Josh Hamilton has to be the most interesting superstar that has played in this generation. While playing often with such skill that music from The Natural plays in the background, he brings trepidation because of his history and what that history has supposedly done to his ability to stay on the field. And when was the last time that a player finished a season a with .387 wOBA and a .930 OPS and been considered such a disappointment? We expect Hamilton to fail. And yet more often than not, he doesn't. All these side stories make him the most fascinating free agent in recent history.
Most experts agree that anything beyond a four-year contract would be stupid when approaching Josh Hamilton. From this chair, anything beyond a four-year contract for ANY player is stupid. So this isn't just a Josh Hamilton thing. And yet, Hamilton will probably looking for a minimum of seven years. Why wouldn't he? This is his chance to set himself up for life. A deal similar to Teixeira's would be possible if he was any other player with his pedigree.
But naturally, teams will have a concern about his health and his stability and ability to day by day fight his demons. The fact that he will be 32 in May only complicates his situation and really makes anything beyond a four-year deal risky to say the least.
The other concerns for teams will be his diminishing discipline at the plate. Hamilton has always been a free swinger. But his normal range was swinging at pitches out of the strike zone some 35 to 37 percent of the time. But 2011 saw that number rise to 41 percent and 2012 to 45 percent. That seems to some as a breakdown in approach. His swing and miss rate jumped to 20 percent this past season, easily a high for his career. And his 25.5 percent strikeout rate was nearly six percentage points above his career average.
But even so, gosh, he hit 43 homers and knocked in 128 runs. A full 25 percent of his fly balls went over the fence. And just in case you credit his home ballpark too much, his home OPS was .937 and his road OPS was .924. He hit 22 homers at home and 21 on the road.
Expect teams to be conservative and if so, his market should settle in where it should. But where does Josh Hamilton fit best? Obviously, with his power and the fact that he hits left-handed, the Yankees would be a perfect fit. But that team is trying to stay fiscally conservative for 2014 so that does not appear to compute. Other teams like the Dodgers may covet him and be willing to spend that kind of money, but that park would not be friendly to Hamilton's game and he should avoid that unless he cares more about the dollars than where he fits best.
Here are two destinations where he makes the most sense for what his game is and where he can succeed the most:
1. Atlanta. Chipper comes off the books this season and while Hamilton would stretch the budget a bit, Atlanta would be close to Hamilton's childhood home of North Carolina. He has hit well in the Braves' home ballpark. The Nationals are going to be tough to hang with judging from their current talent. A bopper like Hamilton who is also a better hitter than people give him credit for would go a long way to making the Braves uber-competitive for the foreseeable future.
2. Baltimore. If you look at Hamilton's career splits, he has raked at Camden Yards. Other than his home parks in Texas and Cincinnati, he has hit more homers in Baltimore than anywhere else. He also kills the Yankees and hits extremely well in Yankee Stadium. The Orioles would get that match up nine times. The Orioles have made great strides but left field remains one of their weaknesses. Hamilton would be killer in Baltimore and instantly help that team to be a factor for the next few seasons. Hamilton should flourish under Showalter and again, Maryland would not be that far from where he grew up.
3. Texas. His last year in Texas was not a happy event. And things ended on a sour note. Hamilton might be fed up with the whole thing, especially with the kid gloves the Rangers gave on trying to extend him. But Hamilton's numbers for the Rangers are without question. They will be seriously weaker without him.
Where Hamilton eventually ends up and what kind of deal he will get will be one of the most interesting stories of this off season. The three locations listed here might be the best fits for his services but they are not likely to be the favorites.