NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- An idea has germinated in the minds of some clubs that Josh Hamilton can be had for as little as four years. I don't blame teams such as the Red Sox, Orioles, Brewers and Mariners for thinking Hamilton comes with enough concerns (injuries, strikeouts, streakiness, substance abuse history, etc.) that the market for one of the game's 10 best hitters could be moved to the scratch-and-dent section.
That idea, though, seems a true longshot, especially with national and regional television money shaking loose all over the baseball landscape and Hamilton, 31, standing alone as the only true impact bat that is available without costing a team players in return.
Think about it this way: Name the last big-time hitter who hit the market in his prime (31 and younger) and had to settle for a deal of less than five years. The closest such guys I could find in the past seven years were Jason Bay, then 31, with the Mets in 2009 (four years) and Andruw Jones, then 30, with the Dodgers in 2007 (two years, but only after a miserable season in which he hit .222 and wanted to re-establish his value).
Otherwise, the market brought five years for Aramis Ramirez, J.D. Drew and B.J. Upton, six years for Carlos Lee, Adrian Beltre and Jose Reyes, seven years for Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, eight years for Alfonso Soriano and Mark Teixeira, nine years for Prince Fielder and 10 years for Albert Pujols. So now Hamilton, after hitting 43 home runs and posting a .930 OPS, is supposed to find only a four-year deal in a booming baseball economy? It's tough to buy.
Maybe the incumbent Rangers hold the line at four guaranteed years. In that case Hamilton's ties to the Dallas area and comfort level will be tested. But keep in mind that this figures to be the last big deal Hamilton signs. He is at the peak of his earning power at a time when revenues are exploding. It doesn't sound like the right ingredients for bargain hunters.
You can't fault Braves fans for imagining an outfield of Justin Upton, B.J. Upton and Jason Heyward -- all in their 20s and all of whom would be under the team's control for at least three seasons. To get the younger Upton from the Diamondbacks, though, Atlanta would likely need to trade shortstop Andrelton Simmons, 23, a future All-Star and Gold Glove winner, to Arizona, and be OK with pushing its payroll past $100 million.
"I don't see it happening," said one scout. "The signals they've been sending are that they're not looking at that kind of money [for Justin Upton]. With all the money they just gave B.J., it looks like they're looking at much cheaper players. I'd be surprised."
Justin Upton, however, is due a reasonable $38.5 million over the next three years, including $9.75 million in 2013. The Braves did save about $4 million with the trade of Tommy Hanson to the Angels. Fallback options such as Shane Victorino or Angel Pagan for leftfield don't represent huge savings from Justin Upton. The Rockies' Dexter Fowler, who grew up in Atlanta, may be one trade option, but he's a long way down in terms of impact from Upton.
The bottom line is that finances shouldn't prevent the Braves from going after Justin Upton. The biggest worry would be parting with Simmons. He could be an impact player himself at a premium position and is still at least two years away from arbitration.
It's baffling to hear the Royals dangle top prospect Wil Myers on the trade market. Myers hit 37 home runs at age 21 in the minors last season -- across Double-A and Triple-A. (He turns 22 next week.) Scouts have compared him to former two-time NL MVP Dale Murphy. Are the Royals that bothered by his 140 strikeouts last year? Are they still unconvinced he can play centerfield?
Unless you want to trade him for a pitcher like Matt Moore or Dylan Bundy -- a front-of-the-rotation pitcher just starting his service clock -- I can't see cashing in six years of major league service from one of the top hitting prospects in baseball for, as have been mentioned, two years of Jon Lester or two years of James Shields, when such a veteran pitcher is not putting Kansas City in the postseason next year.
It's hard to remember a prospect this close to the big leagues put on the trade market. Jesus Montero in 2010? Andy Marte in 2005? Kansas City has too much to lose by giving up Myers. Based on the following comparison of minor league numbers, the Royals might just have the next Heyward or Eric Hosmer -- neither of whom figures to be available.
With the news that Alex Rodriguez needs another hip surgery, as first reported by the
Rodriguez put up good numbers for Texas in his first contract ($252 million for 10 years) but the Rangers wound up paying him $140 million for three last-place years ($63 million in salary, $10 million in bonus money and $67 million to go away to New York) -- and that was before Rangers owner Tom Hicks, after Rodriguez had cozied up to him as a shortstop/special adviser, found out Rodriguez put up those numbers on steroids.
Hicks said then, "I feel personally betrayed, I feel deceived by Alex . . . Alex was supposed to be one of the hardest working players in baseball. He had legendary offseason workouts that lasted five hours a day in Florida. Now I don't know who to believe or what to believe."
The workouts and the numbers were fueled by steroids. Now, at age 37, his value to the Yankees is plummeting as he only now reaches the back half of a 10-year, $275 million deal. Over the past two seasons Rodriguez has been paid $60 million to play in 221 games and hit 34 home runs -- which ranks 90th in baseball. He is due $114 million over the next five years. It appears those "workouts" and his bulk may be catching up to him.
Then again, this is a more normal aging pattern of a player than what we saw in the Steroid Era. Think about how much the game has changed when it comes to production from older players. In 2004, six players age 36 or older hit 25 home runs. Over the past four years combined, only four players that old have hit 25 homers: Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, Raul Ibañez and Alfonso Soriano, who is the only National League elder to stay that productive over these four seasons.
Still, baseball clubs continue to pay out big money for "legacy players" as they age through their 30s -- the high price of keeping the "face of the franchise." Here are the players signed through 2020: