Analyzing Josh Hamilton's Potential Impact on the San Francisco Giants

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Analyzing Josh Hamilton's Potential Impact on the San Francisco Giants
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The San Francisco Giants probably wouldn't change a thing this winter if they had their druthers.

Shoot, after winning their second World Series championship in three years in convincing fashion over the Detroit Tigers, why would they?

The Giants certainly will make quite a few changes this offseason, though. They have several free agents that they are unlikely to retain, chief among them being Melky Cabrera, and Brian Sabean isn't going to pass up opportunities to make improvements.

The possibility exists that Sabean will look to make a major improvement by signing a top free agent.

The rumor is a little dated by now, but ESPN's Buster Olney said back in September that the Giants could be the team to scoop up Josh Hamilton this winter:

For what it's worth, Las Vegas also likes the Giants to sign Hamilton this winter. According to Bovada.lv, via CBSSports.com, the Giants were 3-1 favorites to sign the former AL MVP as of October 11.

As far as I can tell, Giants fans are lukewarm on the idea of their favorite team inking Hamilton to a big contract. The last couple big contracts the team has handed out to free agents—see Zito, Barry and Rowand, Aaron—didn't work out so well. Sabean's best moves in the last few years have been for cheaper, more unheralded players like Angel Pagan and Ryan Vogelsong.

There are, however, some pretty good reasons why the Giants should be considered in play for Hamilton. They may be no more than a dark horse contender in the Hamilton sweepstakes, but he's a guy they can afford and who could have a significant impact on the club for years to come.

Let's break it down.

 

First of All, Here's Why This Makes Sense

Brian Sabean is going to be a busy man this offseason. The club has several players set to hit the open market, including some names that played key roles in the team's championship run in 2012 in Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Jeremy Affeldt.

Even if Sabean finds a way to maintain the three of them, he'll still have much work to do. Most notably, he'll have to do something to patch up the hole in left field that has existed ever since Melky Cabrera's testosterone suspension.

[Yes, Gregor Blanco did a fine job of filling in for Cabrera down the stretch and in the playoffs, but he's a player who would be better suited for fourth outfielder duty. It would be better for him to be an asset off the bench than a below-average everyday left fielder.]

In Texas, Hamilton got used to splitting his time between left and center field. Per FanGraphs, Hamilton is a significantly better left fielder than he is a center fielder as far as the sabermetric stats are concerned, and he'd be better off sticking there long-term for the sake of keeping his body intact.

The Giants could use Hamilton in left field, and they could use his bat in their lineup as well. The Giants were an above-average offensive team in 2012, but power was a problem. They finished dead-last in the majors in home runs.

In theory, Hamilton and the Giants are a good fit. The bigger hurdle, obviously, is the money.

Back in September, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com took a wild guess and said that Hamilton is going to get a five-year contract worth $150 million this winter. That's a $30 million average per year, which would be a new record.

Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE
"Cheer up, Josh. If your strikeouts counted for anything, we'd be killing them."

However, this was before Hamilton fell totally flat in the last couple weeks of the season. He even capped things off by going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a GIDP in the Rangers' loss to the Baltimore Orioles in the AL Wild Card Game.

Hamilton's struggles down the stretch could leave him with one less leg to stand on in negotiations. So could the terrible slump he went through from the middle of May through the end of July. 

Factor in the reality that there are only going to be so many teams bidding for Hamilton this winter, and my best guess is that he'll have to settle for a five-year deal worth a max of $125 million.

In a day and age when superstar sluggers like Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols are getting deals worth more than $200 million spread out over nine or 10 years, a five-year deal worth $125 million doesn't sound all that unreasonable.

Especially not for a team like the Giants. They drew over three million fans to AT&T Park for a third consecutive year in 2012, and they'll begin the 2013 season with the impressive sellout streak intact. Local interest in the team could not be higher, and it helps that the Giants have the best ballpark in the majors.

The Giants also have plenty of TV money to throw around. Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle has noted that the Giants get somewhere around 30 percent of the revenue generated by their deal with Comcast Sports Net, and they also have national TV money coming their way.

With MLB inking new separate deals with ESPN and with FOX and Turner Sports in the last few months, the amount of national TV money coming the Giants' way is only going to increase in the near and not-so-near future.

