When it comes to the 2013 free-agent class, there's Hamilton and really no one else. Other players will fill key holes for particular teams. Certain free agents might provide the final piece needed to become a playoff contender or championship hopeful.
But no player on the open market will make the impact that Hamilton likely will for any team he signs with. ESPN's Buster Olney speculated that the Detroit Tigers could make a run at him. That would create a tremendous foursome of Hamilton, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez that few teams would be able to match.
However, Hamilton to Detroit is surely a longshot. A more practical destination for him might be the San Francisco Giants. Wednesday morning (Sept. 19), Olney tweeted that a National League executive he spoke to saw the Giants as the team that will eventually land Hamilton.
San Francisco would certainly be a good fit for Hamilton. He would bring a 40-homer, 120-RBI bat to the middle of a lineup that already features Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence. Hamilton could bat No. 3 in front of Posey, with Sandoval and Pence to follow, giving Giants manager Bruce Bochy a left-right-left-right combination in the heart of his batting order.
Though FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating doesn't view Hamilton's defense favorably this year, he would add a a quality glove to the Giants' outfield. As a team, San Francisco ranks in the top 10 in outfield defense.
Hamilton's center field days are probably over. But if the Giants bring back Angel Pagan next season, that position would be covered, and Hamilton could focus primarily on left field, which is where he's ideally suited at this point of his career.
However, if the Giants sink big money into signing Hamilton—some projections have him getting a four- to five- year deal worth at least $25 million per season—will they have the resources to sign Pagan to play center field and perhaps Marco Scutaro as their second baseman? Would this be the end of Brian Wilson's career in San Francisco as well?
Given how important a role the Giants' depth has played in them leading the NL West, would it be a mistake to sacrifice quality reserves in favor of adding a big bat to the lineup? Consider also that Hamilton will probably play fewer than 150 games and won't have the luxury of playing at designated hitter for a semi-rest during the season.
Reservations aside, the primary benefit to the Giants signing Hamilton would be establishing them as the favorite in the National League next season.
As mentioned above, no other NL team would match a middle-of-the-order comprised of Hamilton, Posey, Sandoval and Pence.
Perhaps the St. Louis Cardinals would take issue with that, as they'll feature Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina and David Freese in their lineup. But the Giants would have two MVP-caliber players, one of whom hit 40 home runs.
Pitching is also a major strength for the Giants. Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner have been two of the best starting pitchers in the NL this season. Ryan Vogelsong was right there with them until faltering in September. Tim Lincecum has turned himself around well after an awful first half of the season and should return strong next year. And Barry Zito is having his best season in a Giants uniform.
That's just the starting rotation. The Giants also feature one of the better bullpens in the NL, with Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez each boasting an ERA under 3.00. George Kontos and Jose Mijares have also pitched well in relief.
The Washington Nationals rotation will challenge the Giants for best pitching staff in the league. The Nats have the best team ERA in the NL this season. Stephen Strasburg won't be worrying about any innings limits next year. He, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman could be the best starting three in baseball.
The Nats' relief corps is excellent as well, with Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus and Sean Burnett. Very few teams can match that kind of relief depth.
But would either the Cardinals or Nationals be as strong on both sides of the ball as the Giants with Hamilton on their roster?
San Francisco would enjoy an advantage over its NL West archrivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers. If the Dodgers signed Zack Greinke as a free agent, perhaps they would get the nod for starting pitching. Their hitting foursome of Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier would match up favorably as well. But the rest of the lineup and perhaps the bullpen would still have some holes to fill.
Ultimately, I would bet Hamilton re-signs with the Rangers. But it's hardly a given. If and when he hits free agency, several teams will pursue him, and one or two of those clubs may meet his price.
The Giants have been willing to hand out big contracts before. Imagining the possibilities that would lie ahead with Hamilton in their lineup could be enticing enough to make that investment.
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