There are questions about his durability, questions about his past drug abuse, questions about how he would handle the pressures of a major market. The big teams on the East Coast intimate he’s too expensive or too risky for their tastes. The Texas Rangers, the team for which he became an icon for the past five seasons, seem to have other priorities.
The chattering classes would have you believe Hamilton will accept a one-year, $10 million offer from the Seattle Mariners, for the opportunity to compete with Casper Wells for the everyday job in left field.
Me? I subscribe to the renegade theory that Hamilton is about to become a very, very rich man.
He fits the Boston Red Sox. He fits the Philadelphia Phillies. Yes, he fits the New York Yankees, too. All three of those major-market goliaths (to borrow the Scott Boras term) need an impact outfielder. And all of them have the resources to fit Hamilton into their future budgets. For the Yankees, that could mean letting Curtis Granderson depart as a free agent after this year, leaving Hamilton in left field and Brett Gardner in center.
I can hear the retorts now: But how would he handle the big stage? All that pressure? Gee, I dunno. He looked pretty comfortable hitting what should have been the World Series clincher in Game 6 at Busch Stadium last year.
Those who predict Hamilton will receive only a three- or four-year contract — even at a high annual salary — are experiencing a severe case of Hot Stove Amnesia. Look around the game. New television revenues have caused an upward trend in contracts, even if the phenomenon has affected some teams more than others. Brandon League, who lost his job as closer for the last-place Mariners midway through the season, signed a three-year, $22.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Let’s not forget what happened last winter: Albert Pujols was coming off the “worst” season of his Hall of Fame career, a .906 OPS with 37 home runs. The veracity of his age — 31 — was questioned in the media. (The sentiment, though unsubstantiated, was repeated often enough that it had the potential to damage his market value.) Critics said no team should pay Pujols huge dollars into his late 30s and early 40s. The end result? He signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels.
Hamilton is 31 now, the same age as Pujols last offseason. By just about any statistical measure, Hamilton doesn’t have the résumé Pujols did one year ago. He has been less durable, owns the lower career OPS and hasn’t had the same year-to-year consistency.
Pujols led the majors with a 21.4 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) over the three years immediately preceding his free agency, according to FanGraphs.com. Hamilton’s WAR during the past three seasons was 16.8, which ranked eighth in the majors. Strictly by the numbers, Pujols was about 27 percent better than Hamilton over their respective three-year platforms.
If the dollar ratio follows the WAR ratio — and it rarely does — then Hamilton should get around $188 million. Even for those who give credence to the anti-hype and say that Hamilton is half the player Pujols was . . . well . . . that works out to five years and $120 million, which is much closer to his fair market value than the numbers that have been floated lately.
May I remind you, too, that the Angels scarcely were mentioned in news reports about Pujols as baseball’s annual swap meet began last December. By the end of the week, Pujols was headed for the news conference in Anaheim. At this time of year, the smart money is on the Mystery Team.
Hamilton isn’t perfect, a fact known to the baseball world and more importantly himself. He requires an accountability partner to stay clean. He is susceptible to fluky injuries. He can be high-maintenance. But he’s also one of the 10 best position players in the sport, the type of talent who rarely becomes available in this age of mega-extensions for up-and-comers. And frankly, the harrowing experience of nearly losing everything probably has given him better perspective than many players on the true meaning of that at-bat with the tying run on second in the eighth inning.
In 21 career games at Fenway Park, Hamilton has an OPS of 1.092 and four home runs. That should be enough to entice the Red Sox — and the Yankees, for that matter. If that’s not convincing, well, I’ll leave you with this: If Twitter had existed 93 years ago, what would the scribes have said about the Babe’s ability to hit home runs while steering clear of the vices in his new hometown?