By this point in time, Rays fans are familiar with the saga of Josh Hamilton. How Hamilton was the first overall pick of the 1999 MLB Amateur Draft. How he was regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball, even being ranked as the top prospect prior to the 2001 season, as he tore through the minors. How Hamilton missed almost three seasons due to his problems with drug and alcohol addiction. And then how Hamilton, who was left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft after the 2006 season, began to emerge as a legitimate major league player with the Cincinnati Reds, before blossoming into a star with the Texas Rangers.
Now, as a free agent, Hamilton is reportedly seeking a 7 year, $175Million contract. He does come with a track record of success since being a member of the Rangers, having won an MVP award, three Silver Slugger awards, and having made five consecutive All-Star games. Hamilton has led the American League in RBIs, batting average, and slugging percentage, while finishing second in home runs last year.
While his record of success looks good, he does come with quite a few red flags. While Hamilton is going to turn 32 on may 21, 2013, he has already proven to be fairly injury prone, having missed time due to eye problems, a shoulder injury, a bruised rib cage, and an intestinal virus. He has also had several relapses in his quest to remain sober, most recently in February of this past year.
Normally, a player who has produced as Hamilton has could expect a sizable contract on the open market. However, he is not the typical player. Given his track record, teams are seemingly leery of giving Hamilton the type of contract that Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols received recently. In fact, the Rangers are rumored to have only offered him a three year deal, which may further dissuade other teams from giving Hamilton the type of deal that he is seeking.
While Josh Hamilton has been a star since receiving regular playing time with the Rangers, he may also be the free agent with the highest risk factor this year. For the price that it will likely take to secure his services, Hamilton is unlikely to provide a positive return on the investment. Given the abuse his body has taken, he may well age much more rapidly than the typical player at his age. Another factor against Hamilton is the number of quality center fielders that are available via free agency. Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton, while not the same players that Hamilton is, would both likely to cost less than he would. Add in possible trade targets Justin Upton and Dexter Fowler, and there are a number of options available.
Even though Hamilton is unlikely to receive the type of contract he desires, all it takes is one team desperate enough to make a splash, and willing to ignore the potential pitfalls inherent with a player like Hamilton, to make that type of offer. However, whichever team signs Hamilton should keep in mind the phrase Caveat Emptor – let the buyer beware.