Some thoughts as Angels land Josh Hamilton
I felt all along that Hamilton would wind up back with Texas, which supposedly was going to get a chance to respond to any offer their free-agent slugger got elsewhere. While many people didn’t want to believe Jack Zduriencik, the Mariners GM said from the start he didn’t think Seattle would be in on Hamilton at the end.
Zduriencik told me that after having some initial conversations with Hamilton’s agent, Mike Moye, in November. Reports that emerged late in the Winter Meetings the first week of December suggesting the Mariners were “close” to signing Hamilton seemed little more than a frustrated agent and player trying to get the market moving a little.
The Mariners were never close on Hamilton. Yeah, they talked to him at the Meetings. They talked to lots of people. They’re looking at every option. I’m guessing Hamilton talked to anybody who was interested as well. Why not? The bigger the market, the better the options … and ultimately the contract.
(Update: Since this was posted, I’ve since learned the Mariners actually were pushing hard to sign Hamilton right up til the end, so I stand corrected. Here’s my update on that front).
The real question now is what do the Mariners do now? With Hamilton off the board, the free agent market should start to move a little quicker. Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn are the two best remaining outfielders and I’ve always felt they were more realistic options than Hamilton.
But are they interested in Seattle? And will they be worth the price? Those are questions that remain to be seen. Bourn isn’t the big bat the Mariners need most, but he is an excellent baseball player, an outstanding center fielder and quality leadoff hitter.
He’d help the Mariners because he’s a good player and every team needs as many good players as they can get. He’d be a great piece of the puzzle to add. I don’t buy the notion that he’d just be another version of Ichiro or could be the next Chone Figgins. Those are unfair comparisons.
Bourn is 29 and plays center field, which means he’s still in his prime — a decade younger than Ichiro — and would still allow the addition of a power hitter in right field, whether that came now or in the future.
Is Bourn interested in Seattle? Maybe we’ll find out, now that Hamilton has moved. But it is worth remembering that he’s represented by Scott Boras, so those negotiations could drag out.
As for the Figgins comparison? Don’t even start. Figgins didn’t work out. That doesn’t mean every leadoff hitter is doomed to failure. In fact, I’d feel far more certain that a quality left-handed hitting speedster would succeed in Safeco Field than a right-handed hitter like Justin Upton, who has built his power numbers largely at friendly Chase Field in Arizona.
And the D-backs don’t sound like they’re trading Upton anyway. Not to mention his no-trade clause that includes the Mariners. So put that one to rest. If Zduriencik is going to work the trade route, it’s not going to be for Upton.
As for Swisher? Sure, he’d help the Mariners. Switch hitter, consistent production (if you eliminate playoffs), has some power and personality. I’d be happy to see Swisher wind up in Seattle as well. But all these free-agent negotations are two-way streets. Players are looking for their best situation in regards to contract, a team’s ability to win, a city and stadium they like, a region they’re familiar with, etc, etc.
The Mariners are in a tough spot right now. Seattle is a beautiful city, the team has some payroll flexibility, but the club hasn’t contended recently and Safeco Field is a tough place to hit. We’ll see how much the fences coming in changes that, but right now, it remains an unknown for hitters.
Did Hamilton really consider Seattle? We may never know. Do Swisher or Bourn make for a match? Or does Zduriencik comb the trade possibilities to add offense, or just sit pat and continue building around a young nucleus that holds much of the key to Seattle’s long-term success regardless?
We shall see. We shall also see how the AL West plays out now with the Angels dropping another winter bombshell. Last year it was Albert Pujols. Now it’s Hamilton. The Angels continue spending like crazy, hiking their payroll to about $165 million for next year.
The Angels will owe Pujols $16 million in 2013, then $23M, $24M, $25M, $26M, $27M, $28M, $29M and $30M. We’ve not heard yet how Hamilton’s $125 million will be spread out over five years, but it’s pretty easy to see that the Angels are going to have significant payroll for years to come.
Is that smart business, with players already in their 30s? The Angels didn’t win the AL West last year with Pujols at age 32. Instead, the A’s won the West … with a $55 million payroll.
I’m not saying the A’s will win it again. The Angels should be a force to reckon with. But it certainly does go to show that you just never know in baseball. Some things you just never see coming. Including Josh Hamilton signing with the Halos.