Josh Hamilton had a decent week. I think he short circuited Buster Olney’s brain. Hamilton’s 4-homer game highlighted a stretch of play that has him looking like a lock to win the Triple Crown. For a guy who is prone to spectacular feats, this may have been his most impressive accomplishment since the Home Run Derby barrage. Hamilton’s presence as the best player in the AL and his impending free agency create an interesting set of circumstances. On numbers alone, Hamilton is due a ridiculous contract.
But to say Hamilton has a troubled past is to put things mildly, that’s in addition to him not being able to stay on the field for 162 games a year. Texas’s best shot at signing Hamilton is to probably get the deal done before the season ends, but is he worth the risk? The Phillies face a similar situation with Cole Hamels, who is reportedly now looking fora 7-year deal. The trend seems to be less marquee free agents hitting the market every year as guys like Matt Cain and Joey Votto forgo the process for security with their home club. Is the lack of available talent forcing teams to make even dumber decisions with their money?
The four biggest free-agent prizes of 2012 were Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes and C.J Wilson. Teams shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars for these four players. The committed to them for five, six, even ten years. How many of these contracts will become burdens? Here’s what the teams have gotten so far…admittedly too early to judge.
1. Albert Pujols (10 yrs/240 million). 2012 Stats: .192/1HR/12 RBI/.234 OBP. No one expects Pujols to stay this cold, he currently has worse numbers than Freddie Galvis, but if a 32-year old Pujols is capable of this kind of slide, what will a 37-year old Pujols look like? A 42-year old?
2. Prince Fielder (9 yrs/214 million). 2012 Stats: .266/5 HRs/16 RBI//340 OBP. Fielder hasn’t been as bad as Pujols, but he’s hardly been a revelation. Just 28, the front-end of Fielder’s deal was supposed to be relatively safe. He could still be adjusting to a new league and a new park, but the 1/2 punch with Miguel Cabrera has mostly been a 1-man punch. Fielder is an offense only guy, if he’s going to even approach this value, he’s going to have to hit much better.
3. C.J. Wilson (5 yrs/77.5 million). 2012 Stats: 4-3, 3.42 ERA, 1.16 WHIP. Wilson has been a solid performer for the Angels and they weren’t paying him to be the ace. But, his 15+ million annual value puts the market for pitching in perspective. Wilson will be 36 in the last year of this deal.
4. Jose Reyes (6 yrs/106 million). 2012 Stats: .260/0 HR/6 RBI/.344 OBP. The Marlins have heated up, but Reyes hasn’t played a big role. He’s gotten going a little bit with the team’s success, but Miami’s dynamic duo of Ramirez and Reyes hasn’t been anywhere close to what people were expecting. With some injury issues in his past, and motivation questions, this contract has as a good of chance of becoming a Soriano as it does of becoming a good deal.
So, what about this coming off-season? Will Hamilton and Hamels be worthwhile for their buyers? Who else is going to break the bank? We know that teams aren’t going to stop paying. At least not yet. Some 2013 potential free agents….
Josh Hamilton: Age 30. 2012 Stats: .402/18 HRs/44RBI. Hamilton is putting up historic numbers. He’s bettering the PED supplemented pace of Barry Bonds, projecting out to 83 homers. Hamilton has just once played more than 133 games in a season, though, and as recently as this past winter had a relapse in his battle against alcohol and substance abuse.
What Hamilton Brings: Elite, top-5 talent. Hamilton is what the dreamers envision when projecting out Bryce Harper. He’s the best all-around hitter in the game and is a difference maker as a defensive outfielder. He instantly becomes the best hitter on your team.
Reference Point Contracts: Ryan Braun’s 5-yr-105 million extension, Matt Kemp’s 8-yr/160 million deal all the way up to Albert’s contract with the Angels.
What He’ll Get: I’ve heard the Rangers are tentative to go more than 5-yrs on Hamilton and that’s understandable. If he stays in Texas, something along the lines of 5/110 million could be in order. If he hits the market, the sky is the limit–someone will take the risk. Healthy, he’s a far safer bet than Pujols or Fielder.
