Josh Hamilton is the top free agent available this offseason. But the question with him is whether or not he'll find the mega-contract he was looking for on the open market.
At 31, considering his injury history and struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, it was doubtful that Hamilton was ever going to find the 10-year, $200 million type of deal that stars like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Joey Votto signed.
However, Hamilton is reportedly looking for something close. A source told Baseball Prospectus' John Perrotto in early November that the outfielder is seeking a seven-year, $175 million contract in free agency.
Few teams are likely to offer that sort of deal, especially for that many years.
But what if Hamilton could get the yearly salary he's looking for—or more—yet had to settle for a shorter contract? The Boston Herald's John Tomase asks that very question while posing an ideal scenario for Hamilton and the Boston Red Sox on reaching an agreement for next season.
Taking on a multi-year albatross of a contract would be counter-productive after Boston general manager Ben Cherington was able to unload the six years and $127 million remaining on Adrian Gonzalez's contract to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Red Sox also shed the five years and $102.5 million left on Carl Crawford's deal in that trade.
So, why would the team take on a seven-year, $175 million contract? What was the point of making the trade with the Dodgers and creating payroll flexibility if Cherington was just going to tie it all up again with another bloated deal?
But the investment would become far less of a burden if it was for only one year. The argument could be made that there's no such thing as a bad one-year contract because the team gets out of it quickly if the arrangement turns out to be a bad decision.
Tomase suggests a $30 million contract for Hamilton. Obviously, that's more than the $25 million per season that Hamilton is pursuing in a multi-year deal. But the Red Sox would essentially buy that out with the extra $5 million.
The risk for Hamilton is sacrificing the security of a long-term contract. But he'd obviously be very well-paid for that one season in Boston. A one-year contract also gives both sides a chance to see if they'd like to arrange a longer agreement.
Hamilton could find out if he enjoys playing at Fenway Park, if it suits him as an outfielder and a hitter. Chances are that he would like it. Fenway is an even better hitters' ballpark than Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, according to ESPN.com's park factors.
He's also hit very well in Boston during his career. In 91 plate appearances, Hamilton has a triple-slash average of .386/.433/.659 with eight doubles, two triples, four home runs and 27 RBI. Obviously, this is a somewhat inaccurate measure of Hamilton's performance, since he'll be facing different pitchers. But he'll also play 81 games in a ballpark that is tailored to his left-handed swing.
In turn, the Red Sox can see how Hamilton fits in with their team, if he can make it through a full season and how he fares against AL East competition. Is he the kind of player to build around for the future?
At the very least, Hamilton could serve as a short-term stopgap in the Red Sox outfield while top prospects Jackie Bradley and Bryce Brentz get one more year of development in the minor leagues. Bradley finished this season with Double-A Portland, while Brentz progressed to Triple-A Pawtucket by the end of the year.
Presumably, there wouldn't be a place for Hamilton on the 2014 Red Sox if Bradley and Brentz were both ready and Jacoby Ellsbury was signed to a contract extension. That would be a strong outfield for the present and future in Boston.
But if Ellsbury decided to play elsewhere, Hamilton could be re-signed to handle left field for a couple of years, depending on what sort of contract he and the Red Sox agreed upon. (Boston would still surely balk at signing Hamilton for more than two to three years.)
The outfield would have a nice mix of veteran production and young potential in that scenario.
Tomase also suggests the Red Sox offer big one-year contracts to Hiroki Kuroda and Dan Haren to shore up their starting rotation.
The price tag for those pitchers and Hamilton would be large, but it would only be for one year. Boston would presumably return to contention in the AL East, but would have financial flexibility and youth to work with the following season. (MLB probably wouldn't mind seeing a star player go to one of its most popular franchises either.)
Granted, this is something of a fantasy scenario. While a team might not offer Hamilton his desired seven-year, $175 million deal, he will surely be able to find a multi-year contract on the open market. It may not be for seven years, but it could be a three- to four-year agreement.
Yes, he would be a year older, but Hamilton would still be able to pursue that sort of contract on the open market again after playing a season with Boston. And if he had an outstanding year with the Red Sox, especially if he was able to stay healthy, his value could be higher.
One person Hamilton might want to consult for this is Adrian Beltre. His teammate with the Texas Rangers did something similar in 2010, signing a one-year contract with the Red Sox at the age of 31.
The situation isn't entirely comparable, because Beltre took a below-market $9 million deal with hopes of cashing in a year later. But Beltre certainly made the circumstances work for him. He had a good season with the Red Sox, hitting .321 with a .919 OPS, 28 homers and 102 RBI. Beltre turned that into a five-year, $80 million contract with the Rangers.
If it worked for Beltre, why not for Hamilton? Both he and the Red Sox would benefit nicely from a one-shot arrangement.
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