MLB Free Agency: Will Yankees Take Big Josh Hamilton Risk to Replace Swisher?

Doug Mead@@Sports_A_HolicCorrespondent ISeptember 12, 2012

MLB Free Agency: Will Yankees Take Big Josh Hamilton Risk to Replace Swisher?

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    While this year's crop of free agents doesn't quite have the marquee-style names that adorned last year's free-agent list, there are some players of intrigue that will draw considerable interest—most notably Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton.

    Hamilton is currently leading the majors in both home runs and RBI, and he is on track to play over 150 games for just the second time in his career.

    Jim Bowden of ESPN speculated in his column yesterday that Hamilton would be a great fit for the New York Yankees. Bowden seems to be basing his conclusion on the fact that Hamilton is looking for a contract somewhere in the range of what Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols signed for last year.

    Here are six reasons why the New York Yankees should not take the risk of signing Hamilton to a long-term deal.

Injury History

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    As mentioned in the introductory slide, assuming that he stays healthy over the final three weeks of the regular season, Josh Hamilton will log 150 games for just the second time in his career.

    Hamilton reportedly will command a deal somewhere in the 10-year, $200 million range. By comparison, Prince Fielder—one of two players, the other being Albert Pujols, who recently received deals in that range—has missed exactly 13 games since the beginning of 2006.

    While Hamilton has remained relatively healthy this season, past history suggests that blocks of time could be missed.

    The Yankees already have 30-something players who can't stay on the field (Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira) and who are locked into long-term deals.

    Do they really want to add to that list?

History of Streaky Play

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    Josh Hamilton started out the 2012 season looking like he would smash records.

    Through the first two months of the season, Hamilton hit .368 with 21 HR and 57 RBI, easily on track for a potential 60 HR/180 RBI season or somewhere relatively close.

    The next two months told a completely different story, as Hamilton managed only a .202 average with eight HR and 27 RBI. He went on to match that production in August alone, hitting .310 with seven HR and 28 RBI. And he has cooled once again in September, hitting just .189.

    Hamilton has had similar lapses in previous seasons as well. In his MVP season of 2010, Hamilton got off to a relatively pedestrian start before tearing up the league in the summer months.

    In Jim Bowden's column on Tuesday, he said that New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman was only looking to sign "complete" players to long-term deals.

    I don't know, but for me, a complete player doesn't take entire months off. I'm certainly not implying Hamilton does that, but the statistics certainly indicate that Hamilton has trouble sustaining a high level of play consistently throughout the season.

Worries About Substance Abuse Relapse

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    There's no point in rehashing Josh Hamilton's rise from the ashes concerning his substance abuse issues, but it certainly will be in play when he reaches free agency at the end of the season.

    Hamilton has built a foundation in recovery within the metro-Dallas area, and the Texas Rangers have been extremely supportive in helping him with a variety of tools and resources in order for him to maintain his sobriety.

    He has relapsed in the past, though, as is common for anyone who has attempted to recover from a life torn apart by drugs and alcohol. But each time, the Rangers have been right there with their support.

    Hamilton would leave that behind and would have to start all over in building a support network if he were to sign with the New York Yankees. Can it be done? Absolutely. However, it will be a major concern moving forward.

Can Hamilton Play Right Field Full-Time?

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    Assuming that the New York Yankees pick up the $15 million option for center fielder Curtis Granderson for the 2013 season, and assuming that Brett Gardner is able to return to full health, Josh Hamilton would likely be starting in right field for the New York Yankees.

    It's not an unfamiliar position for Hamilton, as he has started 66 games there in the past. However, would that have an adverse effect on his game?

    Certainly something to think about, especially when considering a possible $200 million investment.

Signing Hamilton Severely Hampers Yankees' Payroll

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    According to MLB Trade Rumors, the New York Yankees have $119.1 in committed payroll for the 2013 season. That figure does not include arbitration-eligible players or club/vesting options for next season.

    Factoring in all of that, the Yankees will be approaching $150 million before even thinking about free agency.

    Managing partner Hal Steinbrenner has already issued an edict to get and stay beneath the luxury tax threshold. The Yankees have been over that threshold many times, and Steinbrenner is no doubt tired of giving money away.

    In signing Josh Hamilton to a long-term deal, with a potential annual salary north of $20 million, Steinbrenner's edict would be extremely difficult to achieve.

    Steinbrenner firmly believes the Yankees can operate at a lower payroll by continuing to strengthen their player-development system. Throwing $200 million or so at Hamilton, combined with guaranteed money for Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and others, goes against what Steinbrenner wants long-term.

    This is the new Yankees. Son Hal will not operate the team like father George.

Hamilton Simply Won't Last 10 Years

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    When the Los Angeles Angels signed free agent first baseman Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million contract this past offseason, there were certainly detractors who pointed to Pujols' age at the time (one month shy of his 32nd birthday) and the natural regression that comes with age.

    However, Pujols' durability has never been an issue, and his workout regimen and ability to heal quickly is well-documented.

    As stated before, Josh Hamilton has never been one to play a full season on a regular basis like Pujols or Prince Fielder.

    Hamilton' prior injury history alone would seem to dictate that signing him to a 10-year deal is just simply a bad risk.

    Five years maybe? Yes, it would make much more sense. But it's doubtful Hamilton would agree to a shorter-length deal.

    A career that shows a history of injury indeed shortens shelf life. One can take a look at the career of Ken Griffey Jr. and see that.

    Any team, let alone the Yankees, would be taking a huge risk in signing Hamilton for that length of time. But as Jim Bowden of ESPN suggested in his column on Tuesday, it only takes one team to set the market.

    However, the Yankees should not be that team.

     

    Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.