Considering the amount of dough the Giants are rolling in at this point in the club's history, a $125 million deal over five years sounds even more reasonable. If that ends up being Hamilton's price, he could be wearing Giants colors before you know it.

 

What Hamilton Would Bring to the Table

My apologies for all the nickles-and-dimes chatter, but it had to be done in this case. MLB's financial landscape is changing a lot more than people realize, and you almost need a college degree to master Hamilton's prospects in free agency.

Hamilton's case is strange like that, but it's just a matter of time before somebody pays him. At the end of the day, there just aren't many players who can do what he can do out on the field.

For all his struggles, Hamilton was one of the best offensive players in the American League in 2012. He finished second in the league in homers with 43, and he placed in the top five in RBI, runs scored, slugging and OPS.

And let's face it. The fact that Hamilton finished with such strong numbers in the end is pretty impressive seeing as how he hit .224/.302/.430 for over a third of the season. Had he not gone into a slump, he could have hit as many as 60 home runs and racked up as many as 150 RBI.

The team that signs Hamilton will be hoping for the kind of production he managed in the first six weeks of the 2012 season, not to mention the first half of the 2008 season and all of the 2010 season. When he's right, he may be the most dominant hitter in baseball. In the end, that's what his new team will be hoping to get. 

Elsa/Getty Images
Buster Posey has two rings, a Rookie of the Year, a Comeback Player of the Year award, he's probably going to win the NL MVP, and he's only been in the league for three years. Wow.

The Giants are a little different, though. They already have a very good offensive team with at least one elite hitter in Buster Posey. Pablo Sandoval is among the game's best when he's healthy, and the Giants also have a promising young first baseman in Brandon Belt and a solid right fielder in Hunter Pence lined up for 2013.

The Giants don't really need an elite hitter. They just need an elite power hitter.

In Hamilton, they'd get just that. If he were to stay healthy for around 145 games on an annual basis, the Giants could count on him for somewhere around 40 home runs per year. They haven't had a guy like that since Barry Bonds.

It's true that AT&T Park would be an issue for Hamilton, as it's pretty well entrenched as one of the worst home run havens in the majors (It was the worst home run park in the majors in 2012, according to ESPN.com.)

Bonds, however, never had a problem taming AT&T Park's walls, and Hamilton may have just as much or even more power in his bat than Bonds did even when he was at the peak of his...well, you know.

Rest assured, the home runs would come. And if you put Hamilton in the middle of the Giants' lineup, it becomes a very scary unit.

Observe...

 

How He Would Impact the Lineup

About the only thing we know for sure right now is that Buster Posey will be batting cleanup for the Giants in 2013. The rest of the Giants' lineup is nebulous until further notice.

But if they re-sign Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro, they can be penciled in at leadoff and second, respectively. Then it would just be a matter of the Giants figuring out who would bat in front of and behind Posey.

Hamilton is a guy who could fill either role.

Hamilton is used to being a No. 3 hitter in Texas' lineup, and it's a role he's generally handled well throughout his career. In a total of 2,304 plate appearances, Hamilton has an .882 OPS in his career as a No. 3 hitter.

If the Giants were to bat Hamilton in front of Posey, Pablo Sandoval could protect Posey in the No. 5 spot. That's a role he excelled at in 2012, as he posted an OPS of .850 when he hit fifth, his highest in any particular spot in the lineup.

However, my issue with Hamilton as a No. 3 hitter is that he's too strikeout-prone, as he struck out more than 25 percent of the time he came to the plate in 2012. This has much to do with the fact that he swung at pitches outside the strike zone more often than any hitter in the league, according to FanGraphs.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Pablo Sandovals' K% by year: 13.1 in 2009, 13.1 in 2010, 13.5 in 2011 and 13.3 in 2012.

Sandoval also swung at a ton of pitches outside the zone, but he has an uncanny track record of only striking out about 13 percent of the time he comes to the plate in a given season. He's a free-swinger, but it's a craft that he has pretty well mastered.

So if it were me, I'd keep Sandoval in the No. 3 hole and bat Hamilton fifth behind Posey. His strikeouts would do less damage in the No. 5 hole, yet his power would scare pitchers into giving Posey more stuff to hit.

Remember, this was an issue in the postseason while Hunter Pence was hitting behind Posey. Pitchers weren't afraid of him, so they had little incentive to challenge Posey with hittable pitches.

The last thing the Giants want is for that to become a trend in the regular season, and that could very well happen if they don't find a fearsome hitter to back up Posey.

