MLB Free Agency: All the Latest Updates on Josh Hamilton's Suitors, Demands

Christopher Benvie@CSBenvie81Correspondent IINovember 5, 2012

MLB Free Agency: All the Latest Updates on Josh Hamilton's Suitors, Demands

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    Last winter, Albert Pujols signed a 10-year, $250 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

    Then Prince Fielder signed a nine-year, $214 million contract with the Detroit Tigers, followed in April by Joey Votto, who signed a 10-year, $225 million contract extension with the Cincinnati Reds.

    A lot of money is being spent on marquee baseball players. Josh Hamilton will not be an exception to that rule.

    In spite of his personal demons, Hamilton has grown into one of the best all-around players in the game.

    As a center fielder, he also plays a position of substantial need this winter. The Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers will all target quality center fielders during the offseason.

    As a career .305 batter with a .930 lifetime OPS, Hamilton is an extremely attractive commodity.

    There are concerns, of course. First and foremost, he is a recovering addict. With addiction comes risk; it is just the nature of the beast.

    More so, at 31 years old (32 in May), he is on the back nine of his prime. The average age of Pujols, Fielder and Votto at the time of their new deals was 29.

    While that may not come across as a significant factor, it will play a part in the length of contract Hamilton can expect.

    According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today:

    Five major league talent evaluators, speaking on condition of anonymity because of MLB's tampering rules, project Hamilton will earn at least $20 million annually in his new deal. The length of the contract is more debated, though the evaluators think Hamilton should get at least a five-year deal.

    Baseball Prospectus' John Perrotto tweeted this on Friday:

    While the $25 million average annual salary might have been obtainable when he was 28 years old, Hamilton might be shooting a bit high.

    Among comparable players, one must look at the deal that Matt Kemp just signed in Los Angeles for the Dodgers. It was an eight-year deal for $160 million.

    Kemp, 27 years old at the time of his extension, naturally received a longer-term deal. 

    Hamilton's agent, Michael Moye, can use Kemps' contract as leverage. Kemp has been an All-Star twice, a two-time Gold Glove winner, a two-time Silver Slugger Award winner and was the 2011 NL MVP runner-up.

    Don't be mistaken, that is an impressive resume. However, Hamilton is a five-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger Award winner and was the 2010 AL MVP. 

    Here is the latest buzz on teams that are willing to do more than kick the tires on him.

Texas Rangers

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    According to Fox News, the Texas Rangers made Josh Hamilton a $13.3 million qualifying offer on Friday, which ensures the team will at least receive draft pick compensation should Hamilton walk.

    There is no chance Hamilton will sign the one-year offer.

    For those who are unaware, the qualifying offer of $13.3 million is the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players in baseball by average annual value.

    Should, by some strange twist of fate, Hamilton decide to accept that offer, it would be a pay cut for him, as he earned $13.75 million in 2012.

    He's looking to double his salary, not decrease it.

    The Rangers, after falling short of a World Series title after three straight postseason berths, may look to move on fundamentally from what they've been doing. 

    It wouldn't just be opting not to sign Hamilton, but it could also involve letting go of Mike Napoli as well as pitchers Mike Adams, Scott Feldman, Mark Lowe, Yoshinori Tateyama or Koji Uehara. None of these players was given a qualifying offer.

    More so, there are trade rumors about shortstop Elvis Andrus. His name has been tied to recently to  Boston and St. Louis.

    The biggest question for the Rangers is: What do they want to be in 2013? Is Hamilton truly a part of that plan?

    While general manager Jon Daniels has been saying all of the right things publicly, there could be waning interest in a continued relationship with their center fielder.

    Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Rangers are willing to let Hamilton look around and field other offers before talking contract with him.

    Reading between the lines, it would appear as though the Rangers are just interested enough to placate their fans without utterly patronizing them.

Atlanta Braves

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    The Atlanta Braves are a team in need of Josh Hamilton's services.

    With the likely loss of Michael Bourn in center field coupled with Chipper Jones retiring, the team needs to replace offense and defense.

    Hamilton can provide both.

    True, Bourn is a Gold Glove center fielder. However, the Braves have Jason Heyward in right field and possibly Martin Prado in left, unless the team decides to move him back to third base in the absence of Jones.

