Mariners Unlikely To Pay Josh Hamilton

underrated: opposing infielder body language during a home-run trot - Rick Yeatts

There has been some thought that, once the Seattle Mariners and Josh Hamilton both pulled up a chair at the bar of the offseason, they'd begin to flirt, and they'd begin to flirt heavily. From the sounds of things now, that isn't going to happen, which is just as well since Hamilton probably shouldn't be there anyway. Greg Johns has the quotes, in a Friday night article titled "Zduriencik says Mariners aren't targeting Hamilton".

You'll recall that, earlier in the week, Chuck Armstrong suggested Hamilton was a possibility for the Mariners. A natural reaction for the idiot, then, is to blame Armstrong and Howard Lincoln for turning back into cheapskates. But let's look at what Armstrong actually said:

"[GM Jack Zduriencik] is looking at it," Armstrong said. "We are going to have more money to spend. And we do need offense."

"[Zduriencik] hasn't given me a proposal yet, so I can't gauge our level of interest yet," Armstrong said, speaking of Hamilton.

Armstrong left this up to Zduriencik. He didn't lie when he said Zduriencik was investigating the Hamilton possibility. The possibility has been investigated by Zduriencik and the rest of the front office, and they've decided that a Hamilton pursuit probably isn't in the organization's best interests. Not at the price that they figure he'll demand and command.

Zduriencik, of course, didn't say "we are absolutely not going to sign Josh Hamilton," and even if he did say that, it wouldn't necessarily mean that the Mariners absolutely wouldn't sign Josh Hamilton. Zduriencik indicated that the team would only be open to Hamilton if his price fell to their upper threshold, which is below what Hamilton is expected to get. It's the same sort of way the organization talked about Prince Fielder a year ago. Years and money. The organization likes the player; the organization doesn't like the player's desired years and money, because the player has risks and red flags.

Here's the way this works. At the start of the offseason, front offices chat. They go over tons of possibilities, internal and external. Initially, the Mariners held Josh Hamilton in a certain regard. Then they investigated him more thoroughly, and here we are now, with the Mariners seemingly backing off. Not because of a lack of money, but because of a lack of a desire to give so much of that money to Hamilton for so many years. You can choose to be frustrated -- Hamilton's a big-name player, and Mariners fans want some big-name players -- but the Mariners are hardly the only team to have concerns about Hamilton's future. I'll remind you that Hamilton's previous employer would reportedly want him back only on a short-term contract. Don't try to fit this into a pattern of behavior. Everything should always be treated on a case-by-case basis, and the Mariners have decided that Hamilton, specifically Hamilton, isn't a guy to target with an all-out pursuit.

I'm relieved to be able to more or less stop pretending that Hamilton doesn't scare the bejeezus out of me. This is a 31-year-old outfielder with a history of substance abuse and relapses, he's demonstrated a certain fragility, and last year he posted the lowest contact rate of any regular or semi-regular in all of baseball. His contact rate dropped a full ten percentage points, and wound up lower than Miguel Olivo's. Hamilton's strikeout rate shot up from 17 percent to 26 percent. It was even worse over the season's final four months, after Hamilton was done setting the world on fire. Hamilton's approach obviously wasn't terrible, given the results he generated, but it was aggressive and probably over-aggressive and probably exploitably-aggressive. I'm not an idiot; I can see that Hamilton was a very good baseball player. Has been for a while. But I don't have a clue what he's turning into, and when it comes to big-time commitments, I like a little more certainty. Even if it's just an illusion of certainty, allowing for a false sense of confidence, it's nice to have a player who seems to be more stable.

Hamilton's obviously outstanding, but he's obviously risky, and it's just going to take one team willing to take a risk. The Mariners presumably will not be that risk-taker, and I am okay with that. I would've been okay with the opposite, too, since this is just baseball and ultimately whatever, Josh Hamilton is interesting and exciting, but I don't think it would make sense to complain that the Mariners won't give Hamilton six or seven guaranteed years. Lots of teams won't do that.

So, what now? Nick Swisher, maybe. The Mariners can't focus on Swisher exclusively, but they could elect to make Swisher their top target. They'll have other targets in free agency and in trades. Some of the moves they're interested in will happen and most of them, the overwhelming majority of them, will not. I haven't the foggiest what the Mariners are going to do, but at least now we know, on November 16, that the Mariners presumably will not sign free agency's biggest fish. I will wrap myself in this familiar blanket. It's been cold in here.

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