Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 12/10/12
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Josh Hamilton is still on the market, and this year’s supposed free-agent prize has fewer suitors than you’d think. Something surprising still could happen. The Red Sox are still out there and probably have more money to spend even once they address their pitching needs. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Yankees have reportedly done their due diligence on Hamilton, as well. However, if the reports are to be believed, then Hamilton’s choices will really be limited to the American League West, with the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners having emerged as the two serious bidders for the outfielder’s services. In terms of dollars, this is probably a worst-case scenario for the 31-year-old. However, in terms of best fit, this is probably a best-case scenario for Hamilton. The Rangers are a team that Hamilton already has a relationship with. He already has a support system there to keep him on the right path, as his past addictions and indiscretions are well documented. Moreover, he’s appeared in two World Series there, seems comfortable and just kind of feels like the kind of player who’s larger-than-life persona belongs in Texas. But all that being said, Hamilton going to the Seattle Mariners makes far too much sense for everyone involved for it not to happen this winter. Even after missing out on Zack Greinke this offseason (which actually might make Texas more hungry to re-sign Hamilton), the Rangers will be fine without Hamilton. They have talent in place, more coming up through the minors or just arriving in Arlington and more television money coming in than they know what to do with. For the Mariners, though, Hamilton could satisfy several needs at once. What the Mariners are missing right now are offensive firepower and — since the trade of Ichiro Suzuki to the Yankees — a centerpiece player who has name recognition. Hamilton is all of that and more. Right now, it’s not exactly accurate to say that the Mariners are a team in flux. They’ve actually been the same team for a while now: pitching-rich with no offense whatsoever to support it. Last winter’s trade of Michael Pineda to obtain Jesus Montero was a huge step in the right direction — swapping a pitcher, however talented, for a young hitter sometimes compared to Miguel Cabrera. Montero’s first full season in the big leagues was underwhelming, but he also had no protecting in a wafer-thin Seattle lineup. With the addition of Hamilton and the development on Montero, suddenly the Mariners could have a middle of the order in place from which to build around with complimentary pieces. With Seattle’s pitching, the offense doesn’t necessarily have to be good, but it definitely has to be more functional than it has been. The other thing that Hamilton would bring to Seattle is a buzz that’s been missing from Safeco field for years now. Even after the magical 2001 season, the presence of Ichiro gave the Pacific Northwest at least one reason to go out to the ballpark — we’re not going to count the season-plus-long opportunity to watch Ken Griffey, Jr. wander into the dugout from his clubhouse naps. Hamilton may be a player with a lot of baggage, but he’s also the closest thing we’ll probably see to a real-life Roy Hobbs. Ultimately nothing drives attendance and interest like winning, but Hamilton’s one of the few stars in the game whose persona seems bigger than his actual on-field accomplishments. And, speaking of Hamilton’s baggage, Seattle may be the place that created Nirvana and the drug-driven grunge scene, but nowadays it’s more the haven for clean-cut psuedo-rockers like Ben Gibbard. It’s a far-flung locale from places like the high-intensity media market of Boston or the nightlife temptations of New York City — although living in the home town of Starbucks might make it more difficult to quit caffeine. Seattle has the money to spend, Hamilton’s price has been driven down, anyway, and the Mariners need offense and a central star. Hamilton’s seeking to get paid and, for obvious reasons, avoiding some of the larger markets might be a good idea. Whether it be at three years or four, Hamilton signing with the Mariners makes ample sense for all parties involved. Will Seattle be aggressive enough to make it happen?
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