    Hamilton would be needed to offset the loss of a career .303/.401/.529/.930 batter in Jones.

    Jones has been a consistent producer of  20 or more home runs with 75 RBI when healthy in his later years.

    Hamilton can provide essentially the same batting line at .304/.363/.549/.913 with 30 or more home runs and 100 RBI.

    Two factors may keep the Braves from making this move. No. 1, obviously, is the money. The Braves were 16th in team payroll with roughly $82.4 million on the books heading into the 2012 season. Hamilton is seeking a contract that would equate to 30 percent of that total.

    No. 2, the team has its fair share of left-handed bats, specifically in the middle of the lineup (Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann) as CBS Sports' Danny Knobler points out.

    However, the Braves had the 21st best team batting average in 2012 and 17th most runs scored. That isn't exactly getting it done.

    Their team ERA was fifth, which suggests that there is not a lot of room for improvement in that particular category.

    While the Braves do operate under an extremely strict budget, and signing Hamilton would be the antithesis of their typical spending patterns, this could be the year in which the team deems it necessary to shake things up a bit.

    Additionally, with Texas having made Hamilton a qualifying offer, the likelihood of the Braves giving up a top draft pick to sign Hamilton may not be worth it long term.

Milwaukee Brewers

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    The Milwaukee Brewers are a team that has been a surprise blip on the Josh Hamilton radar.

    Then again, should they really be that big of a surprise?

    The team has lost Prince Fielder to free agency and traded away Zack Greinke after being unable to extend his contract.

    In both instances, the Brewers were willing to open up their checkbooks. In the case of Fielder the Brewers made a five-year, $100 million offer, while with Greinke they made an offer of six years in excess of $100 million.

    General manager Doug Melvin has been playing coy on the subject.

    "We’ve got the connection with (hitting coach) Johnny Narron, but we don’t have the connection with U.S. Bank,” Melvin was quoted as saying (via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), referring to the huge contract Hamilton is seeking, 

    As much as Melvin wants to deny his interest, the fit would seem to be appropriate. The loss of Greinke and Fielder resulted in 13 fewer wins in 2012 than in 2011.

    Additionally, the team is lacking in left-handed batters.

    Should they decide to bring Hamilton to Milwaukee, the outfield would consist of two MVPs and a solid right fielder in Norichika Aoki. The middle of the batting order would be fierce.

    Looking at ESPN's home run tracker, Hamilton would pepper Miller Park with home runs much in the same way he did at Rangers Ballpark.

    The biggest issue would be deciding to offer Hamilton more money than what they are already paying Ryan Braun. Over the next eight years, Braun will make $133 million with an average annual salary of $16.6 million.

    In that regard, Hamilton would likely have to come down some on his asking price or years.

    Should Hamilton come to Milwaukee, he would be taking the place of 26-year-old Carlos Gomez, who played 137 games for the Brewers in 2012, giving the team a .260/.305/.463/.768 batting line with 19 home runs and 51 RBI.

    The signing of Hamilton would double that offensive production. While the Brewers already had the most RBI in the NL in 2012, this move would lock up the offense for the foreseeable future.

Seattle Mariners

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    Much like the Milwaukee Brewers, the Seattle Mariners are a team that may be looking to make a big splash this winter.

    It seems as though everyone wants the Mariners to trade away pieces, ahem, Felix Hernandez, and start fresh. However, they have deep pockets with the capability of bringing in a marquee name like Hamilton.

    According to Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi, the Mariners could be a great fit for Hamilton.

    As a franchise, the Mariners have not made the playoffs since 2001. Only the Royals, Blue Jays and Pirates have longer playoff droughts.

    Bringing Hamilton to Seattle would not only invigorate the city, it would be a major upgrade over center fielder Michael Saunders and give the team hope of being a serious contender.

    An area of concern for the Mariners could be Hamilton's lifetime numbers at Safeco Field. He only owns a .224/.338/.408/.746 batting line in 34 games there.

    Of his major suitors, Seattle is where he's had the poorest offensive showing.

    The Mariners were 27th in runs scored with just 619 last season. Alone, Hamilton scored 103. You have to believe Hamilton would help boost Seattle's total runs significantly.

    The signing of Hamilton would be a huge statement by the Mariners and a way to bring the team back to relevancy.