Free-agent matchmaker: Josh Hamilton

Al Bello

Where will Josh Hamilton go? Heck, I don't know. But I can guess!

I could probably write an article per day about Josh Hamilton, free agent of interest. I guess there are ways he could be more interesting to a hot-stove wonk -- maybe a dual career, with him playing football at the same time? -- but this is probably as good as we're going to get for a while. He's good, he's sneaky-fragile, he's over 30, and he has a notable personal history. He could get five years and $100 million like the readers at FanGraphs are guessing, or he could get something close to the Prince Fielder deal.

If you think it's crazy that Hamilton will get the Prince Fielder deal, you're right, but it was also fairly crazy that Prince Fielder got the Prince Fielder deal. There's always that one team …

And in this series, we try to find out what that one team is. But we also put on a spandex leotard bedecked with question marks to channel the MYSTERY TEAM. Or, if not the mystery team, the team that we would want to see make a run at the free agent, if only to make things more interesting.

The Favorite

You'd think there isn't a consensus on this one, but Jerry Crasnick talked to 22 front-office types and asked them where Hamilton might go. The responses:

Milwaukee 6; Don't know 6; Texas 5; Philadelphia 1; Baltimore 1; San Francisco 1; Seattle 1; Kansas City 1.

Whoa. Milwaukee is tied with I Have Absolutely No Idea So Please Stop Asking, which is probably the correct response. Huh. The big draw is that Hamilton's accountability coach, Johnny Narron, is now the hitting coach for the Brewers. Hamilton has made over $27 million in his career to date, so perhaps he'd take a discount to feel comfortable somewhere. It would be hard to imagine a discount so great that the Brewers would feel comfortable paying both Hamilton and Ryan Braun for the next several years, though. That would be a chunk of payroll for a team that plays in a city that literally has 10,000 people in it. Literally.

The team that I'm picking as the favorite isn't even on Stark's list, which probably means I'm horribly wrong, but you knew that already. I don't know Mike Ilitch. He could be the kind of guy who takes great pleasure in listening to lobsters scream as they're lowered into boiling water. Don't know. But I kind of like him. I decided this when I watched him accept the American League championship trophy in Oakland. He was excited. Not in the "I have lots of nice things, and this is another one" kind of excited that you'll see from a lot of owners, but a boyish excitement from a guy who really, really, really likes the Tigers.

I also get the sense that he probably doesn't want to take the chance and wait for Prince Fielder III to help the Tigers to a title in 2032. For a guy who's already saved enough toll for Charon, Josh Hamilton would be a nice, socially acceptable way to splurge. This would address the biggest hole on the Tigers' roster, too, which is the lack of a decent corner outfielder. Everyone wins. Except the Twins, Indians, and Royals, but that's kind of the point.

The Ideal

There's no silver bullet when it comes to a franchise that's a little disengaged. If local interest is sluggish, a huge free-agent signing isn't going to make the city bust out in a spontaneous parade that ends at the ticket offices.

Still, there's a team out there with new owners, and they probably want to make a statement. Unlike the Dodgers, they didn't take out full-page ads in the local papers that read, "We're going to spend a lot of money! We're making a big statement!" The new owners of the team inspired copy like this:

… the new ownership group plans to "underpromise and overdeliver." He refused to divulge what the player payroll will be next season, but said it would increase.

The team just started a $1.2 billion television deal, but the first year was futzed up by a blood feud between Fox Sports and AT&T/Time Warner that left almost half the area without coverage. A big, splashy free agent would help recoup some of the damage caused.

Josh Hamilton, San Diego Padre.

It just rolls off the … actually, wait, no, it doesn't. But the Padres have just over $29 million committed to eight players on guaranteed deals. They have 11 more in various levels of arbitration, most of whom aren't big-ticket players. The rest of the bunch are on pre-arbitration deals. They can add $20 million or so without getting too close to the middle of the payroll pack.

The fences are coming in at Petco. There's a new ownership group that knows the Padres can't be the Yankees, but probably has a pretty good idea about what it would take to be relevant. The Padres are loaded in the minors, and they should probably be good as soon as next year. The only player they owe more than $20 million to is Cameron Maybin, who is set for $24 million over the next four seasons, so they have the flexibility.

If this seems like a stupid idea, well, that's the point. But the mystery team is getting cockier and cockier every year. One of these days, we aren't going to be so surprised. I could see the Padres and Hamilton making a small amount of sense, and that's good enough for me.

Grudging Prediction:
Tigers, six years, $150 million

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