As with every off-season in baseball, rumors are aplenty as each and every team has holes to fill on their roster and no team gets linked to the top free agents on the market quite like the Baltimore Orioles. It seems every single off-season the Orioles are somehow linked to big ticket free agents such as Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke this year, or David Ortiz and Aramis Ramirez in 2011, or even Jayson Werth and Victor Martinez the year before that.
The biggest difference between this current off-season and those previous ones is that the Orioles are now a competitive team in the American League East, after winning 93 games and being one win away from facing the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS, and the general feeling is that this is the year they could land a premier free agent.
As nice as that would be, considering the premier free agent on the open market right now is one of the best pure hitters in all of baseball – and the Orioles’ biggest need this off-season is on offense, I urge general manager Dan Duquette to proceed with caution.
Obviously any team that lands Josh Hamilton will have that big bat for the middle of their lineup, a middle of the order hitter that the Orioles could really use, but that’s not all they would get. Sure, the initial production from him would be above and beyond anything the Orioles hitters have produced since Miguel Tejada’s 2004 season, which saw him put up a .311/.360/.534 batting line with 34 homeruns and 150 runs batted in, but how long do you think he would put up those eye-popping numbers?
The biggest red flag, in my opinion, when it comes to Hamilton has nothing to do with his history of drug and alcohol abuse. The way I see it, the man deserves nothing but praise for his ability to constantly fight and win that battle with himself. It’s not an easy thing to have to deal with an understanding of it that many cannot. The reason I can say that is due to the knowledge I gained about those issues from being around various members of my own family that have dealt with the same things he has. So I get it – it’s not easy and it’s a constant struggle, but kudos to you for putting your life back together and being able to achieve something you set out to achieve so long ago, by playing the game of baseball professionally.
That red flag I mentioned doesn’t even have anything to do with his propensity for prolonged slumps, sometimes of the Mark Reynolds variety, during the middle of the season. Sure, his overall approach at the plate is rather poor at times, but he’s still a dangerous hitter and just his presence in the lineup – whether he is hitting the cover off of the ball or not – is something that opposing pitchers have no choice but to respect and then pitch accordingly.
The fact that Hamilton has the raw power to launch a ball 500 feet to dead center, or the ability to swat four homeruns in one game with ease (Orioles fans remember that one quite well), or even the ability to draw his fair share of intentional walks is a major boon to any lineup. His above average base running skills, heads up play in the outfield, and willingness to lay it all on the line night in and night out for his team are to be admired.
Heck, I’m even willing to deal with his knack for getting banged up throughout the course of the season – every season – and miss anywhere from 15 to 20 games a year due to injury. That’s simply the cost of doing business when you go all out every single game the way that he does on offense and on defense. That style of play eventually catches up with you and wears you down, but at least you’re going to get a top notch performance out of the guy when he is healthy.
What I’m not willing to overlook, however, is the seemingly poor attitude, negative body language, and the ole’ “shrug of the shoulders” level of concern given when it is apparent you are beginning to wear thin the nerves of your teammates, as well as the fans who have supported you. That, to me, is the biggest red flag of them all because where does it end?
Were those feelings, and your somewhat odd behavior, over this past year simply an accumulation of things that occurred in Texas and the constant contract negotiations that were going nowhere? Did the constant questioning of your sobriety or effort during slumps what eventually wore you down? These are questions I need answers to before I’m completely comfortable giving you a five or six year deal worth north of $20 million dollars per year.
If the only things being taken into account were your overall performance/ability and your health then I’d actually have no problem handing over that contract to you. Unfortunately that is not the case this off-season and these are questions and concerns that you brought about yourself. So, Josh, as soon as you release a statement or hold a press conference to answer for your behavior over the past year to year and half, I would then be more than happy to give the Orioles my blessing in signing you to that contract you deserve.