Once the World Series ends, the biggest story in baseball will almost certainly revolve around the free agency of Josh Hamilton. While the season is still going, Hamilton’s 2013 landing place has a lot of fantasy implications.
While I won’t say where I think he’ll end up, I do want to take a look at a list and explore what these potential moves would do for the slugger’s fantasy value.
Buster Olney of ESPN (insider required) came up with a list of teams as possible destinations. Before I go, I want to go a little off topic and say this. I do respect Olney and ESPN’s rights to keep things Insider information available to insiders, so I’m not going to reveal to entire article. I’ll also point out that the list has been revealed by other free sites (for example: Will Brinson, NBC Bay Area), so I feel okay with least going over the teams.
So, take a look at Olney’s list of possible destinations: Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, and Washington Nationals.
We can break this down from a baseball perspective all we want, but this is a fantasy site. So, let’s take a look at the fantasy ramifications if Hamilton were to sign with these teams. Of course, we’ll also include his current team, the Texas Rangers. Let’s get to it.
Atlanta Braves: This will not be the first time that I make this point, but the Braves play in a park that benefits the pitcher in a pretty big way. The gaps are very spacious and hitters aren’t even given short porches to aim at. There is one other problem that I would see with this. Even if the Braves lose Michael Bourn, signing Hamilton would make that lineup very left-hand heavy, with Hamilton joining the likes of Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, and Freddie Freeman.
That is not an insignificant problem, as those players also make up a large part of the Atlanta order, so there isn’t a great way to stagger them, especially with the pending retirement of Chipper Jones. What that would mean is that in late innings, teams with strong left-handed relievers could work their way through the Atlanta lineup, significantly limiting their power. In some ways, that can really limit the chances for the power production of Hamilton (and all those other guys, for that matter), but about one at-bat a game, which adds up.
Sure, Hamilton is a good hitter, but a good left-handed pitcher will get him a lot more, and his power will certainly be restricted. When you consider that Hamilton would have to play at Turner Field and share the lineup with a lot of other lefties, I wouldn’t like what this would do for his fantasy value.
Baltimore Orioles: Remember, Hamilton is no stranger to the disabled list. He’s a fantastic player, but misses a fair amount of time and also often plays injured. So, going somewhere where batting as a DH is a possibility will be a good thing for his value. I’ll make that point here and when looking at other teams, know that American League teams will generally be more valuable.
Camden Yards is also a very hitter-friendly environment, as is the rest of the American League East. I know that there are some good pitchers in that division, but there are plenty that aren’t so good too. Hamilton would completely feast on them, especially in those parks.
While I of course don’t know for sure who will be back, I’m looking at Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, Nick Markakis, and Mark Reynolds. With the exception of Markakis, all of those players have 20 or more homers in 2013. With the exception of Reynolds, all are under complete control for 2013, and he has a club option. What that means is that Hamilton will see plenty of pitches, have a lot of RBI chances, and will score a lot of runs. This would be a great fantasy move for Hamilton.
Chicago Cubs: I’ll be pretty brief with this one. Yes, they have some good young players in Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Yes, Alfonso Soriano might still be around. And yes, Wrigley Field is generally a good park for hitters. But other than Castro and Rizzo, Hamilton would be given very little help in categories like RBI and runs.
Take a look at this stat to best exhibit how little help would be there: Bryan LaHair as 15 homers this season with 35 RBI in 324 at-bats. Before getting hurt, Will Middlebrooks of the Red Sox also had 15 homers in 267 at-bats, but drove in 54 runs. I love the homer, but you need help to fill out a fantasy stat sheet and as that number shows, it hasn’t been there in Chicago.
Also, Wrigley tends to be a little more favorable for righties. As far as this list goes, there is no team that would hurt his value more. Sorry, Wrigleyville.
Chicago White Sox: Now we’re cooking with some gas. With Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski, Alex Rios, Alejandro De Aza, Dayan Viciedo, Gordon Beckham, Adam Dunn, Alexei Ramirez and possibly Kevin Youkilis in town, I’m not imagining many scenarios where Hamilton would hit with nobody on base. I’m also not imaging many times where he’d be on base with a non-imposing hitter in the box.
Granted, some room would have to be made. De Aza, Rios, and Viciedo is the current outfield, while Dunn and Konerko primarily DH and play first. One of those guys would have to go if Hamilton comes to town. But with all due respect to all of those guys, I would still love Hamilton’s fantasy value in that lineup with any one of those guys gone.
On top of that, US Cellular Field is certainly not bad for hitters. It’s hard to find a lot wrong with this, because this would be a great move for his fantasy value. Actually, ignoring how practical this move may or may not be, no team on this list would help his fantasy value more.
