I love free agency. It's a time of year when speculation runs rampant and hope springs eternal, especially in cities like Seattle where the local baseball team is in desperate need of a change in fortune.
This year it seems the Mariners are a potential suitor for Josh Hamilton, according to Yahoo! Sports' Kevin Kaduk last week.
Two months ago when putting together a list of free agents the Mariners would take a long look at, I included Hamilton assuming the front office would take a similar look, but don't touch approach—similar to how they "pursued" Prince Fielder last winter.
Quite frankly it's hard to take the M's front office or anybody too seriously at this point, so much so that even USS Mariner's Dave Cameron wanted to urge caution in his post in response to the rumor.
At the same time, it is a bit of a hot topic so when my editors asked me to tackle the question of Hamilton and the Mariners, I initially contemplated taking a pros and cons approach similar to what Seattle Times writer Steve Kelley pieced together over the weekend:
"Hamilton and his contract could suffocate the franchise, or he could resuscitate the team. He could hamstring the Mariners, or he could liberate them.
He is the most intriguing, scary, thrilling free agent in many years. At the right price, not $175 million, he could be the answer to the Mariners' prayers.
They have to consider him, while also having a fallback position if he doesn't sign. They have to do their homework and make a determination on whether Hamilton's second half slide was a glitch or a pattern."
Unlike Kelley though, I'm not in favor of pursuing Hamilton and I'm here to explain why.
Some issues have to do with Hamilton, but others have to do more with the team signing him. For as much as the Mariners might need Hamilton to help turn things around, are they really the right fit for him at this point in his career?
Before we talk money, years, drugs, draft picks, or the wheelings and dealings of the Mariners organization, let's cover off on a point that every team considering Hamilton needs to ask.
Is Hamilton capable of staying healthy?
Over the course of his career, Hamilton has only played 140+ games twice across six seasons spent primarily in Texas. While you could argue that he's been far more productive than most players even with limited playing time, can Hamilton given his style of play continue to hold up his end of the bargain.
Last year, some argued that the M's should avoid Prince Fielder due to the potential breakdown of his body over time given his size, even though he was several years younger than Hamilton and had a clean bill of health throughout his career.
Should the Mariners agree to take on someone who is no doubt talented, but considerably older (in terms of professional sports) and far more fragile?
Odds are slim that a guy who's almost 32 and always plays hard will stay healthy no matter where he plays.
At some point a team will fork over the money to find out, but for the Mariners that's a major gamble.
Speaking of the Mariners, even if you want to assume that Hamilton can stay healthy, can they really afford him?
After the moves for Hisashi Iwakuma and Oliver Perez, the team has roughly $16 million left to spend this winter in order match their budget from this past year. Of course they could end up spending more, but how many of us are willing to believe that right now?
I'm skeptical, but Dave Cameron at USS Mariner doesn't think it's terribly far-fetched:
"It probably works financially, depending on what else the team wants to do this winter. Of course, Jack can’t just concern himself with whether the price works for 2013, especially if the report that Hamilton is seeking 7/175 is accurate. At that price, he’s just not worth the investment anymore, even though they could fit $25 million into the 2013 payroll. I’m pretty sure the Mariners aren’t going to be interested at 7/175. But, if its 5/110 or 6/130, that’s probably the kind of deal where Jack starts to think about Hamilton as a legitimate option."
Right now none of us know how much money the Mariners intend to spend this winter, but even if we assume they can afford Hamilton, will they have any money left to spend elsewhere?
This is a team that could use a little help in more than a few places on their roster and while a player as great as Hamilton can certainly provide a major boost, he can only play outfield or designated hitter, not both at the same time.
For the price of Hamilton the Mariners could sign two solid players they need, rather than one they want.
It's a tough choice for general manager Jack Zduriencik as he's trying to rebuild the Mariners with a young nucleus in need of some veteran support. At the same time, the team has struggled to remain relevant both on a local level and throughout Major League Baseball.
So the temptation to sign Hamilton is certainly understandable, but doing so would likely require Jack Z to spend his entire remaining budget, or certainly a good chunk of it, to bring Hamilton Seattle.
