According to Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle, the Astros are not serious players in the Josh Hamilton sweepstakes. But after looking through the league, they still seem like the best destination.
Hamilton is expected to command a contract in the neighborhood of 7 years and $175 million, according to several reports. However, nearly every one of Hamilton's named suitors has publicly offered spin detailing how Hamilton is out of their price range or doesn't fit into their scheme.
Let's take a look at where Hamilton may be a good fit, division by division:
NL EAST: Right away, we can count out the Mets, who are more worried about signing David Wright, and the Marlins, who are not going to spend money this offseason. According to Danny Knobler of CBS Sports, the Braves are intrigued but not buying because of their left-handed heavy lineup. According to Ken Rosenthal (h/t MLBTR), the Nationals and Phillies are mentioned as possible buyers. But, with several long-term high dollar commitments, their pursuit seems like fodder as well.
NL CENTRAL: The Brewers have been bandied about as a possible landing spot for Hamilton; according to Jon Heyman, they are a long shot. There has been zero speculation about Hamilton signing with the Reds or Cardinals, who are looking for small parts, or the Cubs or Pirates, who are not believed to be interested either.
NL WEST: Arizona is not a player, as they have a surplus of OF help and may even be looking to trade some of that away. The Dodgers have nearly $300 million in future OF commitments to Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, and are also not players. San Diego and Colorado are concentrated on improving their pitching staffs, and neither team has the kind of money Hamilton is seeking. The Giants are allegedly going to arbitration with Hunter Pence and focused on re-signing Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan; the hole of losing those two OFs would allow Hamilton to fit in from an economic point of view. However, with extensions likely in the next few years for Sandoval, Posey and Lincecum, the Giants likely are out of the race as well.
AL EAST: The Red Sox seem unlikely to sign Hamilton according to Jon Heyman. The Orioles would love to add Hamilton to play LF, but due to budgetary constraints, that idea also seems unlikely. The Yankees are looking to get under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million, the Tampa Bay Rays have considered dealing David Price due to budgetary constraints, and Toronto will not exceed five years on a deal for any player, according to GM Alex Anthopolous.
AL CENTRAL: The Tigers are looking to add pitching depth, and with Cabrera and Fielder, don't need the lineup help. The Twins have commitments they already can barely afford to Morneau and Mauer, and therefore are unlikely to add a left-handed bat. The Indians and Royals can not purportedly afford top of the line starting pitchers, let alone the highest paid player on the free agent market. The White Sox have not been mentioned at all, but they seem like a plausible candidate, except for the presence of Adam Dunn in their lineup.
AL WEST: Count out the A's, who can't afford anything, and the Angels, who have to pay Pujols and Wilson. The Mariners are alleged to have a serious interest, according to Jon Heyman, although MLBTR's Mark Polishuk thinks 7/$175M is too rich for the Mariners. According to Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan, the Rangers will get the chance to match any offer Hamilton receives, although it's believed they will not offer a contract over 3 years in length.
Which brings us back to the Houston Astros; a team that has changed leagues, altered its brand, hired a new manager and is in desperate need of offensive assistance. Hamilton brings star power and help in the outfield and on offense. The reality is, the Astros should be able to afford Hamilton due to their market size and new TV deal. In addition, they are a team in desperate need of legitimacy after several years of fielding a noncompetitive product.
GM Jeff Luhnow sounded just as vague as every other GM when asked about Hamilton in Smith's story, saying:
“He’s going to have plenty of offers, I’m sure. And it’d probably be nice to have him out of the division, if possible. But there are no guarantees there.”
Maybe that's Luhnow's way of hinting at an under the table, dark horse run at one of the best players in baseball. Maybe Luhnow will snag Texas' biggest baseball star right out from under his regional rival. Maybe the reason Hamilton won't be out of the division is because of the full court press that Luhnow and his people are about to throw at the Hamilton camp.
With the way GMs are talking about Hamilton as of today, anything is possible. Heck, until Hamilton signs that contract, even the Astros are still in contention for his services.