San Francisco's lineup could look drastically different in 2014 and 2015, but if the Giants sign Hamilton, they could be looking at a very good long-term trio in Hamilton, Posey and Sandoval.

And at this point, it's in their interest to have a good core of hitters for the long haul.

 

How He Would Impact the Giants' Standing in the NL West

When the 2013 season begins, the Giants are going to be the favorites to win the NL West pretty much by default.

It won't be that easy, though. The Los Angeles Dodgers are going to be a very legitimate threat to the Giants next season. They'll have a strong starting rotation, a strong bullpen, a pretty good defense and a very, very good lineup.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Free advice: Don't underestimate the Dodgers.

Regardless of what order Don Mattingly puts them in, we know that the Dodgers are going to have quite a few stars in their lineup. Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will make for a very strong outfield, and the Dodgers will have Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez patrolling their infield.

If everyone stays healthy, the Dodgers' lineup should be one of the league's best. It wouldn't even be much of a shock if they led the majors in runs scored.

This is who the Giants are up against, both right now and for the foreseeable future. And for the time being, they don't hold a candle to the Dodgers in terms of pure firepower. More is needed.

If the Giants add Hamilton, the playing field will be just about level. The Giants will have the elite home run hitter that they didn't have in 2012, and he'll be surrounded by quality hitters up and down the lineup.

The last thing the Dodgers want is for the Giants to sign Hamilton. They'd be getting a big bat, for one, but they'd also be showing the Dodgers that two can play at the high-stakes game that Los Angeles is trying to use to gain control of the NL West.

Mind you, this doesn't mean that the Giants would suddenly up their payroll to $200 million to take their place alongside the Dodgers among MLB's fattest cats. In fact, signing Hamilton wouldn't necessarily stop the Giants from being characteristically measured in their spending.

 

How His Contract Would Impact Payroll and Future Spending

If the Giants do sign Hamilton this winter, their payroll would surely take a hike to an all-time high. They'd likely open the 2013 season with a payroll over $150 million for the first time in the club's history.

It could, however, come right back down again in 2014.

Part of the reason the Giants' payroll is so bloated to begin with at the moment is because they have three players in Matt Cain, Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum set to make at least $20 million in 2013. If they add Hamilton, they'll have four players making at least $20 million.

But after the 2013 season is over, it's likely that both Lincecum and Zito will come off the books. Lincecum will be a free agent, and it seems doubtful right now that the Giants will have much interest in retaining him (just a hunch). Zito, meanwhile, has an $18 million team option for the 2014 season that the Giants likely won't pick up. Instead, they could pay Zito $7 million and make him go away forever.

If the Giants do let the two of them go, they'll be saving somewhere around $40 million in salary commitments. Not too shabby.

Now, they probably won't be able to take that money and throw it in a room somewhere. They'd surely look to spend it on two guys who will be in line for contract extensions.

Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE
Brian Sabean is the most underrated GM in baseball. Hands down.

Pablo Sandoval is one, as his deal with the Giants is up after 2014. He likely won't be re-signed for cheap, but it's hard to see the Giants having to pay him the same kind of money they're paying Lincecum and Zito right now. At most, I can see Sandoval commanding an annual salary of $14 or $15 million per year.

Buster Posey is also going to need an extension pretty soon. The quicker the Giants move on that front, the better. It would be better for them to lock up Posey for a reasonable annual salary now than it would be for them to have to pay an open-market price for him. At this rate, Posey is going to be at least a $20 million per year player when he hits free agency.

Even if the Giants are spending big bucks on Hamilton, Posey and Sandoval a couple years from now, I'd anticipate the club's payroll going no higher than the $150 million threshold. That may sound high now, but bear in mind that the club's payroll has been on the rise for several years and that the Giants' recent success has generated the kind of revenue to continue signing marquee players. 

Plus, let's not forget that they're due an uptick in national TV money in the near future.

Now, even with all of this being said, should anyone think that the Giants are the favorite to sign Hamilton this winter?

In all honesty, no. I actually think the Milwaukee Brewers are going to be the most interested party, and you can never rule out the so-called  "mystery team." Both Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder ended up on mystery teams last winter, and Hamilton could too.

But the Giants are definitely a realistic final destination for Hamilton.

At the very least, they're surely an intriguing option.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Salary figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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