Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Can he stay healthy? Can he handle the pressure? Is he too old? Can he stay clean?
These are some of the questions MLB teams are asking about Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton, the most polarizing big name free agent we've seen in years.
Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder both received deals north of $200 million last offseason but that's unlikely to happen with Hamilton given his injury history and past problems with drug and alcohol abuse.
No one has emerged as a clear favorite yet but as many as 10 teams have already shown interest in the former American League MVP.
Where will Hamilton be able to best maximize his fantasy potential? Let's investigate:
Baltimore Orioles: Baltimore hasn't been a hot bed for top-flight free agents in recent years but that's partly because they haven't been any good. Now that the Orioles (fresh off their first playoff appearance in 15 years) are contenders, landing a star like Hamilton isn't out of the question.
Hamilton would be wise to consider playing for Baltimore. Last season he hit a blistering .471 in 17 at bats at Camden Yards and for his career he is hitting .370 at the Orioles' home stadium. Let's not forget that Hamilton's incredible four home run game last season came at Camden Yards.
Boston Red Sox: Hamilton's longest home run of the season in 2012 came at Fenway Park, a 469-foot blast in the eighth inning of an 18-3 Texas victory. Overall, the five-time All-Star hit .545 in 22 at bats there last season.
The Red Sox were able to rid themselves of over $200 million in bad contracts by trading Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers last August, so the team will have plenty of money to spend on free agents this offseason. Hamilton wouldn't be able to DH in Boston however with David Ortiz under contract and at age 31, Hamilton won't help the rebuilding Red Sox get any younger.
Hamilton's fragile mental psyche doesn't seem like a good fit for the Red Sox either. If he can't handle the pressure in Arlington, Texas how in the world will Hamilton be able to succeed in the face of Boston's swarming media presence?
Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers couldn't hold on to Prince Fielder in free agency last winter but now they have a chance to make up for it. Can you imagine how terrified opposing pitchers would be to see Hamilton and Ryan Braun hitting back-to-back in the same lineup?
Miller Park has always been kind to lefthanded hitters (it was the fifth- easiest stadium for lefties to hit a home run in from 2009 to 2011) and it definitely doesn't hurt that the Brewers face the Cubs (among the league's worst in nearly every pitching category) 19 times in 2013. Hamilton has gone deep twice in six career games at Miller Park.
Side note: Milwaukee hitting coach Johnny Narron mentored Hamilton during his first four seasons in Texas and the two still maintain a close friendship.
Seattle Mariners: Safeco Field has always been brutal on fantasy hitters (Safeco had the lowest park factor in the majors this past season) but that could finally change in 2013. The Mariners announced recently that they are shortening the stadium's dimensions by up to 20 feet in some areas, so home runs shouldn't be as hard to come by next season. Seattle's weak lineup won't offer Hamilton much protection (they were dead-last in batting average in 2012) but perhaps a fresh start in a relatively small media market would be a nice change of pace for Hamilton, who seemed overwhelmed at times in Texas. He's a .224 career hitter at Safeco.
Texas Rangers: Why not stay in Texas, where Hamilton is hitting .315 for his career? The Rangers have already come out and said that they won't offer Hamilton more than a three-year deal, which probably eliminates them from consideration. Nolan Ryan's critical comments about Hamilton's decision to quit chewing tobacco and his poor performance over the final week of the season (2-for-17, nine strikeouts in his last four games) didn't help matters. Still, if Hamilton has a change of heart and decides to return to Texas, the Rangers' stacked lineup and favorable home stadium (Rangers Ballpark had the AL's third-highest park factor in 2012) should contribute to many more years of fantasy success.
Washington Nationals: Yes, the Nationals already have three capable outfielders in Jayson Werth (owed $90 million over the next five seasons), Bryce Harper and Michael Morse. The reason why Hamilton could still be a fit is because first baseman Adam LaRoche (also a free agent) is unlikely to return in 2013. If this happens, Morse would become the everyday first baseman, leaving the Nationals with a hole to fill in the outfield.
Washington's lineup isn't as strong as the one he came from in Texas but with Werth, Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Morse, this group still has plenty of pop. If Hamilton decides to play in the nation's capital, he'll also be playing a combined 57 games against the Mets (4.09 team ERA, tied for third-worst in the NL), Marlins (.263 opponents' batting average, third-worst in the NL) and Phillies (second-most home runs allowed in the National League in 2012).
The best fit: Considering that Hamilton wants seven years and $175 million, I think we can rule out the small-market Orioles. The rebuilding Red Sox seem like a long shot as well. Unless a new team emerges (the Yankees have been known to swoop in at the last minute), I believe it will come down to the Mariners and Brewers.
Out of these two, Milwaukee would clearly be the best fit for Hamilton. Teams won't be able to pitch around Hamilton with Ryan Braun waiting in the on-deck circle and Johnny Narron's presence should keep Hamilton away from some of the off-field distractions that have plagued him in years past. Meanwhile, Hamilton has never had much success in Seattle and playing against his old team 19 times a year could be uncomfortable. For this reason, I doubt he'd want to stay in the AL West, regardless of how much money the Mariners offer him.
It's still early in the Josh Hamilton sweepstakes but if I'm a fantasy owner, I want Hamilton to end up in Milwaukee.
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