Detroit Tigers: It is extremely hard to look at this and not be floored by a 3, 4, 5 of Hamilton, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder. Throw in Austin Jackson and you have a pretty strong top of the order. Here’s the problem I see here and why I can’t put this potential move on par with the White Sox, or even the Orioles.
If you’re looking at potential RBI, you can’t just look at the player directly in front of Hamilton. If you’re looking at scoring runs, you can’t just look at the guy directly behind him and assume that every one of his 115 RBI will score Hamilton. It just doesn’t work that way. Detroit would need to make a few more moves for me to really like this, because that lineup is just not terribly deep. Looking beyond the aforementioned three players, I just don’t see a lot of help for Hamilton. On top of that, Comerica Park is just not a great hitter’s park.
It is true that in Detroit, Hamilton could potentially be sandwiched by Fielder and Cabrera, and no other team can offer that kind of protection. I’m certainly not saying that he wouldn’t put up good numbers. Still, when I look at the overall value, this would be nothing more than a lateral move for Hamilton’s fantasy value.
San Francisco Giants: I’ve watched an awful lot of baseball games at AT&T Park and can tell you one thing definitively. It is not a good park for left handed hitters when it comes to power. Yes, you can point out Barry Bonds, but I can give a list of lefties (home and road) who have struggled to put the ball over the fence. If you remember the Home Run Derby in 2007, you’ll remember that Fielder, Justin Morneau, and Ryan Howard put a combined zero balls in the water.
Still, if the Giants sign Hamilton I know they would not have had a left handed hitter anywhere near that caliber since Bonds. I saw a game earlier in the year where he launched a ball over the 421 marker in right-center field. There are better parks on this list for certain, but Hamilton would still hit the ball.
Now, here’s another question mark, at least now. If Hamilton were to sign with the Giants, you would assume that he’d bat third in the order, correct? Well, the number one and two hitters are Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro, both free agents. Will they be brought back? More importantly, if not, who replaces them? His RBI production will be very dependent on that. Having guys like Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval around won’t hurt, but he’ll at least need guys like Pagan and Scutaro as well.
All in all, this would not be a good move for his fantasy value. But other offseason moves could make the potential move a lot better.
Seattle Mariners: As things stand right now, this is where the Mariners rank in some of the top offensive categories.
Runs - 29th, Batting Average - 30th, On Base Percentage - 30th, Slugging - 30th.
Hamilton would need to be a huge part of an offseason haul for this move to help his fantasy value at all. Remember, Safeco Field isn’t exactly good for hitters. Now, I don’t see this happening. I doubt that Ichiro Suzuki would have been traded if the Mariners were trying to do anything other than get younger and build that way.
The one plus here is that Hamilton is used to the division, but Seattle is a long way from Texas in about every way imaginable and it wouldn’t take long for fantasy owners to know it. This would be an awful move for his fantasy value.
Texas Rangers: This is obviously the control of the group. We know what Hamilton can do in Texas. Sure, the team will be a year older, which is not insignificant. But this is the best offensive team in baseball despite having players like Mike Napoli (free agent), Nelson Cruz, Michael Young, and even Ian Kinsler, who didn’t perform as well as they could have this season.
There’s really not a lot more to be said. Again, we know what Hamilton can do in Texas. Throw Adrian Beltre in with the aforementioned group, and there are a lot of really good hitters to drive in and drive him in. It should go without saying, but his fantasy value would be just fine if he stays in Texas.
Washington Nationals: If you couldn’t tell, this list was done in alphabetical order. While the Nats are last, they are certainly not least.
He wouldn’t have the DH, but that’s about the only thing I wouldn’t like about this move as far as his fantasy value goes. Think about Hamilton being surrounded by Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, Jayson Werth and Michael Morse. Okay, LaRoche is a free agent and some room would likely have to be made in that outfield (probably Morse or if anyone would take his contract, Werth), but that’s still plenty of punch.
To make matters even better, while I wouldn’t call Nationals Park a hitter’s park, the ball carries a lot better to right field than left.
So, this would be a nice move for Hamilton’s fantasy value.
Now, as far as actually ordering the list:
Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals, Detroit Tigers, San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, Seattle Mariners, and Chicago Cubs.
If this is indeed the final list, the only potential change I can see to that order would be the Braves hopping the Giants if San Francisco can’t keep their current table-setters, or bring in guys with similar value. Still, this will be a big story until he signs, so stay tuned. We’ll certainly have a lot to say as the Hot Stove Season is going, when Hamilton signs, and then in our team previews and individual player profiles.