Complicating matters further is the potential length of Hamilton's contract.
According to ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett, Hamilton turned down the Rangers 3-year offer to stay with them:
"Beyond expressing a desire to bring Hamilton back, CEO Nolan Ryan said Wednesday the length of the contract was tougher to gauge. Hamilton is seeking a long-term deal in his first foray into the free-agent market. The qualifying offer allows the Rangers to receive a supplemental first-round draft pick in 2013 should he sign elsewhere."
It's hard to tell if the Rangers are calling Hamilton's bluff or simply avoiding a contract that they in effect could be paying for the remainder of the decade.
Either way, it's a bold move by the Rangers; however they also have a solid roster that could likely move on without Hamilton.
The Mariners however need Hamilton more than he needs them. With that kind of leverage how many years would it take to strike a deal?
Honestly I'm afraid to find out.
While everyone agrees that seven years seems ridiculous, would—and for that matter should—the M's offer up a five or six year deal?
If you're GM Jack Zduriencik right now and you're being given the money to spend, what do you have to lose as this team is going nowhere fast?
Odds are if Hamilton produces he gets to keep his job. If he fails, well... it was worth a shot.
That all sounds reasonable until you realize the problem with that gamble falls on everyone else, especially the next GM who gets stuck with the bill for the remainder of the decade.
If you think Chone Figgins and his deal is an albatross, can you imagine the level of frustration that will be felt in Seattle by year five of a Hamilton deal gone wrong?
While we're on the topic of mortgaging the future.
This might seem like a small point, but one we can't ignore based on the new rules in which the Mariners would lose their No. 1 pick in 2013 if they signed Hamilton.
According to MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo, "Teams picking in the top 10 of the Draft would not have to forfeit a first rounder for signing a free agent. Assuming that some of the free agents do sign with teams that pick in the 11-31 range, the comp round picks have a good chance of moving into the top 30 by the time the final Draft order is set."
Go figure that the M's improvement on the field this season would be just good enough to hurt them in this scenario as they are currently slated to draft at No. 12 next June.
Granted, the MLB Draft is arguably the biggest crapshoot of all the major professional sports drafts. Nevertheless, you'd hate to think the Mariners would be giving up the chance to draft another young player like a Mike Zunino or Danny Hultzen who could potentially help the team by the time Hamilton's contract is about to expire.
This final point is one that I just can't escape and neither can Hamilton.
Whenever you read about Josh Hamilton, the discussion of his past is often framed in euphemistic terms that we should all understand well enough to simply leave alone.
Understand I have no desire to dredge up Hamilton's past, but for an organization trying to rebuild with a young nucleus, is Hamilton the right player and the right time?
This is an organization that most recently couldn't diplomatically inform season ticket holders about price increases, while hoping that moving in the fences will solve their hitting woes, and opposes the return of the Sonics, this all following a decade of mismanagement on the field of play.
With that said, the desire to see tangible signs of progress, as the Seattle Times Geoff Baker posted last week, is stronger than ever:
"For those who actually want to see signs of progress, I'm sure you're hoping for a little more substance this time. And I'm with you. We're heading into Year 5 of the Zduriencik regime and any honeymoon period should have been long done a while ago. It's well past time to start grading what this regime has actually accomplished rather than supplying the next generation of highly-rated farm prospects (which every GM has, not all of which turn out to be anything in the majors) and saving money for an ownership waiting on a future cash windfall."
But is progress for the sake of progress the smart choice?
If the Mariners sign him I won't stomp my feet, hold my breath, or scream from the hilltops. At the end of the day I like Hamilton and think he could make a big impact in the right place, especially during the first two to three years of his contract.
What scares me is what happens after Hamilton's honeymoon period ends?
Maybe Hamilton gives the M's a boost early on the field and at the turnstiles, but the return on this investment in the years that follow may not pan out based on all of the points outlined.
Apologies for the doomsday prophecy, but it's a huge gamble to pay any player the amount of money likely required to sign Hamilton for at least five years with the likelihood of only getting a few quality seasons in return.
Time will tell, but I'm not sure I want the Mariners to find out.