The hot stove season is upon us and the three teams that have lately been linked to the market's top free agent are the Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers.
Meanwhile, that free agent's most recent team and its fan base doesn't seem all that concerned about whether they retain his services. One teammate even said it might not be in the franchise's best interests to re-sign the AL MVP from 2010.
If this was any other year or any other player, we'd be moved to wonder when we started living in a bizarro world or if the Mayans are on track to nail doomsday like Nate Silver just nailed election day.
But this is 2012 and the player we're talking about is Josh Hamilton. Rising revenues mixed with Hamilton's enigmatic status mixed with the Texas Rangers' proclivity to avoid risk-laden contracts have made this an offseason unlike any other. Franchises that usually struggle to obtain mid-tier free-agent talent now find themselves at the front of the pack for the top available position player while Hamilton's representation might not ever see New York or Boston's area codes show up on its caller ID.
There are undoubtedly plenty of other weird chapters to be added in this saga and Hamilton could still haul down the seven-year, $175 million contract he reportedly desires. But since we're in this strange time and place at the beginning of the story, let's look at the three unlikely suitors.
Milwaukee Brewers: The team's interest in Hamilton was initially reported during the World Series and reinforced with a Jon Heyman report on Wednesday. GM Doug Melvin, however, is also reportedly interested in gauging Zack Greinke's interest in returning to Miller Park and starting pitching remains Milwaukee's biggest need. (The Brewers still topped the National League in runs and home runs in 2012 despite Prince Fielder leaving for Detroit last winter.)
Speaking of Fielder, I remain confused why the Brewers were unwilling to even think about delivering a Brinks truck to a homegrown player but could be interested in taking a risk on a free agent with baggage he carries in his head instead of around his midsection. Hamilton is four years older than Fielder and achieved his career-high in games played when he appeared in 156 contests for the 2008 Rangers. Fielder had six seasons of more than 157 games played when the Brewers let him walk.
Baltimore Orioles: Several free agents in years past have been rumored to be headed toward Camden Yards, but the O's were still more of a flower girl than a bridesmaid in recent derbies. The bizarro Hamilton market combined with a desire to capitalize on 2012's wild-card bid might actually get Baltimore owner Peter Angelos to play a big role in the offseason for the first time in almost 15 years. Hamilton would fit in Baltimore's outfield perfectly for the near-term, but Dan Connolly of the Sun Papers thinks the O's would be ill-advised to make Hamilton the biggest catch of their offseason when you consider his age and the money he'll likely command. Still, the O's desire to remain relevant in the AL East could cause Angelos to blow the dust off his checkbook.
Seattle Mariners: I think Dave Cameron of USS Mariner nails it when it comes to labeling the Mariners' reported interest in Hamilton's services. Seattle hasn't been linked to the star via a contract offer or even a front office leak, but rather a Bob Nightengale report that opposing GMs think the Orioles and Mariners will end up as the final two competitors. Maybe we get something a little more concrete from Seattle, but all the speculation right now is based on a logical guess. The Mariners' moved-in fences at Safeco, available payroll and punchless offense should make them a player for Hamilton. Throw in their struggle to attract top free agents because of the travel demands of playing for Seattle and it makes downright good sense that they capitalize on a market that isn't populated by the usual players.
Then again, it's still only Nov. 8 and there will be more teams inquiring on Hamilton than just these three (and ostensibly the Rangers). It's fun to put together lists of unconventional teams this early, but remember that no one thought the Angels and Tigers would be landing places for Albert Pujols and Fielder at this time a year ago.
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