Chance he Becomes a Disaster: 45%. I think Hamilton will stay away from the alcohol and drugs that killed the start of his career, but I’m not aware of many players that get healthier with age. A guy like Scott Rolen comes to mind, who just could never stay on the field after 30.
Cole Hamels: Age 28. 2012 Stats: 5-1, 2.28 ERA, 1.04 WHIP. Hamels is emerging as the Phillies’ best pitcher. He looks to have passed Doc by in terms of quality of pitches and he’s been healthier than Cliff Lee. The more Hamels talks this year and the more the Phillies struggle, it looks like Hamels will head to free agency.
What he Brings: Elite left-handed starter. Hamels was debatable as a “true ace,” despite his WS MVP award for the last couple of seasons, but he’s shaken that label and emerged as a true Cy Young contender. He’s been durable, has developed a great work-ethic and is about as low-risk as you can get for a pitcher of his caliber.
Reference Point Contracts: Matt Cain’s 6/127.5 million would probably be the basement and Cliff Lee’s 5/120 million would be a ceiling in terms of annual value.
What He’ll Get: Unless the Phils really shake up the roster and present Hamels with a massive deal to be the ace of the future, I don’t see him signing before the season ends. Either way, Hamels is going to get paid, obscenely, by someone. I think 7/150-160 would be the ballpark.
Chance he Becomes a Disaster: 30%. If Hamels signs a 7-year deal, he’ll be 35 when it expires, which is essentially where Roy Halladay is right now. Like I said, he’s been very durable and consistent since 2010, if he keeps that up he’s a rare guy who could earn the money. Of course, with a starting pitcher, there’s always health concerns and Hamels is pretty seasoned at 28, with 1200+ innings already in his career.
Zack Greinke. Age: 28. 2012 Stats: 3-1, 3.35 ERA, 1.19 WHIP. Greinke has never found the consistent dominance he displayed in his Cy Young season (2009) again, but he’s still been a front of the rotation starter with flashes of brilliance.
What He Brings: Cy Young caliber potential. Durability–Greinke has made at least 28 starts every year since 2008. He’s got some post-season experience, and would be a great compliment to a team with an established ace. The only question mark being his reported distaste for big market clubs.
Contract Reference Points: C.J. Wilson’s deal is probably the low-end, but considering the lack of supply on the market, Matt Cain is probably a more accurate comparison for Greinke.
What He’ll Get: Barring a meltdown in the latter half of this season, a team will pay Greinke like an ace. I’d guess, 6 yrs/120 million.
Chance He Becomes A Disaster: 50%. Greinke’s been a solid performer in Milwaukee, but he’s prone to the occasional bad outing and in the wrong environment, you could see the pressure of living up to the contract getting to him. He’s easily a bigger risk than Hamels.
Michael Bourn. Age: 29. 2012 Stats: .336/1HR/10 RBI/.399 OBP. I chose Bourn, because it is a thin free-agent class for 2013 (Andre Ethier was my other option), but also because it looks like he might be headed toward a career year. It could come at the perfect time for Bourn to strike a monster deal.
What he Brings: A true lead-off bat. Bourn has developed into the prototypical top of the order threat. He’s always been a threat to steal 60 bases, but his OBP numbers are on pace to shatter his career high. Throw in Bourn’s elite CF play and he’s a desired commodity.
Contract Reference Points: It’s tough to find a reference point for Bourn, but perhaps something like Ichiro’s 5yr/90 million dollar deal would be a ceiling. Without any power, it’s hard to see him approaching what Reyes got from the Marlins.
What He’ll Get: If Bourn can keep up this pace, I expect he’ll land something like 5/65 million. There’s little OF competition, though, especially at his defensive level and 50 steals are never easy to come by–some team could splurge.
Chance he Becomes a Disaster: 55%. After putting up some Bourn like numbers, Juan Pierre signed a 5yr/44 million dollar deal with the Dodgers. He was 28 at the time and by the end of the deal you saw some of the risks of paying speed. Without any power, Bourn is a bit of a long-term gamble, because his game relies entirely on his legs.
Other Notable Free-Agents for 2013:
- Andre Ethier
- Shane Victorino
- Howie Kendrick
- Mike Napoli
- Shaun Marcum
- Mariano Rivera