In the end, Josh Hamilton is going to be a very rich player.
What he ends up with for a deal, however, will be studied by front offices in Major League Baseball until well after his coming deal has been completely paid off.
Hamilton would be the crown jewel of any free-agent class not featuring Albert Pujols.
At 31 in five years with the Texas Rangers, Hamilton hit 30 or more home runs three times. He also won the 2010 American League Most Valuable Player award and was in the top 10 twice more.
Even in 2012, his .285 batting average, 43 home run and 128 RBI season had him finish fifth for the award.
The conventional wisdom as the week starts has the other big star of this offseason, Zach Greinke, assured of signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Hamilton has no front-runner status on anyone’s public boards. Even privately, the game of kicking the tires has been met with quiet apprehension.
So why, as the winter meetings start in Nashville, are his future contract plans still seemingly unsettled?
The problem seems to be three-fold.
The one that everyone seems to agree on is the era of the super-long contract appear to be over. A player of his stature is not crazy to be seeking an eight-year deal worth around $190-200 million on the open market.
Teams that might have opened up the coffers for Hamilton in the past are watching how teams like the Boston Red Sox became mired in a sea of bad contracts and pawned them off. Now, teams will watch how the Dodgers try to meld a big payroll and winning together. It says something about the economy that even the New York Yankees are limiting how much payroll they take on.
The Yankees learned that dollars spent does not equal championships won.
The other problems are more on Hamilton.
It would be fair to say that Hamilton’s personal demons have hurt him this offseason. Last offseason’s lapse in his sobriety seems to have soured his relationship with the Texas Rangers and has scared off teams that would have otherwise met Hamilton’s demands.
Is that fair?
When considering that the team that gets Hamilton will make him the immediate face of the franchise, both sides need to make sure it is the right fit for them.
This leads to whether Hamilton will take a shorter deal.
The Philadelphia Phillies and Baltimore Orioles—two teams that could really benefit from having Hamilton in their lineups—have distanced themselves from making that long-term commitment. Other teams, like the Red Sox, have openly said they might bid on a shorter deal while giving Hamilton an annual deal in the Pujols and Alex Rodriguez range.
The big question is will Hamilton move off his demands and take the shorter deal in the three- or four-year range. If he does, would the Rangers swoop in and keep him, or was last season’s collapse the last straw and he is leaving Dallas no matter what?
It is complex situation that has absolutely no easy answers.
Statistics via Baseball Reference.
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