Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers showed everyone on Tuesday night just why he is one of the best players in the game. He was a one-man wrecking crew against the Baltimore Orioles. He went 5-for-5 with four homers and eight RBI as the Rangers crushed the O’s 10-3. Hamilton became the sixteenth player in Major League Baseball to hit four homers in a game.
The Texas slugger is off to a terrific start this season. He is hitting .406 entering Wednesday night’s game against the Orioles. He already has fourteen homers and 36 RBI. There’s almost no way he can keep up this pace, but if he does, our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau figure Hamilton will hit 76 home runs this season while driving in 194 runs. Like I said there’s almost no way that will happen, but sometimes it’s fun to play with the numbers.
The Rangers are going to have a major problem if Hamilton approaches any of these numbers. Hamilton is in the final year of his contract (Yahoo! Sports baseball columnist Jeff Passan has reported that the two sides have recently reopened contract talks). What happens if he winds up hitting the open market? What kind of money will a player like Hamilton get? If you ran a Major League Baseball team, how much would you give him?
A few of us had this debate at the Yahoo! Sports Radio offices on Tuesday night, as Hamilton was putting together his historical performance. Considering that both Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder signed ten-year contracts this past off-season, I posed the question to my colleagues. Would they give Hamilton a ten-year deal?
It was unanimous. They all said no. They all said they would not give Hamilton that long of a contract. Frankly, neither would I. Look, it’s not that Hamilton doesn’t deserve the money. He’s one of the best players in the game today. He should be paid like one of the best players in the game. But I would not give him a ten-year deal. I’d have no problem giving him a five-year contract. But there is no way I would give him ten years.
It’s not that I don’t like Hamilton or anything like that. I just don’t think it would be a wise investment by any team in Major League Baseball to give him a ten-year contract. It’s just not good business.
If you need an example, look at the kind of start Albert Pujols has gotten off to with the Angels. I know it’s early. I know there’s a very good chance that Pujols will come out of his slump. But at the age of thirty-two does anyone out there other than owner Arte Moreno believe it was a wise decision to guarantee Pujols ten years? The Cardinals wanted Pujols back, but they weren’t going to hamstring themselves for a player that would be 42-years old when the contract came to an end.
Prince Fielder’s deal with the Tigers is another example of what I believe will turn out to be a bad investment. Yes, he is younger than Pujols. But his weight is going to become an issue, especially over the back half of the contract. At some point the Tigers are going to regret the deal they made with Fielder. At some point his weight is going to catch up with him. Maybe not now. Maybe not over the next couple of years. But during the course of a ten-year deal it will. You can take that to the bank.
Hamilton is going to be thirty-one when the season comes to an end. That’s in Pujols territory. Will he be worth the investment five years down the road? No one can answer that for sure, but it’s a bet I wouldn’t make.
Age will catch up with him at some point. Durability already has. Since playing 156 games in 2008, Hamilton has played in 89, 133 and 127 games over the last three seasons. Injuries are already a factor. If you are a team making a long-term commitment to Hamilton, that issue has to come into play.
The other issue that has to come into play is Hamilton’s history of off-field problems. I give the guy a lot of credit from coming as far as he has come. He abused drugs and almost drank his way out of baseball. But we all know he doesn’t have his demons beat. He relapsed this past off-season. He battles to stay clean and sober every single day. It’s only fair to wonder whether or not he will be able to continue to conquer his illness. I root for him to beat this. But it isn’t easy. Anyone who has either dealt with addiction themselves or has been close to someone that has knows how tough it is.
Josh Hamilton is one of the best players in the game. There is no doubt about it. But if you are an owner preparing a contract offer to him, you have to wonder whether or not a ten-year investment is wise considering his age, durability and off-field problems.
Hamilton will get his money. I have no doubt about that. But if it’s long-term security he wants, the kind of security that Pujols and Fielder just got. I’m not sure he’s going to find it.