Josh Hamilton has a lot going for him. He’s a former MVP, a
five-time All Star and the big fish in this year's free agency pond.
his numbers might suggest that he's worth the seven-year, $175 million contract
that he reportedly is seeking, there will always be more to it than that for
Hamilton's well-documented personal issues will play a role in any discussions about his future, for better or for worse. And while many fans will point to the outfielder's
checkered past as a red flag for interested teams to heed in their pursuit of the free-agent slugger, it is actually his on-field exploits that should concern MLB front offices much more.
Hamilton is going to turn 32 next season, and in all likelihood his best baseball is behind him. His batting average has gone down in each of the last three season, and his strikeout rate has steadily crept up during that time. Put that together, and you have all the makings of a free swinger whose age is catching up to him, as his hands can no
longer make up for the mistakes that his eyes make.
That's even before getting to the outfielder's injury history, where he has played more than 133 games in a season just twice in his six-year career. He's missed a total 84 games since 2010, including a bizarre instance this year where drinking too much caffeine caused eyesight problems.
It's possible that Hamilton could make the necessary adjustments to remain a formidable hitter at the plate in his elder years, but it is also very possible that what Rangers fans saw in the final weeks of the season was the beginning of the end of his elite production. And it is that fear -- not the fear of a relapse or issues with quitting dip -- that GMs around the league should heed.
We've seen time and time again teams get burned by big contracts given out to aging stars, to the point where the market for free agents is beginning to change. Front offices around the league have seen the likes of Carl Crawford and Alex Rodriguez fail to deliver on big deals once they hit the wrong side of 30. That's why the Giants signed then-27-year-old Matt Cain to a huge extension, why the Reds locked down Joey Votto (28 when he signed) and what the Rays see in try to do with just about every promising pitcher who joins their rotation.
Yes, Hamilton's past with drugs and alcohol can be a real concern for some organizations, particularly those without a strong support system already in place. But teams deal with "character issue" guys all the time, and to some extent Hamilton would be more of the same where that is concerned.
A strong clubhouse, a manager who has the support of his team and an orgnization committed to keeping its players healthy can help Josh Hamilton through his off-the-field issues. At the end of the day, however, it's the on-field production that matters, and that's where there is the most cause for concern with Hamilton.