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Hamilton more short-term gain for Angels

12/13/2012

The Angels' deal with Josh Hamilton, confimed as a five-year, $125 million pact, resembles the deals the Angels made last winter with Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson -- consummated in reaction to other contenders' activity, likely to boost the team substantially in the short run, and with the prospect of ending badly for the team in the contract's final years.

Hamilton, when healthy, is among the best pure hitters in the game, and if he's limited to left field in Anaheim will probably be worth about five wins a year above replacement, and roughly that much to the Angels, assuming he takes away at-bats from a mix of Peter Bourjos, Mark Trumbo and Vernon Wells. (The outfield situation, I should note, certainly could change.)

Hamilton did benefit from a ballpark very friendly to lefty power hitters in Texas, but still should be good for 30 homers a season in the power-depressing park in Anaheim, with strong OBPs and plus defense if he's in left. He doesn't address the Angels' biggest need -- starting pitching -- but he was the best free agent left on the market and does at least free up some other assets, especially Bourjos, for the team to trade for another starter. Bourjos' main value is his center-field defense, but with the AL's most valuable player in center, the Angels have no need for what Bourjos provides.

The problems with the Hamilton contract are fairly obvious -- he's not durable, and he's already at an age when previously durable players tend to become less so. Over the course of a five-year deal, the over/under on Hamilton's games played is probably 600, if not less, given his propensity for injury. The Angels using him in left field might reduce that risk a little, given the greater range required of a center fielder, but much of Hamilton's problem staying healthy is a function of genetics and his style of play.

He also finished the 2012 season like one of the walking dead, attributed to the effects of his attempt to quit using tobacco products. That was an admirable goal, but the late-season malaise likely cost the Rangers the division title. Between his age and his history of injuries, it's hard to see him producing $25 million of value in Years 4 or 5, even given the existing rate of salary inflation in baseball. The 2016 Angels are going to be paying a lot of money for three players who probably won't be very good, given their ages at that point.

The signing makes more sense for the Angels if they now look to deal some of their position-player surplus, especially Bourjos, but also perhaps Trumbo and the buried catching prospect Hank Conger. The Mets might be inclined to deal R.A. Dickey for a package involving some of those players if they can't agree on an extension with Dickey. Getting, say, Bourjos, Conger and another prospect (I'll throw Taylor Lindsey's name out there) for one year of Dickey's services would make a lot of sense for a team that is still rebuilding.

Hamilton's signing leaves one everyday center fielder, Michael Bourn, remaining on the market (assuming some teams saw Hamilton in that light), but few teams looking to spend on a full-timer at the position. The Rangers would be one, having lost Hamilton and looking at internal options like Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry. The Reds have three everyday corner guys but no true CF on the roster, but would have to change course from their stated plans for center.

Bourn might have to look for a one-year deal that puts him back on the market next winter, but that market also includes Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson, if neither signs an extension before then, putting Bourn in a difficult spot at the moment. One other team that could benefit from Bourn, if he'll take a one-year deal, is the Royals, whose overhauled rotation would look even better with one of the game's premier fly catchers out in center.