Josh Hamilton’s story has been one of the most fascinating and amusing of the postseason.
To localize it for a moment, if the Red Sox’ signing of Shane Victorino means they are no longer interested in Hamilton, that’s probably not a good baseball decision.
That’s not meant as any disrespect to Victorino, who would likely agree, or to the Red Sox, who are trying to stick to a fiscal plan.
The avoidance of Hamilton by so many teams is fascinating. The whole issue of how they can’t plunge in too deep with him because of his past baggage (addiction problems) is also compelling, considering that six years after he returned to baseball, he has put up enormous numbers and not turned back to drugs, although he has had a couple of non-drug-related episodes.
There are two schools of thought on Hamilton: You’d be crazy not to want him on your team and you’re crazy if you do. What I don’t get is some of the in between, e.g. we want him but we’re not going to give him a Prince Fielder contract.
So you’re going to try to get perhaps the best player in baseball relatively cheap.
“Baseball-wise,” said an American League general manager, “there aren’t many people who can play the game at his level. In fact, there may be nobody who can play at his level.
“He didn’t have the best of at-bats late in the season, and when that happens, people start to get things in their heads, like, ‘Is he on the verge of breaking down? Is his past catching up to him?’
“But he’s also human. He’s had natural dips in performance like everyone else. But the numbers he puts up, his athleticism, that stuff is still pretty solid.”
And he is there for the taking.
Babe Ruth came with baggage. Mickey Mantle did, too. Barry Bonds had his issues. So did Manny Ramirez.
Someone is not doing right by Hamilton regarding his image. It should be something to promote and celebrate. Instead, agent Michael Moye has been secretive and silent about the client he’s supposed to be doing his best for.
It’s almost as if he’s saying “Shhh. Josh Hamilton is a free agent. Don’t want too many people to know this.” And believe me, people are acting as if they don’t so far.
During the Winter Meetings, Moye held double-secret off-site meetings. If he could have arranged for temporary blindness for the people who saw Hamilton on the plane or around town, he probably would have.
Sox GM Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell were seen leaving the Opryland Hotel to visit with Hamilton and Moye last Monday — though they never gave up where they were going — at, of course, an undisclosed location.
They couldn’t even tell the cab driver where they were heading (I think I’m kidding, but who knows?). There was some secret code. Hamilton was probably staying at a hotel under an assumed name and likely in disguise.
The Red Sox didn’t acknowledge the meeting until Dan Roche of WBZ-TV confirmed it a few days later.
After the meeting, this reporter texted Red Sox officials trying to get confirmation. Only one response came back, from Larry Lucchino.
I asked Lucchino, “Did you attend the Hamilton meeting with Cherington and Farrell?”
“Not me,” he said.
So the Red Sox played along with this ridiculous code of silence.
The Sox’ stance on Hamilton is vague; they’re using phrases like “we haven’t closed the door” and “we’re monitoring the situation.”
Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik must be mortified that word of his three-year, $60 million offer to Hamilton has gotten out.
The funniest thing was when Hamilton boarded a flight from Dallas to Nashville last Sunday and sat near Rangers GM Jon Daniels by accident. Talk about uncomfortable.
Moye walked swiftly through the lobbies of the Opryland Hotel so the media wouldn’t corner him to ask about one of baseball’s biggest stars.
That self-importance seems to be a turnoff to a few teams.
“Last time I checked, he was a baseball player,” said a veteran scout. “His agent walks around like he’s the CIA. What favors are you doing anyone being like that?”
He is correct that the self-importance is rather obnoxious, and Hamilton himself seems to realize that while he’s a great ballplayer, teams seem to be focusing on other players because the aura around him is so bizarre.
Can you imagine the difference if Scott Boras were Hamilton’s agent? Hamilton would be exalted to the highest plateau of baseball and life. After you’ve listened to Boras, you’d think that God never created a better player than his client.
Moye’s style leaves so much doubt. The fears teams have about Hamilton are never laid to rest. Can’t he stand out there in public and explain to baseball fans why Hamilton is not a high risk and why he is a unique talent?
