Where will Josh Hamilton go this winter?
When it comes to soon-to-strike-it-rich free agents like him, there tends to be at least some general notion as to which clubs are in play. Hamilton's ultimate destination, however, is about as easy to predict as the plot of a David Lynch movie.
I wouldn't recommend betting on which of MLB's 30 teams Hamilton will end up on next. You'd be better off throwing your hard-earned cash out the window.
But if you must, I suppose the safest bet for Hamilton's next team is...the Milwaukee Brewers?
It's starting to become a trendy idea, and it's getting trendier every day. ESPN's Buster Olney proposed the idea in an Insider column less than two weeks ago. On Thursday night, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported that he had it on good authority that the Brewers are "seriously considering" making a run at Hamilton.
The Brewers are a small-market team, but it's by no means crazy to think that they could sign Hamilton. As Olney noted, the Brewers have a "big-market mentality," and it's worth noting that they tried to sign CC Sabathia, Prince Fielder and Zack Greinke to lucrative extensions before they left town. Perhaps they'll be willing to spend those riches on Hamilton instead.
If the money's there, then Hamilton should not hesitate to pack up and move to Milwaukee. They're a perfect fit for his talents.
There's a Custom-Made Spot for Him in the Lineup
When the Brewers lost Prince Fielder to the Detroit Tigers last offseason, they lost a player who was one of their two main power sources and their primary protector for Ryan Braun within their lineup.
Losing Fielder, of course, didn't end up hurting Braun all that much. He was just as good in 2012 without Fielder as he was in 2011 with him, hitting .319/.391/.595 with a career-high 41 home runs.
Some credit for Braun's production in 2012 is owed to Aramis Ramirez, who had a typical Aramis Ramirez season hitting out of the cleanup spot in Ron Roenicke's lineup. He played in 149 games, hitting .300/.360/.540 with 27 homers.
The Brewers will be just fine if they enter the 2013 season with Braun penciled into the No. 3 spot and Ramirez penciled into the cleanup spot in their starting nine. Corey Hart would presumably be penciled into the No. 5 spot.
That's not a bad middle-of-the-order trio, but it's also slightly less than ideal to have three right-handed hitters all in a row like that. Having a lefty power hitter to stash behind Braun and in front of Ramirez and Hart would be just dandy.
And that's where Hamilton comes into play. He's a great hitter to begin with even despite his issues with chasing pitches out of the strike zone, and he kills right-handed pitching. He has a .959 OPS against righties for his career, and he's coming off a season in which he posted a .965 OPS against righties.
Hitting right-handers was something of a problem for the Brewers in 2012. They posted a very solid .795 OPS against left-handed pitchers, but a not-so-solid .750 OPS against right-handed pitchers.
Hamilton could come in and help level out those numbers, and it pretty much goes without saying that his presence in the cleanup spot would allow Braun to keep doing his thing.
Yes, it's true that Hamilton is a No. 3 hitter by trade, but he actually has a higher OPS as a cleanup hitter in his career than he does as a No. 3 hitter. If asked, he could handle batting cleanup for Roenicke.
Hamilton would be a fine fit for Milwaukee's lineup. He'd be an even better fit for the club's home ballpark.
Miller Park Is a Home Run Hitter's Paradise
For the last five years, Hamilton has gotten to play half his games at one of baseball's great launching pads in Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. It's been quite the partnership too, as Hamilton is a career .315/.373/.592 hitter at Texas' home digs.
But if Hamilton thinks Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is a launching pad, he clearly hasn't seen Miller Park yet.
...Well, OK fine, he actually has. Hamilton has played six games at Miller Park in his career, collecting seven hits in 25 at-bats with two homers, two doubles and a triple.
Hamilton's impressive power numbers at Miller Park aren't much of a surprise. It was the top launching pad in the majors this season, according to ESPN.com's Park Factors, beating out Great American Ball Park for the top spot with a home run factor of 1.631.
Brewers hitters certainly had their share of fun at Miller Park. They slugged .403 with 83 home runs on the road in 2012, and .472 with 119 home runs at home. When they played at home, they were basically the 1927 Yankees.
Now imagine Hamilton playing half his games at Miller Park. He hits the ball as hard as any player in the majors when he's right, and you don't need to hit the ball all that hard to get it over the fence at Miller Park. Balls that are warning track fly balls at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington are probably homers at Miller Park.
As an added bonus, Hamilton wouldn't have to worry about playing at AL West pitchers' havens like Safeco Field, O.co Coliseum or Angel Stadium at Anaheim anymore. Instead, he'd get to play more games at GABP, Coors Field, Chase Field, Citizens Bank Park and other launching pads around the National League.
All he'd have to do is hit National League pitching, and this is something we know he can do.
Past Success Against NL Pitching
Hamilton did not have a good time against National League pitchers in interleague play in 2012. He hit just .222/.302/.370 with only one home run in 15 interleague games.
However, Hamilton's interleague numbers were down across the board largely because he wasn't hitting anybody well at the time interleague play was going on. He was smack in the middle of that brutal slump that lasted from the middle of May to the end of July.
Hamilton was considerably better in interleague play in 2010 and 2011. In 17 games in 2010, he hit .472/.500/.806 with five home runs. In 14 games in 2011, he hit .321/.397/.696 with six home runs.
Granted, these numbers do have to be taken with a grain of salt. He faced different sets of pitchers each year, and he would be facing a much broader range of pitchers in 2013 and beyond if he were to sign with the Brewers. He's not going to transition over to the National League and hit 65 home runs.
But given his past production against NL pitching, it would be fair to expect Hamilton to hit over 40 home runs again. If he were to garnish his 40-plus homers with a .300 average and a .950-plus OPS, the Brewers would be getting their money's worth from their new star slugger.
To keep the numbers coming, it would be vitally important for the Brewers to keep Hamilton in line. Wherever he goes, he'll need to be in an environment where he'll feel comfortable.
The Brewers can provide just that.
Hamilton has had a couple slip-ups in his ongoing recovery from his problems with addiction, but the Rangers have generally done a fine job of handling him during his five years with the team.
Any club that signs Hamilton is going to have to duplicate the support structure that Hamilton has had in Texas, and the Brewers are in a better position to do that than most clubs.
As Heyman noted in his article, the Brewers employ Johnny Narron as their hitting coach. Before he left for Milwaukee, Narron was Texas' assistant hitting coach and Hamilton's "life coach" away from the ballpark. The two of them go way back to Hamilton's time in Cincinnati as well, so it would seem that they have a very strong relationship.
“Josh will be fine,” Narron said after deciding to join the Brewers last November, via The Dallas Morning News. “It’s time for Josh to go on his own path and for me to go on my own path.”
Losing Narron didn't impact Hamilton's production on the field all that much in 2012, but it's impossible to ignore the fact that Hamilton had a relapse with alcohol just a few months after Narron accepted the Brewers job. While nothing too serious came to pass, Hamilton did go on to make headlines for various mini-controversies away from the field during the season.
A reunion with Narron could be just what Hamilton needs after his trying 2012 season. Elsewhere, it helps that Milwaukee is hardly the most suffocating baseball city in the country, and that the local press corps is nowhere close to being as rabid as those of big cities like Boston, New York, Los Angeles or even Dallas-Fort Worth.
For the Brewers, the hard part of signing Hamilton will be figuring out how many years to put on his contract and whether they can afford the dollar amounts that are sure to follow.
Everything else about the Brewers, however, is almost too perfect.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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