Josh Hamilton Rumors: Could Philadelphia Phillies Make Him December Surprise?

Ian Casselberry@iancassMLB Lead WriterDecember 13, 2012

Is Josh Hamilton mulling over an offer from the Phillies?
Is Josh Hamilton mulling over an offer from the Phillies?Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Two years ago, it was widely assumed that free-agent pitcher Cliff Lee would sign with the New York Yankees or Texas Rangers.

But the Philadelphia Phillies swooped in and snatched Lee from the American League powerhouses, signing him to a five-year, $120 million contract reportedly lower than what was offered elsewhere. 

Could the Phillies make a similarly surprising move this winter with free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton

According to Anthony Gargano of Philadelphia's 94WIP, the Phillies have offered a three-year contract to Hamilton. The financial terms of the deal weren't known, but the Dallas Morning News' Gerry Fraley told Gargano that he believed an $80 million package would get Hamilton. 

Last week, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported that the Seattle Mariners had discussed three-year deals with Hamilton with an average annual salary of $20 million to $25 million. The magic number for Hamilton has always reportedly been $25 million per season, but no team has been willing to offer the six- to seven-year package he's been seeking. 

The presumption has been that if Hamilton could be talked down to a three-year contract such as the one the Mariners were supposedly discussing, other interested teams would jump back into the bidding. Perhaps those would include the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

Hamilton could also very well return to the Texas Rangers under those terms. According to reports, Texas won't offer Hamilton any contract longer than three years. The market has apparently worked in the Rangers' favor, as Hamilton hasn't found any team interested in giving him four years.

But the Rangers likely feel more urgency to re-sign Hamilton than they may have a week ago.

Texas looked like a favorite to sign pitcher Zack Greinke and was ready to follow that up with a trade for Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton. 

However, Greinke ended up signing a six-year, $147 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Meanwhile, the D-Backs weren't going to trade Upton without getting a shortstop. The Rangers didn't want to trade Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar and were trying to arrange a multi-team deal that would get Arizona another team's shortstop, such as the Indians' Asdrubal Cabrera.

But thanks to a three-team trade with the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds, the D-Backs now have their shortstop in Didi Gregorius and probably are not going to trade Upton.  

Some of the money that would have gone toward signing Greinke is now available for Hamilton. And the Rangers still need an outfielder, unless the preference is to pursue someone like Nick Swisher or Michael Bourn instead. 

While the Rangers haven't been able to acquire the player they want and need, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has a way of getting his man. Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay, Hunter Pence and, of course, Lee were all targeted by Amaro and ended up in Philadelphia. 

Upgrading the Phillies outfield was Amaro's offseason priority before the 2012 season even ended. He wanted a center fielder and a power hitter for one of the corner spots, preferably a right-handed batter. 

The Phillies eventually got their center fielder, trading pitchers Vance Worley and Trevor May to the Minnesota Twins for Ben Revere. But Amaro still hasn't gotten the middle-of-the-order run producer he needs. 

Swisher would be a good fit with the ability to play both corner outfield spots and first base. As a switch-hitter, he would also supply a right-handed bat when the Phillies face left-handed pitching. Cody Ross would be a less expensive option, also able to play left and right field. He also provides 20-homer power while batting exclusively right-handed.

But if the Phillies want a star player, someone who can be a major slugger in the middle of the lineup, Hamilton is the one who can fill that role like no other.

He bats left-handed, which isn't the best fit with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. However, Hamilton hit well against lefty pitching this year, batting ,291 with an .853 OPS. He would not be an automatic out when facing tough left-handers, nor would he have to sit on the bench for such matchups. 

The big question for the Phillies is whether or not Hamilton and a salary likely to exceed $25 million (it will be nearly $27 million if his contract is for $80 million over three years) fits a payroll that Amaro wants to keep below the $178 million luxury tax threshold for 2013. 

According to Cot's Contracts, the Phillies already have nearly $144 million committed to player salaries for next season.

That only gives Amaro $34 million to play with 13 players to sign for next season, several of whom will get raises through the arbitration process. Is there really $27 million available for Hamilton under those circumstances?

Perhaps that's why a source with the Phillies told ESPN's Jayson Stark that he would be "shocked" if Hamilton wound up in Philadelphia. 

But there actually might be some wiggle room in that $144 million already on the Phillies' payroll.

Cot's Contracts has Michael Young down for $16 million, his salary for 2013. But according to USA Today, the Phillies will only have to pay $6 million of that figure. Perhaps that extra $10 million is just what Amaro needs to fit Hamilton into his budget. 

Could the Phillies pull off another heist that leaves the Rangers wondering what happened? Signing Hamilton wouldn't be as much of a surprise as getting Lee because no team has emerged as the true favorite for his services. 

But Amaro has been patient this offseason while other outfielders like B.J. Upton, Angel Pagan and Denard Span went to other teams. That approach might finally pay off, resulting in the Phillies catching the biggest fish in this year's free-agent sea. 

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