Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIRE
The Tigers don't need Josh Hamilton, but sometimes baseball isn't just about needs. Sometimes it's just fun to dream about running out an All-Star lineup every single day.
Who is he?
Without getting too far into it -- he did drugs, he got clean, don't make jokes about it -- Hamilton is the comeback story of the century. He has been to five straight All-Star games since being traded to the Rangers before 2008 and won the 2010 MVP over Miguel Cabrera. He hit .285/.354/.577 with 43 home runs and 128 RBIs in 2012 and will likely finish in the top five in MVP voting.
Why should we care?
Because he is a supremely talented baseball player. Hamilton has arguably the fastest hands of any hitter in baseball and is probably the best left-handed hitter in baseball (sorry, Prince) when he is locked in. His 2010 season in which he hit .359/.411/.633 over the course of 133 games is obviously the best-case scenario, but what a scenario that is. He isn't incredibly fast, but by all accounts is a good base runner who will steal 5-10 bases in a season. He is a decent defender who is better suited for a corner outfield spot than in center field, where the Rangers had him for 95 games last season.
Looking deeper, I have been impressed with Hamilton's ability to hit left-handed pitching at a decent clip. For his career, he is a .280/.327/.481 hitter against lefties -- Prince Fielder hits .262/.344/.456, by comparison -- and Hamilton hit .291/.333/.520 against them last season with 10 home runs in 192 plate appearances.
Why should we stay away?
Hamilton had a good year in 2012, but his overall numbers don't tell the whole story. In his first 35 games, Hamilton hit .404/.458/.838 with 18 home runs. After that, he hit just .246/.320/.493 with 25 home runs in 113 games. He admitted to losing focus at times, and there were his well-publicized struggles with caffeine, of all things, that also plagued him through the latter portion of this season. He has a laundry list of past off-field issues threatening to come screaming back at any moment without a solid support system in place.
Hamilton's lack of plate discipline is also concerning. He was the only player in baseball to swing at a higher percentage of pitches outside the strike zone than Delmon Young, and he struck out in 25.5% of his plate appearances last season. Granted, these numbers don't paint the whole picture -- he hit .412/.408/.773 on the first pitch last season and still has a career walk rate of 8.3% -- but it's not like we're getting a pitch-count-working savant here.
Will he end up in Detroit?
The odds are probably better than you think. There is no reason to bring up Prince Fielder here because these are two completely different sets of circumstances. Signing Hamilton puts 2008-level expectations on this team, something that they are much better equipped to handle than 2008. Would Hamilton affect the Tigers' ability to re-sign the players on their current roster due for raises and extensions in the next few years? Probably, but not to the extent that some are concerned with. There's also the issue of giving up a draft pick if Hamilton is signed, but I'm really only mentioning this so someone doesn't try to grill me on it in the comments.
The question here is not whether the Tigers need Hamilton, but whether Mike Ilitch wants him. Sometimes you just say "screw it" and whip out the plastic. Do you regret it later? Sometimes, but sometimes you look back and say "man, what a ride." I can't say that I want the Tigers to sign Hamilton -- I think that there are more cost-effective options out on the market -- but I can't say that I don't want him either. Regardless, you can bet that I will be excited as all get-out for the 2013 season if he is a Tiger next year.