MLB Predictions: One Under-the-Radar Team That Could Land Josh Hamilton
When Josh Hamilton and his heavy bat test the market this offseason, there will be one team willing and able to surprise baseball fans in signing Major League Baseball’s most coveted free agent.
The Texas Rangers will of course be strong players to re-sign their current star slugger, along with the usual suspects in every hot stove discussion—the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies—for no other reason than they have a ton of cash and are usually willing to spend it.
Outside of the Tigers, each of those teams is a stretch to sign the slugger. ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that the Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, San Fransisco Giants, Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox also have potential to show major interest in Hamilton.
However, one team should covet Hamilton more than any other, and the reason why has more to do with the city it plays in than anything else.
Battle to Build a New Home
In St. Petersburg, Fla., Tampa Bay Rays ownership is currently immersed in a battle for a brand-new stadium facility.
Last March, Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said that if a new stadium is not built in the Tampa-St. Pete area, the MLB would have to “find a new place” for his team.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, though Sternberg has been focused on Tampa, he is willing to seek another large market for his Rays to play.
St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster has been steadfast that he will not allow Sternberg and Rays ownership to break from their contract unless the team stays in town. The problem is, Sternberg has also taken the stand that St. Pete is too small a city for a baseball team and that nearby Tampa is a better fit.
According to NYTimes.com, the issues between these two sides are economic, if not political. The mayor of St. Petersburg wants the Rays to fulfill the rest of their 15-year contract, while Sternberg feels his organization is being stymied both competitively and financially by a stadium with below-average facilities and a floundering fanbase.
The Tampa Bay Times reports that a formal pitch for a new home will be made on Sept. 28 to St. Petersburg city officials. If negotiations proceed, Sternberg and company will do well to make centerfielder Josh Hamilton a major part of that pitch.
Business, Baseball and Bargaining
The signing of one of the MLB’s best all-around players would ensure that the already competitive Tampa Bay squad would continue to challenge the best in the AL for years to come. The marketability around a great baseball team, in addition to the advantages of having a player who is a growing success story, will give Rays team ownership more pull at the negotiating table to bargain with.
Only five MLB teams currently have a lower total salary than the small-market Rays. With $22.6 million coming off of the books this offseason in unrestricted free agents, according to spotrac.com, including current centerfielder B.J. Upton, a Hamilton signing may be just what Tampa needs to get an elusive World Series win.
What better way to argue the potential economic advantages of your baseball team than with one of the greatest, most marketable players in the league on your team and the potential for a championship?
In a baseball sense, the Rays have come close to winning it all in recent seasons, capturing the 2008 AL Pennant and claiming an AL East Division title in 2010. They just cannot seem to get past the league’s best when it matters most.
Boasting the league’s top pitching staff (tied with Nationals, 3.27 team earned run average), the Rays have been in the playoff hunt for the entire second half of the season, but have been missing a clutch power hitter. Tampa has a losing record in one-run ballgames and ranks 15th in home runs and 24th in team slugging percentage in the MLB.
When the offseason begins and the Tampa owners and St. Petersburg city officials are still having trouble seeing eye-to-eye, Hamilton could bring the two sides closer together.
If not, there is no better way to start anew in a fresh market than with a stud as your centerpiece.