- Dan Szymborski, ESPN Insider
With baseball about to enter the busiest shopping week of the year, the winter meetings, Josh Hamilton is likely nearing his nine-figure payday. As one would expect in a market with few truly marquee sluggers and a lot of cash sloshing around in team budgets as a result of new television deals, the rumors swirling around Hamilton are not limited to one or two front-runners. In fact, nearly half of the teams in baseball have been linked at some point with the 2010 AL MVP.
To get a little bit of clarity on the issue, Buster Olney polled baseball executives in his Monday morning piece, with five teams getting votes for a Hamilton's future home. A sixth "mystery team" also received a vote, and since solving mysteries is fun, I've taken a guess at the identity of that team as well.
One thing about Hamilton is that he's a player of extremes, both good and bad, and I've asked the ZiPS projection system to give its five-year WAR projection for each of the outlined destinations. On the plus side, Hamilton's power is among the best in baseball, his 43 homers tied for second in baseball and his 15 No Doubt Homers leading the majors.
On the down side, Hamilton is one of the least-disciplined hitters in baseball. When people think of batters swinging and hitting air, names like Adam Dunn, Mark Reynolds or Alfonso Soriano come to mind, but Hamilton's 2012 season is a contender for the worst-disciplined season of the past decade. In 2012, 20 percent of Hamilton's pitches were swinging strikes, the worst of the 1,534 qualifying player-years, and only Miguel Olivo's 2011 is within 2 percentage points. Hamilton's 64.7 percent contact rate on swings was the fourth-worst of the past decade, and his 45.4 percent swing percentage on pitches outside the strike zone was sixth-worst. Hamilton is an extremely talented "see ball, hit ball" player, but it does create a concern on how he will age in the long term.
With so much of Hamilton's value coming from swinging the bat often and hitting balls far, a great percentage of it comes down to how often those hit balls clear the wall. And as a result, Hamilton's value will tend to fluctuate more often than usual when you consider his home park. Stadiums don't affect all offensive statistics equally -- stadiums that increase home runs more than other kind of hits likely disproportionately benefit Hamilton, and conversely, stadiums that increase home runs less than other kinds of hits are likely to disproportionately harm his value. So, how does Hamilton fit in the team and parks of the likely contenders for his services? I've ranked them based on his projections, and it seems like the "mystery team" might the best fit.
11mRandy Jennings, Special to ESPN.com