Following the 2012 season Texas Rangers outfielder, Josh Hamilton, will hit the free agent market. The Rangers had a chance to sign him during the off-season, but if he finishes this season as the best season of his career, he may be playing elsewhere next season. Would it be in Texas' best interest to let him walk, or try to sign him?
With only a few games remaining in April, Josh Hamilton is undoubtedly off to the best start to his career. He's showing tremendous power, and is getting on base over 40% of the time. The only player who is doing better then Hamilton up to this point is Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder, Matt Kemp. Hamilton's main offensive attribute is his above average power, but he's average to slightly below average at getting walks. Since Hamilton will be a free agent next season, and turn 32 next May, I wanted to see how production changes for players similar to Hamilton once they reach that age.
I gathered my information from Fangraphs, and set the time-frame from 1981-2011, and after narrowing the list down I got a total of 11 players that are similar to Josh Hamilton.
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The first sheet looks at each player that I found similar to Hamilton in their age 25-30 seasons. While there isn't an exact match for Hamilton we can see that he's in some pretty good company. During his time in the majors Albert Belle was one of the premier power hitters, and Mike Piazza is probably the greatest offensive catcher of all-time. He could be considered the best comparison to Josh Hamilton, but he had more power. Another potential comparison is Raefal Palmeiro . Palmeiro didn't have quite as much power, but their wRC+ was nearly identical.
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Let's take a look at their age 31-34 seasons. Albert Belle's ISO decreased, as is expected, but he also walked more and struck out less. On the other hand, Mike Piazza saw an increase in power, but saw a decrease in his wRC+. Palmeiro also had a power increase, but also saw a slight decrease in his wRC+. Even though they saw a decrease in wRC+, their totals were still superb.
For the most part all of these guys have had solid careers. Jermaine Dye was the worst of the bunch after age 30, even though he showed good power and a good eye at the plate. His WAR took a hit due to his ineptness in the outfield. In terms of projecting Hamilton's 31-34 seasons Alfonso Soriano or Joe Carter may be the players to look at. Neither had a good BB%, but had an ISO around .230. It's hard to find a perfect comparison for Hamilton because he's one of those hitters with a high BABIP, high ISO, and low BB%.
The main knock on Hamilton is that he struggles to stay healthy. From 2009-2011 he missed 143 games. That can be credited to injuries, and the fact that his body may be breaking down due to his former drug addiction. When he's healthy he's easily a 4-5 WAR player though.
Whoever wants Hamilton's services will probably have to pay upwards of $65-70 million, with at least 4 years. There might be a team out there who's willing to exceed that though.
Based on his injury history, the Rangers may be hesitant on signing Hamilton long term, or giving him the $70+ million. If they were to let him walk, center fielder Leoynis Martin would take his place. Martin isn't a big power hitter like Hamilton, but he projects be an above average player.
Hamilton is a good player, but as he reaches his 32, 33 and 34 age seasons his power will start to decrease, as expected and Hamilton as a result he would lose a lot of his value. If he stays healthy though, and continues to post big numbers, someone will pay him a lot of money.