There's been a marked increase in discussion surrounding a potential marriage of Josh Hamilton and the Red Sox as of late, with good arguments both for and against being published in the past few days.
One of those pieces was my own, where I stumped for a Boston signing of Hamilton, providing five reasons that I felt were valid enough to warrant a deal coming to fruition this offseason.
That said, I also feel there is significant justification for the Red Sox to stay far away from a contract agreement with Hamilton, and as such, I wanted to take time to put together a piece highlighting the opposite view.
Having spent a fair amount of time since the start of the offseason following every bit of news coming out in regard to Boston's plan of action this year, I'm not convinced the Red Sox actually have a definite desire to pursue Hamilton in the coming weeks.
That suspicion gained traction with a recent piece penned by Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, who passed along information from a league source indicating reports of significant Red Sox interest in Hamilton are "overblown."
So, with that in mind, here's five thoughts on why the Red Sox would be wise to shy away from an agreement with Hamilton this offseason.
1. Trouble with Long-Term Free Agent Deals
As I mentioned above, there are legitimate arguments to be made that the Red Sox could throw caution to the wind and go after Hamilton with a major contract offer, and they certainly have the financial wherewithal to make such a deal happen after jettisoning a massive amount of payroll last August.
The reality, though, is that a contract with Hamilton would not only take a major amount of money to complete, but it would also undoubtedly require a significant investment from Boston in contract years as well.
That alone should make the Red Sox run for the hills, figuratively speaking, as the risk in a long-term deal with Hamilton is great enough to make a team with as much trouble with free agent busts as Boston has had recently cringe in fear of a repeat disaster.
Obviously, the Red Sox are going to have to hand out a hefty free agent contract sooner or later, and could potentially do just that this offseason, but they have to choose which players are deserving of a deal like that much more carefully going forward. Rolling the dice with Hamilton being that player is a bad idea.
2. Recent Decline in Production
When you think of Hamilton, the words "elite hitter" come to mind, and if you look at his stats from the first half of last year, that's exactly what he would be.
Hamilton's complete track record tells a different story though, as he struggled down the stretch in 2012 and posted a solid but not elite slash line of .285/.354/.577 and set a new career high in strikeouts with 162. He did have 43 home runs and 128 runs batted in, but the majority of those came early in the year before the bottom fell out in the second half.
Combined with his lackluster performance a season before that in 2011, where he posted a .298/.346/.536 slash line in just 121 games played, Hamilton's last two campaigns don't exactly paint a rosy picture as to what the future holds for his level of production.
Defenders of Hamilton will point to the 2010 season as being evidence enough to justify a long-term contract with him, but that year would seem to be the exception and not the rule when it comes to Hamilton's career.
Counting on Hamilton to put up the absurd numbers he posted in that season (.359/.411/.633) would be a stretch to say the least, and the kind of contract numbers required to sign him would seemingly require consistent production very near that level throughout the majority of his time in Boston.
3. The Boston Media Spotlight
Much has been made of Boston's most recent free agent blunders being incapable of shutting out the ever present media that surrounds the Red Sox at almost every moment of the season, and there's no indication that intense scrutiny will be going away any time soon.
There's nothing that says Hamilton will be the same in that regard, but if he fails to produce at the level expected of a $25 million a season player, there is little doubt that he'd face the same level of criticism that his predecessors were up against.
Whether or not he could handle it is anyone's best guess, but it's hard to imagine the Red Sox being willing to gamble on that proposition again any time soon.
4. Potential Health Issues
Hamilton's past struggles with drug and alcohol addictions are well documented and could potentially rear their ugly head again in the future if not closely guarded.
Hamilton professes a definite level of commitment against allowing any such relapse to occur, but he has had some difficulty with that in recent years, and could end up succumbing to those demons if his production dips to the point at which he'd face intense scrutiny.
Aside from that risk, Hamilton's health would also be a potential red flag, as he's missed a significant amount of time in almost every season he's played due to a wide range of injuries. Last season was one of the only years in which he didn't have a major issue health-wise, but he was still only able to play in 148 games.
If the Red Sox commit to signing Hamilton to a long-term, big money deal, they'd have to believe he'd be able to take the field for them 150 time or more every year. Given Hamilton's track record, it's hard to believe that would be the case.
5. Rangers Showing No Desire to Keep Him
One of the biggest concerns in my mind is the strange lack of interest in keeping Hamilton on the part of the Texas Rangers, as they would seem to have the best read on what he brings to the table and whether he's worth a hefty free agent contract or not.
It is possible that the Rangers are simply waiting for the market on Hamilton to develop before they make a move to retain his services, but it stands to reason that they'd prefer to lock Hamilton up early if they really wanted him around. Holding off on negotiations with Hamilton would seemingly open the door to him signing elsewhere or having a bidding war escalate, making an agreement with him a lot more expensive.
For my money, the Rangers hesitation towards Hamilton is indicative of Texas knowing something the rest of the league doesn't. At best, they've decided to move on in a different direction. Either way, the Red Sox can ill afford to find out the former is the case if they have any desire to make a postseason run next year.
The Bottom Line
Having looked at reasons both for and against the Red Sox signing Hamilton this offseason in the past few days, I can safely say that a case can be made either way, and the front office in Boston has their work cut out for them if they have any desire to make such a move.
In the end though, the likelihood of Hamilton being a free agent bust is greater than him being a free agent steal, and there are more than enough red flags present to make any team think twice before they give Hamilton a major contract this offseason.
The Red Sox are a team that cannot take a chance when it comes to Hamilton, as they'd be right back where they were last season, without the ability to dump their mistakes off on the Dodgers.
Taking a measured approach when it comes to free agent signings and building a quality team without mortgaging the future is the best course of action for Boston this offseason. Signing Hamilton to a huge free agent deal runs opposite of that, and as such, it's a move the Red Sox should stay away from going forward.