For contract hounds and roster fetishists, this is a swell time of year. There's none of that "baseball" stuff to mess things up, for one. And there are free agents and rumors, rumors and free agents, and they're all bouncing around like electrons in a conductor. There's a hierarchy of free agents and rumors, too, with a minority of players driving a majority of the rumors. For example, you should expect to hear daily updates on Josh Hamilton, his expectations, and his suitors for the next three months.
It's started already. And it's already fascinating.
It's not a secret that Hamilton is the most interesting free agent in the history of everything. We wrote as much last winter, and then Hamilton went through a brilliant, confusing, dominating, disappearing season. He started the season as a threat to win the Triple Crown, and then he had one of the most miserable slumps of 2012. He rebounded to hit .280/.351/.560 for the last two months of the season, but some defensive flubs and poorly timed outs over the last week of the season made it hard to remember the good things.
He's the most interesting free agent in the history of everything, and he made it to the market without signing an extension. Good. This is going to be fascinating. Now we can evaluate this latest rumor. Seven years and $175 million. That's a cool $25 million every season until Hamilton is 39. Let's play a word-association game with this one. Give me one word that pops into your head when you see those figures. Go.
No. The correct answer is no, though I'd also accept "nah," "nope," or "mmmmmno." That's usually the default answer for every free agent over 30. That's also the default answer for any player with an injury history like Hamilton's, who has played over 150 games just once in his career, just missing this season. And it's probably the default answer for any player with something akin to Hamilton's personal history. Add them together, and it's a swirling mess of information, and it's nigh impossible to predict. But like the Supreme Court defining pornography, you know the ridiculous contracts when you see them. And seven years, $175 million for Hamilton is ridiculous.
A couple of factors to remember:
1. Teams are rolling in MLB Advanced Media money, and more than a few teams are rolling in new local TV money. That increases the chances of a team creeping out from behind the bushes to stun the world with a Prince Fielder-like contract.
2. The Dodgers have a full outfield unless they trade Andre Ethier, and the Yankees have a loaded payroll unless they're lying about their new-found frugality. That takes two of the usual suspects out of the rotation.
Those are conflicting factors because of course they are. This is Josh Hamilton's contract we're talking about. Everything about it is conflicting.
The good folks at FanGraphs engaged in some crowd sourcing, looking for a consensus on Hamilton's future value. They came up with five years, $100 million, which is probably what you'd feel comfortable with your team paying. That represents current value, incorporates future risk, and doesn't last deep into his late 30s.
He's not going to get a contract that makes anyone feel comfortable. Well, he'll probably feel a little comfortable, with the scores of millions and all, but the rest of the world is going to make Jerry Lewis sounds and pull at their collar when they read the terms of Hamilton's eventual contract. Five years, $100 million? Too conservative.
Six years? More likely. But when it comes to the super-premium free agents, I've learned to tack on an extra year to what seems reasonable. It's the price of business. It's not like Detroit wanted to guarantee a ninth year to Fielder. So that brings us to seven years, which is what Hamilton thinks he's getting.
And $25 million per year? Well, probably not, but it's hard to see Hamilton settling for under $20 million. Which in this thought exercise, puts the low end of the contract at seven years, $140 million.
Which isn't that far off from the original rumor.
The numbers make you chuckle right now. But the eventual contract is going to make you spit up milk. Think of the contract that will make you do a spit take, and then add $20 million to it. Josh Hamilton is the most interesting free agent in the history of everything, but probably not because it's hard to gauge his value, which is what I was referring to. No, he's the most interesting free agent because a team is going to leverage themselves silly with Hamilton-related risk. And I can't wait to see which one it is.