He is a five-time consecutive All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger, and former American League Most Valuable Player, but is he the best fit for your team? Is he the best fit for the Seattle Mariners?
It's been reported that Josh Hamilton has requested a 7-year, $175 million dollar deal to come to the table with any Major League team. No discounts. No wiggle room. Just a cold $25 million dollars a season until he is 38-years old. For a former Most Valuable Player in this market I can hardly argue his demands as 'outrageous', but at that price his salary would be effectively doubling from 2012, $13.75 million, which seems a bit excessive. Of course, as Detroit's signing of Prince Fielder showed us last year, often the crazy numbers are even exceeded.
The Seattle Mariners are said to be in the vicinity of $66.5 million in payroll after re-signing Hisashi Iwakuma last weekend. Adding $25 million brings the clubs payroll towards the cap many analysts expect the club not to exceed in 2013, and that is $90-92 million dollars. This price tag comes without Jason Vargas or Brendan Ryan, both of whom are due an arbitration decision, and it also doesn't include possibly re-negotiating a longer contract with King Felix.
Is the left-handed slugger really what is best for Seattle? Do they need him to win a championship?
Since 2000, only four MLB World Series winning teams have had batters post a WAR greater than 6.4 during the regular season; Josh Hamilton posted an 8.4 WAR in 2010 as Texas fell short in their World Series bid. The names:
2012 – San Francisco Giants – Buster Posey – WAR 7.2
2008 – Philadelphia Phillies – Chase Utley – WAR 6.6
2006 – St. Louis Cardinals – Albert Pujols – WAR 8.3
2001 – Arizona Diamondbacks – Luis Gonzalez – WAR 7.6
Since 2000 only two MLB World Series winning teams have had pitchers post a WAR equal to 6.4 during the regular season. The names:
2004 – Boston Red Sox – Curt Schilling – WAR 6.4
2001 – Arizona Diamondbacks – Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson – WAR 7.3 and WAR 8.4
This means that only five of the last thirteen World Series winners (38%) have needed the type of season Josh Hamilton can provide to win their title. It is also worth noting that all of the above performances came at a reasonable price as compared to total team payroll:
2012 – San Francisco Giants – Buster Posey – 1% of team payroll.
2008 – Philadelphia Phillies – Chase Utley – 12% of team payroll
2006 – St. Louis Cardinals – Albert Pujols – 16% of team payroll
2004 – Boston Red Sox - Curt Schilling – 9% of team payroll.
2001 – Arizona Diamondbacks – Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Luis Gonzalez – 16%, 7%, and 5% of team payroll.
Let's say that Hamilton commands a 7-year, $185 million dollar contract after negotiations with multiple Major League clubs comes to a close. If he repeats the success of his best regular season to date, 2010, and posts a WAR of 8.4 in 2013, his performance would come at a cost of somewhere near 25% to 29% of Mariners' team payroll.
No World Series winner that I can locate has paid anywhere close to 25%-29% of their team payroll for a singular player, besides the San Francisco Giants in 2010 with Barry Zito -- and Zito was hardly the driving force for their championship run, as he wasn't even on the postseason roster. Assuming that the Mariners could be World Series competitors with Josh Hamilton in 2015-2016, after a slight bump in payroll, the club would still have nearly 23%-25% of payroll sunk into his performance.
It also is worth noting that Seattle is seen as a non-destination for many players on the market. With its isolated location -- which leads to more travel for road trips than any team in baseball -- Pacific Northwest weather and the impacts of the old dimensions at Safeco Field, hitters haven't wanted to come to Seattle. The left-handed hitting Hamilton has played more games in Seattle (34) than all but two visiting ballparks in baseball to this point in his career (Oakland and Los Angeles, both 38). Given his numbers here and his affiliation with the Texas Rangers I would imagine the slugger has an idea of how playing out his his career in Seattle would end.
Hamilton is a lifetime .224/.338/.408 hitter in 148 plate appearances at Safeco Field, posting a tOPS+ (number measuring his OPS in a specific park against that in all parks) of 67. His experiences have not been kind at Angel Stadium or the Oakland Coliseum either over his time spent in the American League West, delivering a tOPS+ of 70 and 65, respectively. Simply moving the wall by 12 feet in Left Field isn't going to turn Safeco Field into Rangers Ballpark.
Is it likely Hamilton could hit .359 in a season within the new, friendlier confines of Safeco Field? Absolutely not. He hit .298 in 2011 and sputtered down the stretch, hitting just .245 in 25 games in September and October, in closing the 2012 season with a .285 batting average. Expectations of Hamilton in Seattle would best be kept under his .304 career batting average.
Foregoing contract obligations in the vicinity of $25 million dollars a season with Hamilton allows Seattle the ability to concentrate on a difference maker in the $13-$18 million range while bringing back Ryan and Vargas -- pieces that have proven successful in winning games for Seattle.
Additionally the Mariners already have a legitimate $20 million dollar performer, or have you forgotten, in Felix Hernandez. Adding a second allocation of this size at the length requested diminishes the team's chances at being aggressive in negotiations with budding superstars Mike Zunino, Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, and James Paxton who will reach arbitration and possibly free agency before Hamilton's contract would run its course.
Patience is nowhere harder to get on board with than it is in sports, I get it. But the M's did this once, remember? They spent on Adrian Beltre and they spent on Richie Sexson. By the latter part of both deals the fan base wanted out of their obligations to watch them play as much as both sides wanted out of their contracts and the club was left rebuilding in the wake.
I, for one, will be hoping to see Jack Zduriencik guide Seattle to a championship the way that has proven successful in 62% of the titles these past 13 seasons; by not relying on the bat of one man to get them there. But building a team that can rely on one another and sustain success while growing together.
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