Certainly one of the biggest fish in the Free Agent pond landed today, when the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim inked Josh Hamilton to a 6-year, $125 deal. Hitting that magical $25M/year plateau reserved for the most elite hitters in the game. Taking a step back, let’s look at the pros and cons on both sides of the deal and analyze how this deal might look around 2016 or so. In the end, it depends on what glasses you are looking through, value for the dollar, or winning now at all cost.
If set at $25M per year (average, details by year aren’t available yet), Hamilton becomes tied for 3rd in 2013 salary, behind A-Rod ($28M), Johan Santana ($25.5M), and tied with Cliff Lee ($25M). The best recent “comps” exceeded are Prince Fielder ($23M), Miguel Cabrera ($21M), and Matt Kemp ($20M). Due to the pro-rated nature of the Pujols deal, he’s only due $13M this year. So clearly the Angels are stating that they feel his value warrants the top, or very close to the top dollar.
Let’s look at the age factor. He’s 31, which means he’ll be 36 when the deal expires. This is, by all counts, still well within the prime of most players. As a plus, he didn’t get a lot of wear and tear early in his career because of his personal issues. As a minus, I feel this time (to include substance abuse) has had a negative effect on his body, as he seems to frequently break down physically throughout the year. Interesting both Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez signed 10-year deals at the age of 31, and buyers have already had remorse on those, as A-Rod, for sure, has seen declining production, and questions are already arising whether Pujols can keep up his pace (or whether 2012 was just a blip). So the 5-year deal makes sense, if he can stay healthy. But…
To date (and through his, what should be relatively healthy, 20′s) he’s averaged only 122 games per season. Easy math, that’s only 75% of the season. So $25M for 3/4 of the season doesn’t look so good. The last 3 years that’s as many as 134 games per year, a bit more, but still raises questions. He reminds me of Larry Walker who routinely got his 120 – 140 games, Hall of Fame type credentials, but couldn’t answer the bell every day.
And finally, is it possible for a player to be worth that much? I think this is mostly abated by the fact that teams with money will overspend, with full knowledge that they are, with the idea to win. If they just buy enough players, then they can’t do too badly. They’ll draw fans, probably make the postseason, maybe win a title. There’s enough revenue (big city TV money) to cover the bills, so why not? As far as value to the team, I don’t see how $25M on one player can bring that level of production on the field. If he hits 50 home runs (2 / $1M) you can find a $10M player to hit 25 HR. For instance, Corey Hart makes $10M next year and averages 30 HR. Despite what you might remember, Hamilton has only exceeded .300 twice in his career, once the last 4 years. Robinson Cano has batted over .300 4 years in a row (with power) and is in the mid-teen millions. And those two play 150+ games.
This is how the deal really breaks down. The Angels window for winning is closing. They sense (accurately) that the Rangers window is closing or might have closed. The Yankees seem to be floundering a bit in terms of direction (and are saddled with A-Rod for five more years). The Red Sox are completely rebuilding. If you spend enough and buy several top hitters and pitchers, things can’t go badly for you. All this while watching their fellow City of Angels home team Dodgers spend like drunken sailors, it’s clear what they are doing. Spend now, compete now, 3 years down the road, who knows where we will be. Mortgage the future for the now. It’s not the worst idea, if you don’t go strong to the hole, then don’t go at all!
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