Despite all the weirdness, Hamilton is there for the taking.
It doesn’t appear at this point that he’s going to get a Fielder-type deal. It’s likely to be in the five- or six-year range for $25 million or so a year.
A discounted Hamilton contract would be like getting a BMW for the price of a Chevy.
I’ll take it.
Apropos of something
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti has run every type of team — the poorest, the middle class, and now one of the richest. He makes no excuses for preferring his current status.
“I’d rather play with a full deck and make decisions that are based on baseball, talent, and market,” said Colletti.
Big-market teams can face the pressure of spending in the right way. Theo Epstein, who had two championship teams in Boston, hit on mid-level free agents and trades but failed on the big-ticket items.
But when asked if there is more pressure in a big market, Colletti said, “No, not at all.
“When you’re restricted in what you can think about and how you can improve the team and restricted in the areas you can get involved, that’s tough. Now we’re not restricted. If we can’t get something done, there are other factors involved rather than restrictions.
“So I’d rather have this because you still have to be accountable. You still have to be expected to win. They can talk about all the sabermetrics in the world. One fact tells your story: wins.”
And Colletti makes this point: “Not everybody with the highest or second-highest payroll wins. We were in a spot where our team is still a little bit in transition because we did business as of 12 months ago in a completely different way.
“And the game is not one where you play one season with this team and you put them over here on the side and now you build another team.
“You have transition. It’s not like we started fresh and built a new team. And it will probably take another year or so.”
One thing that is different is teams coming to him and asking if he’ll take on a high-priced player for one of his lower-priced ones. For instance, teams have approached him about shortstop Dee Gordon, knowing Gordon could be the odd man out if Hanley Ramirez stays at shortstop instead of moving to third base.
Now Colletti knows how Epstein and Brian Cashman were able to operate for many years. So far, he’s loving it.
Apropos of nothing
1. Dominican Winter League team Licey has fired its last six managers during the season.
2. Former White Sox, Reds, and Cubs catcher/first baseman Steve Christmas was born on Dec. 9. What’s with that?
3. Not a hunter, so I don’t understand the fascination with it, but Cubs manager Dale Sveum was shot in the ear by Robin Yount while hunting, and Padres righty Andrew Cashner will miss three months after cutting a tendon in his hand while skinning an animal. Think it’s time for a “no hunting” clause.
4. John Farrell was absolutely grilled at the Winter Meetings by an angry Toronto media over his sudden departure from the Blue Jays. It’s expected to continue in spring training.
5. The Twins are erecting a 55-room dormitory for their extended spring training and instructional league players as part of their $40 million renovation of Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.
6. Great to see former Red Sox trainer Paul Lessard at the Winter Meetings; his Reds training staff was named Training Staff of the Year last season. Some believe that the Red Sox’ medical woes started when Lessard was let go three years ago.
7. Saw former Sox batting champ Bill Mueller at the Winter Meetings. He’s now a pro scout with the Dodgers and learning every aspect of baseball operations. “I just want to keep learning and being the best evaluator,” he said. We spoke about the amazing 2003 Red Sox lineup. “That was so much fun,” said Mueller. “As I make my evaluations of players, I think about that team and try to compare players I see to the players who played on that team.”
8. In a nice conversation with Astros GM Jeff Lunhow, I learned that he spent most of his childhood in Mexico City.
9. Cecil Cooper was a guest of his former employer, agent Alan Nero, at the Winter Meetings. The former Red Sox first baseman and Astros manager has been looking to get back into baseball. He is the only former agent-turned-manager I can think of.
Updates on nine
1. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS, Indians — The Red Sox and Indians have had numerous conversations about a deal for Cabrera and/or Shin-Soo Choo over the past couple of months, according to a major league source, sometimes even involving a third team. The Indians are open to dealing Cabrera, but he’s still very affordable for them. Choo is another story. He’s in the Jacoby Ellsbury category, where he can be a free agent after the season and is represented by Scott Boras. Cabrera and Choo could be impact players in the Boston lineup.
