Josh Hamilton, who’d be the first to tell you he isn’t always an angel, officially became an Angel on Thursday. The free agent outfielder agreed to a deal with The Other Los Angeles Baseball Team Swimming In Dough.
Hamilton’s decision, a surprise but not a shock, created disappointment on two fronts. The Texas Rangers, who guided the high-maintenance slugger through a maze of perilous temptations – the team did everything but give him a fifth-inning sponge bath on sweltering nights – presumed to have the chance to make a final counteroffer. Hamilton said no, but thanks. Except he didn’t bother telling the Rangers no, and he didn’t bother with the thanks.
Closer to home, the Seattle Mariners lost another bidding battle over another superstar capable of reviving fan interest. How close were the Mariners to watching Hamilton take aim at Safeco Field’s new and more forgiving outfield fence? We’ll never know, because if general Jack Zduriencik is adept at anything, it’s making sure private contract negotiations remain private.
Zduriencik is taking some inevitable guff over an offseason that’s looking as bleak for the Mariners as, well, any other season, but in the case of Hamilton, I want to be careful about piling on.
When it was obvious Hamilton loomed as the prize of an otherwise middling free-agent market, I saw him as a perfect fit for Seattle. OK, “perfect” is an overstatement – with Hamilton, nothing can ever be perfect – but a fit nevertheless. If the guy is available at a reasonable price, I thought, the Mariners would be crazy not to pursue him.
Given Hamilton’s struggles after the All-Star break, when he went into a slump possibly related to giving up chewing tobacco and drinking too much caffeine, the Mariners appeared poised to enter a seller’s market.
This is what I wrote: “Because of concerns about the durability of a body once ravaged by drug abuse, Hamilton, 31, figures to command no more than a three-year deal worth, say, $20 million a season.”
Hamilton signed Thursday for a reported $125 million over five seasons, so my projection was, ahem, just a bit outside. I assumed he could be had for $60 million; the Angels gave him more than twice that.
In any case, Hamilton would have been right for the Mariners at $20 million annually over three seasons, and he’s right for the Angels – at least in the short term – at $25 million annually over five seasons.
But he wasn’t right for the Mariners at those numbers. Five seasons, just as he’s entering the decline phase of a typical baseball player’s career? No deal.
Angels owner Arte Moreno isn’t counting on enjoying five prime seasons of Hamilton. (Heck, I doubt Hamilton is counting on enjoying five prime seasons of Hamilton.) Moreno will be thrilled if Hamilton performs at a productive level through 2015, which is to say the Angels, in essence, wooed Hamilton with a contract worth about $40 million a season.
It’s convenient to criticize the Mariners for operating on the cheap, and to mock Zduriencik as a ventriloquist’s puppet whose mouth moves when ownership pulls the strings. But declining to invest $125 million in an injury-prone player unlikely to contribute beyond three seasons doesn’t match any definition of cheap.
Cheap? I’d call it a prudent business decision for an organization challenged to keep ace pitcher Felix Hernandez on board after his contract expires at the end of the 2014 season. Don’t underestimate the thickness of that plot.
The Dodgers just signed right-handed starter Zack Greinke to a six-year deal worth $147 million. Greinke is a terrific talent – he won the American League Cy Young Award in 2009, the year he went to the All-Star Game for the first and only time – but if he’s worth $147 million at age 29, what will King Felix be worth if he ponders free agency at 28?
After missing the prediction for Hamilton’s contract by a mere $65 million, I should abstain from guessing about this stuff. But here goes: Next time Hernandez agrees to a deal, he’ll command between $150 to $200 million over six years.
If the Angels (or the Dodgers, or the Yankees, or any of the other usual suspects) lure Hernandez out of Seattle because he got an inferior offer from the Mariners, the organization will have to answer accusations that it’s cheap.
But $125 million for three seasons (maybe) of the daily soap opera (count on it) that is Josh Hamilton?
Go ahead and rip Zduriencik, and while you’re at it, rip Zduriencik’s bosses, Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong. Rip them for their refusal to offer a nine-figure contract to a gifted but fragile player whose odometer is well into six figures.
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