Josh Hamilton is the top dog in this year's free-agent class. He's the best player available and will also be the most expensive.
We now have an idea of just how much Hamilton might cost any team that pursues him. According to USA Today's John Perrotto, the 31-year-old outfielder is seeking a seven-year deal worth $175 million on the open market.
In terms of annual salary, that would put Hamilton with the big boys like Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez. He would easily be the highest-paid outfielder in MLB with that contract. At that price, several teams that may have been interested in signing Hamilton—such as the Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies—might not enter the bidding.
But what about the club for whom money doesn't appear to be an obstacle anymore? What about the Los Angeles Dodgers? Do they project as the team that will eventually sign Hamilton to the mega-bucks contract he's seeking?
"We can take on significant money," principal owner Mark Walter told the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez on Aug. 23.
Walter and the Guggenheim Baseball Management ownership group showed they're not kidding about that. Between the non-waiver and waiver trade deadlines, the Dodgers took on $290 million in payroll while adding players such as Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford for a run at the playoffs.
The Dodgers couldn't quite spend their way into the postseason, though they finished only two games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League's second wild-card bid.
However, the team finished eight games behind the San Francisco Giants in the NL West. Between that and the Giants going on to win the World Series, it's clear that the Dodgers have some catching up to do.
The area in which general manager Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly have the most ground to make up is run production.
The Dodgers finished 26th out of 30 MLB teams this season in runs scored. Their .252 team batting average was 16th, middle of the pack. But a .690 team OPS also ranked them No. 26 in the majors.
With a 3.34 team ERA that finished third in MLB, the Dodgers were able to compete with their outstanding starting pitching and strong bullpen. But this team needs to score some more runs to truly compete in the NL West and the league as a whole. Consider that the Dodgers' 637 runs finished 63 behind the lowest-scoring playoff team. The Atlanta Braves scored 700 runs this season.
Hamilton would certainly boost that run production significantly.
The Texas Rangers scored the most runs in MLB this season with 808. Obviously, Hamilton had plenty of help with Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli in the Rangers lineup. But he drove in 128 runs and scored 103 this season. No one in the Dodgers lineup came anywhere close to those numbers.
Sure, Matt Kemp is an MVP candidate for the Dodgers. In April, Kemp looked as if he would be the unquestioned winner of the award, batting .417 with a 1.383 OPS, 12 home runs and 25 RBI. But hamstring and shoulder injuries limited him to only 106 games this season.
Kemp still managed to lead the Dodgers with 23 homers and a .908 OPS. But without a consistent run producer in the middle of the lineup, scoring runs became a major challenge.
But what if Kemp was teamed with Hamilton in the middle of the Dodgers' batting order?
Hamilton got off to an equally explosive start this season. In April and May, he hit a combined .368 with a 1.185 OPS, 21 homers and 57 RBI. Overall, he slugged a career-high 43 home runs this year. His .930 OPS and 128 RBI were the second-highest totals of his six major league seasons.
A middle of the order with Hamilton batting third, Kemp hitting cleanup and Gonzalez batting fifth might be the best in MLB. Add Ramirez batting sixth and the Dodgers lineup gets that much deeper.
What about Andre Ethier? Would he bat seventh? Or second, which is where Mattingly hit him toward the end of the season?
Well, a Dodgers team that includes Hamilton almost certainly would not include Ethier. When he was signed to a five-year, $85 million contract—which could become a six-year, $100 million deal if Ethier reaches certain incentives—the prevailing wisdom was that the Dodgers wouldn't be a player for Hamilton.
Hamilton looked like even less of a possibility when Crawford was one of the pieces coming to Chavez Ravine in the blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox. With all three outfield spots spoken for, where would Hamilton play for the Dodgers?
So perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that ESPN's Buster Olney heard from sources that the Dodgers were "open to the idea" of trading Ethier. CBS Sports' Jon Heyman soon followed up with a report that said Ethier wouldn't be traded. But they can't both be right.
Heyman's source told him that one of the reasons the Dodgers would hold on to Ethier is because Kemp and Crawford might not be available at the beginning of the season while they recover from shoulder and elbow injuries, respectively.
But that hardly means the team wouldn't trade Ethier if it meant clearing a space on the roster and payroll for Hamilton.
If anything, it could mean that Colletti wouldn't trade Ethier while Kemp and Crawford were sidelined. Of course, he'd become trade bait the instant one of those players returned.
Any team looking for a left-handed power hitter for a corner outfield spot would probably be interested in Ethier. His deal might even be cheaper than what Nick Swisher gets on the open market.
The competition for Hamilton's services figures to be fierce, even with his reported contract demands. But MLB's other big spenders, the Yankees and Red Sox, are supposedly looking to reign in spending a bit. The Angels have an outfield glut, but could have an opening if Torii Hunter leaves as a free agent and GM Jerry Dipoto is able to trade Vernon Wells.
That could create an opportunity for the Dodgers to blow the competition away with a humongous offer, perhaps exceeding what Hamilton is allegedly seeking. The team can then figure out where Hamilton fits and how the rest of the roster works out later.
Hey, it's how the Dodgers did business at the trade deadline. Get the players and figure out the other details afterwards. If it meant getting a player of Hamilton's talent, why worry about the small stuff?
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