2. Jon Lester, LHP, Red Sox — Teams besides the Royals have shown interest in Lester, but the Red Sox have yet to hear something that would get them to pull the trigger. The Lester-for-Wil Myers idea still has to be intriguing to the Red Sox. The problem is that it’s so difficult to replace pitching — as the Red Sox have found — in the free agent market. Interesting fact: Lester and Royals manager Ned Yost are practically neighbors, as their farms are close to one another in Georgia.
3. Alfredo Aceves, RHP, Red Sox — While John Farrell has been in touch with Aceves — trying to gauge his mind-set and make sure Aceves knows what’s expected of him — teams are showing interest in Aceves’s arm. The Indians are one; Aceves pitched very well for Terry Francona in Boston. Aceves also has volunteered to be a catcher for Mexico’s team in the World Baseball Classic.
4. Dan Duquette, GM, Orioles — It’s strange that the Angelos family hasn’t opened up the purse strings for Duquette as he tries to keep building a team that went from 69 to 93 wins in his first season. Duquette was always one of the best in baseball at buying big-ticket players who performed up to their paychecks. He did it with Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, and Pedro Martinez in Boston. Duquette would likely spend the money on Josh Hamilton — who might light up the night at Camden Yards — or Zack Greinke.
5. Justin Upton, OF, Arizona — Texas is going strong after the D-Backs outfielder, and while he wouldn’t be a complete replacement for Hamilton, he would be at least 80 percent of him, and his numbers should soar with half his games at The Ballpark in Arlington. He would also be a good fit for the Rays.
6. James Shields, RHP, Tampa Bay — The Rays have made two moves, signing the weak-hitting James Loney for first base and trading with the Marlins for emotional shortstop Yunel Escobar. Escobar is a good player for the Rays; Joe Maddon should be able to handle his ups and downs. But the real question is, will the Rays deal Shields for a thumper? The Royals still think they can obtain Shields in a deal for Myers, but the Rays may be looking at something more. Shields for Upton would certainly interest D-Backs GM Kevin Towers. The Rays want to come away with a hitter and perhaps a catcher.
7. Zack Greinke, RHP, free agent — He is closing in on a six-year, $145 million deal with the Dodgers, who sweetened the pot over the weekend after he appeared to be leaning toward Texas. The Rangers and Dodgers (two Goliaths, as Boras calls them) have the ability to create a bidding war for Greinke, who played with the Angels last season. Some of Greinke’s friends advised him to beware of the wear-down effects of the Texas heat, but that wasn’t a deal-breaker.
8. Lance Berkman, 1B/OF, free agent — He could be a solid player for a lot of teams, but he fits the Red Sox well. They have been looking for a lefthanded hitter who can play first base and the outfield. The other fits in this category are Seattle’s Mike Carp and free agents Nick Swisher and Aubrey Huff. Berkman could stay at home in Houston and play for the Astros, but that seems like a frustrating experience. Another option for Berkman could be retirement.
9. A.J. Pierzynski, C, free agent — He was often a subject of discussion in Nashville, and there was an opinion that teams needing catching were being rather short-sighted in not pouncing on him, not only for his leadership but his lefthanded power. There are good fits everywhere, from the Rays to the Yankees to the Mets and even his old team, the White Sox. So far, there haven’t been many serious bids. One concern teams have is his often-abrasive nature. “I know it worked in Chicago,” said an AL GM, “but if it doesn’t work with a whole group of new pitchers and teammates, it could be disruptive, and I think that’s the fear, as much as you’d love to have his bat and the intensity he brings.”
From the Bill Chuck files: “Koji Uehara faced 130 batters in 2012 and allowed eight extra-base hits (four homers, four doubles) and walked only three. Batters hit .143 off his fastball and .155 off his slider, two pitches that accounted for 96.2 percent of the pitches he threw.” And, “In 2009 with the Angels, John Lackey primarily had two catchers: Jeff Mathis for 17 games (batters hit .237) and Mike Napoli for 10 games (batters hit .309.”) . . . Happy 55th birthday, Ed Romero.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report