Which team will Josh Hamilton play for next season?
The likeliest outcome seems to be a return to the Texas Rangers. But if Hamilton does test free agency, anything can happen, as we saw this past offseason. Did anyone expect Albert Pujols to sign with the Los Angeles Angels or Prince Fielder to end up with the Detroit Tigers?
While looking at the potential market for Hamilton this winter, ESPN's Buster Olney ruled out most of the teams that might be expected to pursue him. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees all presumably won't show interest in Hamilton. And the teams that could use Hamilton (the Seattle Mariners, for instance) probably won't meet his price.
But what about the Tigers? No one expected Detroit to sign Fielder to a $214 million contract. Yet owner Mike Ilitch seems intent on continuing to shovel money onto his baseball team until it finally gives him the World Series championship he yearns to win.
According to Olney and the baseball executives he spoke to, that makes the Tigers the wild card in the market for Hamilton. While Detroit might not have the billion-dollar TV contract that teams like the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers enjoy, if Ilitch decides he wants Hamilton on his team, he will likely find a way to make it happen.
Hamilton would certainly be an excellent fit in the Tigers lineup. Left field has been a hole for them all season. Actually, Detroit has tried to fill the position for years without much success. Signing Hamilton to a longer-term deal probably wouldn't be a smart move. But it's looking doubtful Hamilton will find that sort of contract offer, given his age (31) and injury history.
Detroit has Miguel Cabrera signed through 2015 and Justin Verlander locked down until 2014. Either of those players could re-sign with the Tigers, of course, but their window of opportunity is likely open for the next two to three years. A contract for Hamilton could fall within that time period.
The idea seems outlandish. Yet so did the possibility of signing Fielder over the winter. If the Tigers don't make the playoffs, Ilitch could very well make another splashy, somewhat desperate move to keep his team competing for an AL Central title and league pennant.
What if Hamilton did sign with the Tigers and joined Cabrera and Fielder in the middle of their lineup? What kind of monster hitting trio would we witness next season and in years to come?
Let's just look at the production from each hitter this season. Hamilton has 42 home runs and 123 RBI. Cabrera is batting .333 with 40 homers and 129 RBI. Fielder has a .305 batting average with 27 homers and 100 RBI.
Given their consistency in recent seasons, it's not unreasonable to presume that Hamilton, Cabrera and Fielder could put up these sorts of numbers (though maybe not the same home run totals) for the next two to three years.
Where would this put them among the great hitting trios in baseball history?
How about the legendary "Murderers' Row" of the 1927 Yankees? Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs with 164 RBI that season. Lou Gehrig added 47 homers and 175 RBI. Bob Meusel only hit eight home runs but had 103 RBI.
OK, the Tigers would probably fall short of those numbers, especially the RBI totals. So a Hamilton-Cabrera-Fielder trio would not be a new "Murderers' Row." But that's why only one lineup got that nickname and why the '27 Yankees are held up as perhaps the most dominant team in sports.
Would the Tigers stack up against the 1930 Philadelphia Athletics? Mickey Cochrane hit 10 home runs and 85 RBI. Al Simmons slugged 36 homers with 165 RBI. Jimmie Foxx hit 37 home runs with 156 RBI.
A Detroit batting order with Hamilton in it might surpass those numbers, though the RBI totals would again probably be difficult to reach. How did these guys drive in so many runs? The lowest on-base percentage on the 1930 A's was Joe Boley's .335.
Let's bring the comparisons into a more contemporary era. The era of color television, at least. Would this fantasy Tigers trio overpower the 1995 Colorado Rockies?
The middle of that batting order was comprised of Larry Walker, Dante Bichette and Andres Galarraga. Walker hit 36 home runs with 101 RBI. Bichette blasted 40 homers and added 128 RBI. Galarraga brought 31 home runs and 106 RBI to the table.
Vinny Castilla also had 32 homers and 92 RBI for that team. The Tigers might have a fourth hitter to match that production in Victor Martinez. Martinez has never hit that many home runs, however.
The 1993 Texas Rangers rank favorably among these teams. That lineup featured Rafael Palmeiro with 37 home runs and 105 RBI, Juan Gonzalez's 46 homers and 118 RBI and 33 home runs and 96 RBI from Dean Palmer.
Let's bring this full circle back to the Yankees, particularly the 2009 squad. Mark Teixeira was the No. 3 hitter, clubbing 39 home runs with 122 RBI. Alex Rodriguez batted cleanup, hitting 30 homers with 100 RBI. And Hideki Matsui hit in the fifth spot, adding 28 homers and 90 RBI.
However, no team—especially whatever lineup the 2013 Tigers might put together—can match the depth of that Yankees lineup. Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher each surpassed 20 home runs and an .850 OPS.
But if the Tigers were to join Hamilton with Cabrera and Fielder, perhaps the 2009 Yankees is the team to aim for. No one is the 1927 Yankees.
That Hamilton-Cabrera-Fielder trio could probably surpass the production of the Yankees' threesome. But most importantly, that team won the World Series that season. That's the result Ilitch wants and why he would shell out the cash for Hamilton.
Still, the Tigers signing Hamilton seems like the stuff of fantasy. I won't believe it could happen until I actually see Hamilton holding up a Tigers jersey at a press conference, flanked by Ilitch and general manager Dave Dombrowski.
Of course, I would have said the same thing about Fielder before this season. I would have taken the same stance in 2004 when Detroit signed Pudge Rodriguez too. And in 2005 with Magglio Ordonez.
Maybe this really could happen.
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