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Seattle Mariners, Josh Hamilton Aware Of One Another


Josh Hamilton has played several games against the Seattle Mariners, and the Seattle Mariners have played several games against Josh Hamilton's Texas Rangers. In Safeco Field, Hamilton has posted a modest .746 OPS with six home runs. So the Mariners were like, "an available outfielder with strikeout problems and limited power? Gotta have him!" Hence:

I would've gotten to this rumor last night, when it was originally posted, but I was unavailable and didn't want to. If the Mariners are already getting linked to Hamilton, and if Hamilton presumably won't sign for quite a while, I figure there will be no shortage of opportunities to talk about the Mariners and their potentially signing Josh Hamilton as a free agent. This isn't going to go away any time soon, and of course, it's exciting to see the Mariners considered a probable finalist. Even if you're personally not interested in Josh Hamilton at all, this is irrefutably exciting. "Exciting" doesn't have to be a synonym of "good".

Of course, about all this:

Funny thing about the market is it's always changing and it's difficult to read. Eleven months ago, Jim Bowden tweeted that the Mariners were the favorites to sign Prince Fielder, and Fielder eventually signed with the Tigers, with the Mariners not coming particularly close in the sweepstakes. They were involved, but they were not going to be competitive. Some people may see the Mariners as a major player for Hamilton, and they might well be a major player for Hamilton, but it wasn't long ago people were speculating about the Brewers. Hamilton's market is a tricky one to read, but people everywhere are trying to read it, which leads to guesstimation. God knows Jack Zduriencik won't give any indications which way he's leaning.

But let's take this as being worth something. It's good to have something to talk about that isn't Oliver Perez on a one-year contract or a new facility for Dominican teenagers. It's not completely out there that the Mariners would be interested in Hamilton. I've never considered them a strong bet, but nobody looks like a strong bet, and from many indications the Mariners have money to spend and intentions to spend it. We know they're looking for a power bat, Hamilton's the best bat on the market, and there might be enough question marks to keep his price reasonable. If you want to get people re-interested in your product, signing Josh Hamilton is certainly a means to that end.

So Hamilton and the Mariners could have conversations. They could have very productive conversations, and maybe commitment conversations. This could happen, so let's continue talking about it.

When the Mariners get linked to a high-profile free agent, most people have been conditioned to shrug it off. "Not gonna happen." "Chuck and Howard won't spend the money." These remarks don't have zero value, but they have limited value, because track record is only so important. The Mariners' circumstances are always changing, the market is always different, and the Mariners do presently seem committed to spend.

Hamilton, I know, is a guy a lot of people would prefer the Mariners to avoid entirely. This is a guy who was a star in Texas, but if his Rangers career is finished, he spent his last home game getting booed. He fell out of favor with a lot of people, teammate Mike Adams just made some curious remarks, people questioned his dedication, people questioned his durability, and then there's the whole "drugs" thing. Josh Hamilton used to do drugs! People talk about this as if they know exactly what it means.

A recent rumor had Hamilton seeking $175 million. Let's assume he doesn't get that. Maybe he will, I don't know. Some people would say they want no part of Hamilton at all, but those people mostly wouldn't put their money where their mouth is. Take Hamilton on a, I don't know, guaranteed six-year contract. Some people would say "absolutely not" to a six-year contract. What about six years and $6 million, total? Of course that would be awesome; there's very little risk. What about six years and $60 million, total? Still pretty awesome; completely unreasonably awesome. It's all about finding the tipping point. Some people are very skeptical regarding Hamilton's long-term future, for not illegitimate reasons, but Hamilton will almost certainly have a long-term future. It's about figuring out what he'll be worth.

Pretty much all of the uncertainty surrounding Josh Hamilton has been surrounding him for years. It's not like there's a lot of new information. The last four years, he's played just 491 games. But the last three years, he's played 402 games. In 2010, he was voted the American League MVP. Since 2010, Hamilton's wOBA ranks in between David Ortiz and Prince Fielder. His wRC+ -- wOBA with a park adjustment -- ranks in between Albert Pujols and Buster Posey. His WAR ranks in between Andrew McCutchen and Matt Holliday. The Rangers have had to carefully manage Hamilton, they've had to put up with his injuries, they've had to put up with his mental state. The Rangers have had to deal with all of Josh Hamilton's question marks, and when he's played, he's been one of baseball's best players. That's kind of the whole point. Hamilton has a lot of question marks, but one can't just assume he'll suddenly turn into a catastrophe. His track record suggests the opposite of that.

Of course, yeah, Hamilton's getting older, and older players are more fragile and less productive than younger players. But that's a consideration that would be factored into any Hamilton contract, and he's only 31. He just played in 148 games, and to hear Rangers fans tell it, you'd think he missed half the season. He hit 43 dingers. If Hamilton is on the decline, he'll be starting from a very high point. Just because a player might decline doesn't mean the player would be bad.

I'd say the major concern with Hamilton is what his 2012 contact rate means. Hamilton went from making contact more than 74 percent of the time to making contact less than 65 percent of the time. When swinging, Miguel Olivo made contact 69 percent of the time. Hamilton, very clearly, still produced, but he took an over-aggressive approach and this sort of success doesn't have much in the way of historical precedent. Hamilton ends up making a lot of "easy" strikeouts, where pitchers hammer him down and away. He still hits the crap out of the ball when he hits the ball, but you have to wonder if his weakness will become more and more exploited. And you have to wonder if he could and would adjust. Hamilton's a difficult guy to project.

As for the drug-addiction thing, let's just all go ahead and admit that we don't have a damned clue what it means. We're Mariners fans who like a baseball team, and we don't know what Hamilton's background means for his future as a baseball player. Some people say that his past use might make him more physically fragile, but that's a guess. Some people say that his past use might make him decline sooner, but that's a guess. Some people say that his past use might make him a liability to relapse, and that's not a guess, but that's just a risk, and every contract carries risk. Hamilton's risk just has to be carefully evaluated and my feeling is that Hamilton's risk has been kind of overblown. Just because Hamilton lived recklessly for a time doesn't necessarily mean he's going to flame out overnight. He could be great or good for a while yet. He's 31, he's batted more than 3000 times in the majors, and he's been really good to date.

Whether Hamilton as a Mariner is a good idea or not comes down to the contract terms, of course, and without knowing the terms no conclusion can be reached. There are deals that would be great deals, deals that would be awful deals, and deals that would be okay deals. But that's just the thing -- Josh Hamilton, ultimately, is a baseball player on the free-agent market. It seems like he's so much more complicated than that, and he is probably more complicated than the average player, but he is to be evaluated as a player and signed as a player. As a player, he's been fantastically good for years. Making too much of what we don't know about Hamilton in turn makes too little of what we do know about Hamilton. What we do know about Hamilton is that he's been awesome at baseball.