Josh Hamilton's bat would look good in the Orioles'… (Ronald Martinez, Getty…)
Every offseason this happens. Sometimes it happens three, four, five times in the winter.
A reporter attaches the Orioles to a star free agent’s name. And then those of us who cover the team locally will get inundated with questions about whether the Orioles will land that player.
Right now, it is Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton. After Fox Sports wrote Wednesday that the Orioles plan to pursue Hamilton, MLB Network did several minutes on whether Hamilton would be a fit in Baltimore.
Here’s what you need to know: Hamilton’s stats and position are a definite fit for the Orioles. The money Hamilton likely will command and the baggage that comes with him is not.
And unless the potential asking price goes way down – Baseball Prospectus recently reported it was in the seven-year, $175 million range – it won’t happen.
The Orioles have never given out a contract like that. And they aren’t going to make franchise history (Miguel Tejada’s $72 million is most expensive free-agent contract doled out) for a 31-year-old guy who battled injuries and an eye issue last year and had trouble with alcohol and drug abuse in the past.
I talked to several within the organization who say the club – and where it is right now – can’t afford to take such a risk with its comparatively limited resources, especially when they feel the team is headed in the right direction. If they are going to buy big, it has to be for someone they feel they can count on for years to come.
Now, here’s the caveat that needs to be included in case I end up being completely wrong. If Hamilton’s stock plummets, if teams are afraid to offer him a long-term deal and his financial demands and contract length come down, then, sure, the Orioles would be interested.
Heard that before?
Prince Fielder anyone? Or Adrian Beltre? Or fill in the blank.
Hamilton is incredibly talented and is the kind of force in the middle of the lineup that the Orioles have been missing since, yep, Albert Belle, whose ill-fated five-year, $65 million contract in 1998 affected ownership’s willingness to set salary records.
I don’t see Hamilton’s stock falling far enough to make the Orioles a legitimate factor. And I don’t see the Orioles making that kind of an investment for a player with such risk attached to him. Especially with owner Peter Angelos very careful about buying players with lengthy injury histories.
One of the reasons the Orioles had such a strong season in 2012 is that former team president Andy MacPhail didn’t saddle the club with extravagant and suffocating free agent contracts – like what happened up in Boston this year. So there was money – and roster spots – available to play Dan Duquette’s mix-and-match game.
The bottom line is the Orioles are interested in upgrading their offense. And left field or designated hitter is a spot where that could happen. So the Orioles will consider every available left fielder, whether that’s Hamilton or Nick Swisher or Cody Ross or Torii Hunter or Shane Victorino.
But the Orioles aren’t going to be setting records for any of them. And that means Hamilton is the first in what likely will be an offseason of free-agent stars being connected to Baltimore without there being a true financial match.