The Detroit Tigers’ Case For Signing Josh Hamilton


Want to win now? Don’t care about the future – especially the future payroll? There is basically one and only one way for you to go all in on the 2013 season – at least as far as this year’s free agent market is concerned.

We’re looking for a guy with massive impact – which should imply not only signing one of the best players one the market at any position but also that the particular guy in question fills the team’s deepest, biggest hole. The two best free agents on the market this year are Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton. Obviously, if you looked at the title, I’m not suggesting that going after Greinke is the best way to make a splash. I’m talking about Josh Hamilton.

Sep 27, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton (32) on deck in the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Rangers Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Typically the only way to sign a guy like this is to meet salary demands that nobody else will touch. Even if the guy is a Hall-of-Fame candidate you know going in that for at least a number of the years on the deal he is not going to be worth it. But if you care enough about today, it’s worth it. That is, after all, what got Prince Fielder here. And let me state the obvious here – Josh Hamilton is a better fit than Prince Fielder was for the Tigers needs and he is no less likely to be effective at age 37. Prince, remember, signed a NINE year deal.

What he apparently wants is a seven-year, $175 million deal. That is $25 million per season over seven years from a guy that will turn 32 next May and be 38 in the last year of that deal. Over the past 3 years he has been worth (according to Fangraphs WAR-based value calculations) $71.5 million dollars. That is just a hair under $25 million per season and guys don’t tend to trend upward after 30 – so you can’t really expect him to be “worth” $25 million per season even on a shorter deal. Also remember that WAR calculations are already penalizing him (3.4 according to Baseball Reference and 4.4 according to Fangraphs) for playing in a hitter-friendly environment, missing games, and playing some awful center field (part-time) of late. He is also unlikely to get the deal he’s seeking, or anything close to it, unless someone decides to write him a blank check like Ilitch did Fielder. Even six years and $140 looks a lot better to me – and is probably better than he is going to get offered anywhere else.

The money doesn’t even matter, though. We’re talking about – possibly – going all in on 2013 and 2014 and ignoring the distant (potentially Mike-Ilitchless) future. Hamilton should produce almost what he’s being paid in 2013 and 2014, much like Fielder. That bat – a career .913 OPS – would elevate the Tigers offense to Yankee levels (combined with Victor Martinez‘ return). The thing most to like? Hamilton does not hit into double plays!!! Cabrera hits into double plays. Fielder hits into double plays. Victor Martinez hits into double plays. Hamilton does not. Over the last 5 years Prince has never hit into fewer than 12 double plays (19 last year), Victor Martinez has never hit into fewer than 12 (20 in 2011) and Miguel Cabrera has never hit into fewer than 16 (28 last year). Hamilton has never hit into more than 11. For all the grumbling about Boesch, lack of speed, lack of power, bad L-R splits, etc… what really hurt the Tiger offense as far as converting OPS into runs last year was double plays. Not that we couldn’t use some more home runs or somebody other than Boesch in right…

As far as defense goes – a cursory look at the “advanced metrics” would give you the impression that Hamilton is a bad defender in the outfield and, therefore, not the kind of guy that the Tigers ought to be pursuing. That isn’t exactly true – he’s a guy who is no longer able to play center field well, but has still been called upon frequently to do it. In the corners, his defense comes out as a positive. The Tigers have no need for a new center fielder – but they definitely need a new Boesch. Replacing 2012 Boesch with 2012 Hamilton adds nearly 6 wins to the Tigers tally. Adding him for 2013 makes a team already considered the World Series favorite also the hands down best team in the American League. Avisail Garcia can either be left to season in AAA or kept to platoon with Andy Dirks.

I will continue to be a Tigers fan through 2015 and beyond, so I’d be at least a little uneasy about the long-term implications of a big deal for Hamilton (like I was with the Fielder signing). If I’m worrying about efficiency, or budgets, or the long-run health of the franchise this is not a guy I go after. We’d be looking at a 2015 Tigers team without Justin Verlander or Victor Martinez that – thanks to all those first round picks sacrificed – doesn’t have all that much top-tier talent coming up through the pipeline. If you remember the kind of teams we had under Sparky Anderson during Ilitch’s first years as owner, those are the kind of teams we’d be likely to see from 2015-2019. Aging, overpaid and mediocre. That said – I don’t think that is necessarily something that Mike Ilitch ought to even care about right now. What he may want is to win the next World Series and then win the one after that… period. If that’s what he wants – he can’t do better than Josh Hamilton in left field.

Here’s my batting order for the (hypothetical) Mike Ilitch All-Stars:

1. Austin Jackson (R)
2. Victor Martinez (B)
3. Prince Fielder (L)
4. Miguel Cabrera (R)
5. Josh Hamilton (L)
6. Jhonny Peralta (R)
7. Andy Dirks (L)
8. Omar Infante (R)
9. Alex Avila (L)

And what would we call the middle of the Tigers order? I’d go with “Ghidrah”.