrade in center field. There would be no better upgrade than signing Hamilton.
Hamilton wouldn't be the leadoff hitter that the Phillies lineup needs. But Philadelphia also needs offensive production of any kind from its outfield. Amaro would probably prefer a right-handed bat to put between Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. But for a player with Hamilton's talent, he'd probably overlook that slight deficiency.
The primary question with the Phillies is whether or not they could meet Hamilton's price. Hamilton will probably get in excess of $20 million per season. That's more than the Phillies can afford to pay if they want to stay under the luxury tax threshold, which is Amaro's intention.
Giving Hamilton big money would also prevent Amaro from using available funds to fill other holes on the roster, such as one or two outfield spots and third base.
However, the opportunity to get Hamilton might be too great to resist. Perhaps Amaro would consider trading Cliff Lee to make sure he gets a superstar outfielder.
Virtually everyone in baseball expects the Nationals to go hard after a center fielder during the offseason.
General manager Mike Rizzo has pursued a center fielder for years, chasing players such as Denard Span and B.J. Upton. With so many available in free agency after this season, Rizzo should finally get his man.
Hamilton wouldn't be the ideal fit for the Nationals lineup. They really need a leadoff hitter with speed, such as Michael Bourn. But the Nats would certainly benefit from another big bat in the middle of the batting order.
Michael Morse could move to first base, with Hamilton playing either left or center field. Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth would fill the other two outfield spots.
The Nationals were reportedly one of the teams in pursuit of Prince Fielder last offseason, so the desire for a slugger is apparent. As it turns out, Adam LaRoche provided the pop that the Nats were seeking, but Hamilton would provide a major slugger to go with Morse, Werth and Ryan Zimmerman.
Additionally, Hamilton could also serve as a mentoring presence for Harper. He could certainly warn the 19-year-old phenom about the pitfalls players can encounter off the field.
Until Hamilton actually wears another team's uniform or the Rangers decide they just can't work out a contract, doesn't Texas still have to be considered the heavy favorite to sign him?
Hamilton is a hugely popular player in Arlington, and the Rangers really don't have a viable replacement for him in the outfield. They have guys who can play center field. Perhaps Mike Olt could play left field. But none of those options would be better for the Rangers than bringing back Hamilton.
With the Rangers, Hamilton is a cornerstone player. He's the face of the franchise. He wouldn't be that in San Francisco, Los Angeles or Philadelphia. Hamilton has an established relationship with this team and its fans. That's not something that can be easily re-created in another city.
Hamilton also knows that he'll play for a championship contender in Texas, one that will continually strive to win the World Series that has eluded the Rangers for the past two seasons. There's no building to be done in Arlington, as there would be in places like Baltimore and Miami.
Of course, it comes down to money. If Hamilton doesn't like the offer he receives from the Rangers, much like Albert Pujols was insulted by the St. Louis Cardinals' attempt at a contract, he could certainly get what he's looking for elsewhere.
However, the Rangers have known this was coming for a long time. The front office and ownership have had plenty of time to assess the market and Hamilton's value to the franchise. Can they really afford to let Hamilton walk away?
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