EDITOR’S NOTE: Please welcome Rob Konis to the Tomahawk Take team. He has over a decade of broadcasting and sportswriting experience, able to give a unique view of the organization.
There have been reports that the Braves have been looking at the possibility of signing outfielder Josh Hamilton. This comes as a surprise as the Braves are not usually contenders for top flight free agents with their strict payroll and Hamilton is expected to be one the highest paid players in free agency. He is reportedly looking for a contract of seven years worth $175 million ($25 million per year).
Here is a look at why this would work and why it would not work for the Braves:
Why it would work:
- Hamilton is one of the biggest superstars in baseball and would replace the retiring Chipper Jones in that category for the Braves. Chipper’s last season filled up the ballpark many times last year, by signing Hamilton the Braves should see increased ticket sales in having one of the most exciting players in baseball. Therefore, the ownership would make money back on their investment in Hamilton.
- Hamilton is a center fielder. This would help the Braves replace an area of need by letting Michael Bourn leave through free agency.
- Hamilton would also replace Chipper as the cleanup hitter while also providing an upgrade at that spot in the Braves lineup. Hamilton batted third in the Rangers lineup but could adjust to batting cleanup for the Braves.
- Hamilton had a .577 slugging percentage, third in the majors and a .930 OPS, eighth in the majors last season. The only Brave in the top 50 of either category was Jason Heyward at 50th and 42nd, respectively. Hamilton has been consistently near the top in both categories the last few seasons and would be a tremendous upgrade to the Braves lineup.
- Signing Hamilton at $25 million per season is high but when you look at the fact that the next two top center fielders in free agency, Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton, are going to sign for about $12-$17 million per year at minimum the Braves should get more production for their dollar from Hamilton.
- By having one of the top hitters in baseball in the middle of their lineup it would mean more good pitches to hit for everyone, especially Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman as most pitchers will be trying to pitch around Hamilton.
Why it would not work:
- The most obvious reason it would not work is that Hamilton has a history of drug and alcohol abuse problems. He has mostly done a good job of staying on the straight and narrow since his reinstatement but has fallen off the wagon twice in the last three years. This is going to happen with people with drug and alcohol problems. It is a constant battle. The Braves would have to do what the Rangers have done which is pretty much have someone around Hamilton at all times to make sure he is staying clean.
- Hamilton would add to an already heavily left handed hitting middle of the lineup with Heyward, Freeman and McCann. One of the things the Braves hoped to do this offseason is acquire a right handed bat to help balance the middle of the lineup.
- There are some in the Rangers front office that feel that Hamilton hurt the team last season by choosing the wrong time to quit chewing smokeless tobacco. By doing this in the second half of the season the team felt that Hamilton’s withdrawal hurt his focus on the field. Best guess reading between the lines is the Rangers front office thought that was being a selfish/bad teammate.
- Hamilton struck out 162 times last season which blew away his previous worst of 126 in 2008 and many more than the last two seasons where he did not strikeout more that 95 times. He also swung and missed at an alarming rate after the All Star break and especially the last month of the season. Was he tired from the long season? Did his body reacting to quitting smokeless chewing tobacco contribute to this? Has all the damage he has done to his body over the years plus now being over 30 contribute to this? The Braves already have a player that strikes out a ton in Dan Uggla already. Remember though that Michael Bourn also struck out 155 times last season and he is going to make at least $15 million per season in free agency, if not more.
- Where would the Braves get the money to acquire a quality leadoff hitter? By signing Hamilton would the Braves still have the money to acquire a quality table setter at the top of the lineup?
- Hamilton would be a downgrade defensively in center field. Most players would be compared to Michael Bourn but Hamilton has made some routine plays look hard out there at times.
- Giving seven years to a player that has only played in more than 138 games in a season once in his six year career is a big commitment. That is an average of only 123 games a season which means he will miss a quarter of each season if form holds. This plus the fact that he will turn 32 early in 2013 would mean that the Braves would have him under contract until he is 38. With all the wear and tear Hamilton has done to his body on and off the field a commitment like this would be a huge gamble on the Braves part.
In the end after going through the pluses and minuses of signing Josh Hamilton the Braves should sign him, but only if he accepts a four year deal. Paying $25 million per season ($100 million) would be worth the gamble to a young Braves team that could be ready to take the next step.