The MLB free agent market is considered to be weak, with Josh Hamilton standing out as the only available superstar hitter still in their prime. Rumors are already swirling about where he may land, but an under-the-radar destination would be his best fit, and that team is the Baltimore Orioles.
It’s funny to think that a player coming off a 43 home run and 128 RBI season may have played himself out of the good graces of his team and fans. Hamilton is not a sure thing to re-sign with Texas, in part because of his quirky absences from the lineup and the lackadaisical dropped fly ball in the Wild Card game against the Orioles.
A change of scenery may be exactly what he needs, and the Orioles could offer just that.
Baltimore signing Hamilton to play left field and serve as their lineup anchor between Adam Jones and Matt Wieters would be a major coup in the AL East. It also cement their status as a serious contender beyond their magical 2012 season when they had their first winning record and playoff appearance since 1997.
The Orioles lack that one hitter who can define a lineup, and Hamilton fits that bill to a tee.
They will be hard-pressed to replicate their 29-9 record in one-run games in 2012, so they should look to improve wherever possible and not be complacent with their recent success.
Left field has been a revolving door of limited offensive players for the Orioles since B.J. Surhoff manned the position from 1997-2000. B/R’s Ian Casselberry reported that Orioles left fielders combined to hit a disappointing .235 with 21 home runs and 57 RBI in 2012.
That's a fraction of Hamilton’s production.
It’s unlikely that any other team in baseball could improve so dramatically at one position as the Orioles if they were able to land Hamilton.
Hamilton has killed the ball at hitter-friendly Camden Yards throughout his career (.370, nine home runs, and 26 RBI in 20 games), so playing 81 games a year there could pay off big for him and the Orioles. The thought of him aiming his sweet lefty swing at the famous factory wall deep down the right-field line would thrill fans for years to come.
In the past, Baltimore has either declined to spend money or struggled to find players willing to consider signing because of their miserable losing tradition. They should look to continue building momentum now that they have gotten the monkey off their back by advancing to the 2012 AL Division Series.
Orioles General Manager Dan Duquette is a major reason to not discount the possibility of the team making a run at Hamilton. When Duquette was the GM of the Red Sox a decade ago, he developed a reputation for pulling off major deals, signing free agents like Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon and trading for Pedro Martinez. If given owner Peter Angelos’ blessing, and a Brink’s truck full of cash, he can absolutely make any deal happen.
It was initially assumed that Hamilton would likely remain in Texas, but according to ESPN’s Richard Durrett, that is no longer a foregone conclusion. Given the way the year ended, the Rangers may elect to move on from the 31-year-old Hamilton to players they view as sounder long-term investments.
Earlier this year, Hamilton told Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi that he preferred to remain in the American League if he wasn't re-signed by the Rangers. He may also feel more comfortable in a smaller market environment, where scrutiny of his off-field issues might not be quite so harsh.
Both factors make Baltimore an appealing destination.
Money will ultimately be the determining factor in where Hamilton signs. The Orioles need to think big and act like the playoff contenders they are. If they bring that swagger, and enough money to the bargaining table, they have an excellent chance of walking away with best available hitter on the free agent market and will enter 2013 with infinite possibilities.
Statistics via BaseballReference
Follow @historianandrew on Twitter