Why Didn't the Boston Red Sox Make a Push for Josh Hamilton?


I’m far from the first person to ask this question, but what was it exactly that kept the Boston Red Sox from doing what the Angels did in signing Josh Hamilton a very affordable $125 million deal last Thursday?

If he’s a great fit in Los Angeles, then he’s a perfect fit in Boston. If the Angels wanted him badly, then the Red Sox should have wanted him more. He’s everything the team needs, without as much risk as everybody seems to think.

As the team is currently assembled, the Red Sox can’t win this year. They can’t do it. They’re not going to beat out the Yankees, Rays, Orioles, A’s, Rangers, Angels, Tigers and White Sox – all of who could be considered better than the Sox. Sorry, but overpaying for an aging, not-very-good Shane Victorino isn’t going to catapult them to the top of the American League.

But there was one player who could have put them back into the mix. There was one player who could have put fear in the Yankees and the Rays and put the rest of the league on notice that the Red Sox weren’t very comfortable finishing in last place last year and weren’t planning on letting it happen again.

Josh Hamilton.

Instead, the Sox have overpaid for a bunch of lesser players on short-term deals and sold it as the team’s new strategy for building a winning foundation. No long term deals. No at-risk character guys. No potential crippling commitments beyond a short window of time.

All that’s done is make them the best last-place team in the American League. If you look at them on paper, right now, it’s impossible to say that they’re substantially better than they were a year ago. So why did they stay away from Josh Hamilton?

According to WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford, the Sox were interested in Hamilton, but only for three years or less. They had to smoking more than Hamilton during his high school days to actually believe that he would accept a three-year deal when he’s arguably the best position player in the game.

Here’s what I don’t get though: Why? Why were they only interested in a three-year deal? By all accounts the offer the Sox made might have been worth as much as $90 million dollars over those three years. Hamilton ended up with $125 million over five. That’s a $35 million difference (between 125 and 90) over two years, or $17.5 million per year.

That’s not a risk the Red Sox could take for a guy who would instantly be the face of their franchise, would boost TV ratings, would give them a chance to contend and may very well be the top outfielder in the league? It blows my mind. Even if Hamilton’s skills declined, and he wasn’t the player he is now in those last two years, you’d just be paying him $17.5 more over two years than you had agreed to initially. That’s really not a ton of cash when you’re the Red Sox.

For some reference, the Red Sox are paying Shane Victorino $13 million per year for the next three years. They’re paying that money to a guy who hit .255 last year, has never hit .300 in his career and who’s No. 1 skill is stealing about 30 bases a year and being “high-energy.”

So that’s okay for the Sox, apparently. They can pay $13 million for a mediocre guy like Victorino, but they can’t give $17.5 for Hamilton.

Because it’s not as though Hamilton won the 2010 MVP. It’s not as though he’s led the league in RBI and average in separate seasons and finished second in home runs. He definitely didn’t hit .359 two years ago, and he most certainly has not made five consecutive all-star games, led the league in slugging, OPS and War. Or won three Silver Slugger awards in five years.

Oh wait. Yes he has. He’s done all of that, and he was available at a discounted price because of his “baggage.” He was available for five years, which isn’t six or eight or 10 like other stars command. They wouldn’t have had to commit the resources they committed to Adrian Gonzalez. Just five years at $25 million per.

I’m sure if they ever open up about their pursuit of Hamilton (which they probably won’t), the excuse will be that he’s too much of a risk. They’ll point to his past issues with substance abuse, the games he missed when he quit dip and coffee this year.

They’ll point to his struggles in day games. They’ll talk about how he hasn’t been good enough for long enough to justify the type of money it would have taken to sign him.

And it will all be bull. His substance abuse hasn’t stopped him from being a dominant force in the league over the last half-decade (which is a pretty substantial time frame to establish how good he is). He already quit coffee and dip, what’s he going to quit that would set him back in the next five years? Steak? There’s nothing else to screw him up, except a relapse.

Guess what? If he relapses, the deal could null and void! Every team that was interested in Hamilton knows that! I’m sure the Angels have clauses up and down the contract that are outs for them if Hamilton does something like that. If they find that he’s all of a sudden fallen off the wagon, I would be willing to bet my left arm that they aren’t responsible for a certain portion of the contract anymore. That’s how it works – team’s can protect themselves against players screwing up off the field by setting the contract up that way.

So there really isn’t a huge risk with his background. The only risk is that if they signed him and then he screwed up, the Sox might feel like they had missed out on another free agent they could have had when they elected to sign Hamilton. You know, like the immortal Shane Victorino.

If Hamilton’s background and off-the-field stuff was such a concern, too, they could have done what the Rangers did and assigned a person to be with him at all times. That worked out pretty well for Texas. Hell, the Sox had someone spy on Carl Crawford for an entire offseason before they signed him – they couldn’t get someone to accompany Josh Hamilton home from the ballpark?

The Sox also talk about avoiding big contracts, not falling into the same trap they fell in before by signing people just because they had the money and they wanted to make a splash, or signing players to overly long contracts because they could. Five years is not too long a contract. And signing Hamilton wouldn’t be just to make a splash or be done just because they had the money. If anything, they’d be getting him for a discount!

Maybe they didn’t sign him because they couldn’t bring themselves to ban alcohol in the clubhouse.

Hamilton wouldn’t have infringed on the team’s future plans for Jackie Bradley Jr. He wouldn’t have changed anything in terms of having the option to trade Jacoby Ellsbury. What he would have done, however, is given them a middle-of-the-order presence and not forced either Jonny Gomes or Ryan Kalish into a substantial role that neither of them is good enough to fill.

Right now, the team’s biggest free agent signing is Mike Napoli, and he might not even end up on the team because of complications passing his physical. After that, it’s Ryan Dempster, a guy who will be a No. 3 or 4 starter. Then there’s Victorino, Gomes and David Ross. Plus a couple bullpen arms.

Woo baby, .500 is well within the team’s sights now.

The Sox botched this one.

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