Josh Hamilton has been on a tear over the last few weeks. Now with 18 home runs and 44 RBI on the season, he is by far the front-runner for the AL MVP award, as well as a number of other important accolades. Despite his alleged relapse into drinking over the break, he seems unfazed when it comes to playing baseball. Ever since Hamilton's first Major League season in 2007, he has been a force to be reckoned with. He has led the league in both RBI and Batting Average, and won the MVP award in 2010, but this season appears to be even better than all of the rest.
And like many of the great seasons in league history, it has come during a contract year.
So where will Josh end up next season? Contract talks with the Rangers have been uncertain, to say the least. Stories of Hamilton's desire to return and of his expectations not to have flooded the media for months--and it's hard to imagine that the Scott Boras factor is having no effect on the difficulties of the proceedings.
The Rangers have a very good team, but Hamilton is the Crown jewel. Losing him would be severely detrimental to the team. However, overpaying him on a long-term contract would have equally negative effects. The team may have to decide between these two options unless they get incredibly lucky in the off-season (mid-season signings are rare to begin with and would not be a popular idea to a man who, in all likelihood, wants to test the free agent market). Hamilton will likely use the contracts of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder from this most recent off-season as precedents. While he is not a first baseman, the power numbers he will put up this year will, if Hamilton maintains even a slightly worse pace, be much better than those Pujols and Fielder in recent years.
Ten years is a long time, especially for someone like Hamilton. This is not just because of his drug issues and the fear of their recurrence, but also because of his age. Hamilton will be 31 later this month.
In the event that Texas refuses to adhere to Hamilton's demands, he would have to start looking elsewhere. So where would he go?
Recently, teams like the Marlins, Nationals, Angels, and Tigers have pulled off shockers with mega-deals over the last two off-seasons, so there is always the possibility that an affluent, under-the-radar team makes a run at the one-time MVP. As for the places he would be most likely to end up:
The Yankees are always a possibility for every big-name free agent and Hamilton will be no exception. With Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner as locks (barring trade), the Yankees are left with one space in the outfield. Nick Swisher is a free agent at the end of the season and may be allowed to walk if a better option comes available. Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez are in the same boat--although, if brought back, the Yanks would prefer to have them as DHs and pinch hitters. The Bronx Bombers would have no trouble paying Hamilton, and will likely not be deterred by a long-term deal (they signed A-Rod to a ten year contract in 2007), so the question comes down to whether or not they want Hamilton. With the impending losses of Swisher, Jones, and Ibanez, it seems improbable that they would turn down the opportunity at such a player.
The Red Sox are another option. They are a team in distress, and they have the money to make moves. Of course, any player has to be wary about entering into the atmosphere of the Red Sox clubhouse. The team has dealt with numerous controversies through the season, to date, and it does not seem like the most enticing place to go, right now. Nevertheless, if Hamilton likes what he is being offered, the Sox are a possibility.
The final destination that would seem probable for Josh Hamilton at this moment, is Miami. The team has a new ballpark, and they were not afraid of spending big this most recent off-season. The team is struggling mightily at the moment, and it would not be surprising to see them try to swing another big move in an attempt to fix the problem. They are lacking in the outfield, as no one is safe after Giancarlo Stanton--particularly not Logan Morrison, who had some well documented issues with the team last season. Miami is my pick for in the Hamilton-sweepstakes at the moment.
There will be other teams in the mix, but these are the three big-spenders who will likely be willing to offer Hamilton what he wants.
I will keep you posted if anything crops up in the coming months. For now, we will have to wait and see if Josh Hamilton can maintain his Triple-Crown pace. It will certainly be exciting to see who comes out in front of this race.