It’s All About the Hamilton, Baby

If the title of this post doesn’t mean anything to you, stop everything that you are doing and watch one of the first (and for my money, probably the best) of the SNL Digital Shorts music videos right now. I’m serious, I’ll wait. (If you’ve already seen it, then enjoy your journey back to December 2005):

I will take your word that you’ve gone and done that. Hard to believe that’s almost 7 years old. On to the actual subject of the post – the best hitting free agent this offseason, Josh Hamilton. Keith Law called him the #3 available FA, behind a pitcher (Grienke) and B.J. Upton, a younger, faster, better defensive player who can still play a premium defensive position. It can certainly be argued that Hamilton deserves to be #2 or even first, because it’s hard to argue that there is a better offensive player available than Hamilton. So let’s start by taking a look at this offensive force, first the pros and then the cons:

I Told You that I’m Crazy Bout These Cupcakes Cousin

  • Hamilton was a well deserving MVP in 2010, leading the league in AVG, SLG and OPS
  • His 1.044 OPS in 2010 was the 2nd best OPS in the league over the last 5 years
  • He also finished 5th in OPS in 2012
  • He has hit 100 HRs in his last 3 seasons
  • POWER LEFTY BAT – he slots right into the Adam LaRoche lineup spot that may soon be vacated.
  • KLaw says he “has the bat speed, the eye at the plate and the raw power to hit the way he did two years ago” and ” At the plate, he has 80 raw power (on the 20-80 scouting scale) with tremendous bat speed”
  • He was probably the leading MVP candidate through the end of June 2012, at that point he was hitting .319/.385/.652 with 25 HRs
  • Mr Pibb and red vines equals crazy delicious

You Can Call us Aaron Burr from the Way We’re Droppin Hamilton

  • His first season in his new contract will be at age 32.
  • He is somewhat injury prone, although he hasn’t had any major injuries since he missed most of 2009, he only averaged 134 games from 2010-2012
  • He is looking for a 7 year, $175 M deal – $25 M AAV taking him in to his age 38 season. 
  • While I don’t want to debit him too much for his past trangressions, it does make you wonder how he will age compared to similiar hitters. If you can even predict how hitters will age
  • He played in one of the best hitters parks in the league in Texas (case in point: that #2 OPS over the last 5 years is actually the 12th best OPS+ in that same period)
  • KLaw also said “his approach has started to deteriorate the past two years. He looked particularly vulnerable to lefties who can spin something away”
  • He is almost certainly not a full time center fielder anymore
  • He has only averaged 129 games per season in his 5 seasons in Texas
  • Starting July 1 last year, he only hit .252/.323/.503, which looks better than it is, considering the park effects (although it still highlights his best asset, the power)
  • If the Nats sign him, their payroll would have over $40M dedicated to corner outfielders in their mid-30s by 2014

Hamilton is an intriguing candidate for the Nationals. After Adam LaRoche became a free agent, there is a lack of left handed bats in the lineup. I think the left handed Harper will work just fine in the 3/4 spot, a year older and better. But the rest of the lineup is RH bats, with Espinosa being the only switch hitter.

Regardless of the side of the plate, Hamilton is a prolific offensive player, he was the AL MVP only 2 seasons ago, and would certainly be a net positive for the lineup. Meanwhile, with a spot opening up at 1B, the Nats could slot Tyler Moore into the position, or slide Mike Morse over from LF. Alternatively, there is the possibility of trading Morse. But Hamilton, despite his power, isn’t a slam dunk acquisition, despite the prolific numbers over the last few years.

Hamilton wants that 7 year deal, but most don’t think he’ll get that. KLaw said he’d wouldn’t want to do more than 3, and he’s not the only one, while others think this may not be so crazy. But even if the contract isn’t 7 years, there are some major red flags with Josh Hamilton that should make any team wary of acquiring him. Obviously the age is an issue for a long term deal (assuming they don’t re-sign LaRoche, Jayson Werth would be the only one older than him on the team) and the health is an issue for any deal. With the Nats specifically, I have my doubts that the Nats will pursue him. The length of the contract, the injury history, the age all combine to make him a tough call for any GM, but I especially think Rizzo would steer clear of this one.

I personally think it would not be a good move for the Nationals. Yes, he slots perfectly in the lineup but I’d be surprised if he averaged more than 130 games a year early on, and he’ll probably play even less later. If you can guarantee health and only a slight decline due to age, it’s easier to make the decision. But you can’t do that, and there is no evidence to suggest they can or will handle a horrible contract by simply ignoring it and spending around it. If he doesn’t play well, adding the insecurity of the value of the end of Werth’s contract could hamstring the team for several years.

I know there will be disagreement on whether he would be a good signing for that Nats, but one thing I know is true: If they did sign him, it would be very exciting, and the lineup would certainly look very impressive.

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