Josh HamiltonGiven the sheer magnitude of the August trade that sent $256 million packing to Los Angeles, you’d think the Red Sox wouldn’t be too into the idea of spending a ton of money this offseason to upgrade their roster. Or maybe they are…

Several reports over the past two weeks have linked Boston as potential suitors in the Josh Hamilton sweepstakes – making them the only major, big market club whose expressed anything resembling interest in the free agent outfielder. Regardless of where people stand on the topic, passions are strong depending on whom you talk to. Some would love to see a player of Hamilton’s caliber in Boston. Some view him as exactly the kind of player we should avoid.

I’ll admit fully – a few weeks ago if you had broached the topic with me, I’d have laughed it off. But after giving it considerable thought – probably more than I’d like to admit – I don’t think it’s nearly as insane or as poorly considered as many have made it out to be. In fact, the idea of signing Hamilton should be seen as a potential opportunity.

When people talk about the ‘Red Sox way’, they often talk without any sense of definition as to what that is. For some – it’s deeply personal. To me, I’ve always thought of it as finding opportunity where everyone else doesn’t. I think of the Nomar Garciaparra trade where they traded a premium player at a premium position because they saw defensive gaps. I consider it identifying Mike Lowell as an add on to a trade. I see it as making a group effort to sign a special pitcher who by most traditional standards and measures – was past his prime because they knew he had the goods to help lead a team to a championship.

So many people are afraid of failure these days that it almost hurts. No one’s willing to sift through the trash or run into the burning building. We want everything to be so certain. Not everything in life is. In fact – it never is. Josh Hamilton is an intriguing player. One who should be taken seriously and whose evaluation should be made with great care.

Hamilton is a complex beast – not only physically but mentally as well – the kind who could lead you to the Promised Land, or leave you stranded in the desert thirsting for water. After a lot of thought and a lot of consideration, I think that based on the Red Sox current issues, the state of the market place and the team’s needs and strengths heading forward – that they should give Josh Hamilton a long, hard look.

And yes – if the years are right… they should sign him. Here’s my case. Fire up your grills.

In spite of how much it’s been discussed, people still don’t fully comprehend the magnitude of the Dodgers trade

Yes, the Red Sox made a big trade with the Dodgers to clear a lot of salary.

Yes, the Red Sox made a big trade with the Dodgers to reset their roster.

Yes, the Red Sox are hoping to be more careful with their money heading forward.

But do you know what the Red Sox didn’t want to do in that trade? They didn’t want to trade Adrian Gonzalez. And with good reason. Compared to other big deals signed recently, Gonzo was a bargain. Not only did they give up an incredibly large prospect haul to land him, they did so knowing that the 1B market was most likely going to be bare for years to come.

More importantly – they did the deal knowing that it was going to be hard to find a bat like Gonzalez’s at that price for a very, very long time. Whichever way anyone wants to slice it – losing Adrian Gonzalez had serious repercussions.

Just how serious? Consider this:

Of the top 30 hitters in wOBA over the past four seasons, only 7 will be free agents in the next three years. They are:

David Ortiz (39)
Paul Konerko (37)
Robinson Cano (31)
Kevin Youkilis (33)
Lance Berkman (37)
Nick Swisher (32)
Carlos Beltran (36)
Jim Thome (43)
Mike Napoli (31)

That’s not exactly a youthful field. Even the ones on the younger end – primarily Cano – will likely get extended. The others will either be out of baseball or in steep decline in the next few years. Napoli is the only player on that list who MIGHT be on the Red Sox radar and much of his success is weighted into one sensational season (2011).

Past the top 30, there isn’t much hope, either. With the exception of perhaps Curtis Granderson, nearly every available bat will be past their prime – having been locked up early on in their career or simply on their way to decline as they begin to age.

The bottom line is this: The kind of bat the Red Sox will want to get – that they NEED to get – in order to be a major contender in the American League for the foreseeable future – doesn’t exist. At least not yet. With every contender in the AL featuring at least one or two of those bats, the Red Sox need to find a way to join the fray. EVEN if it means opening up the checkbook.

While the Red Sox did a lot to pare down their spending, it certainly doesn’t (nor should it) imply that they’re not going to spend at all. They’ll need to find the right deal at the right time. That deal might be staring at them right now.

If Hamilton goes at 4-5 years, $100 million – that’s actually a bargain

If Melky Cabrera’s recently signed 2 year, $16 million dollar deal is any indication, the price to acquire free agents has gone up. Way up. Cabrera was not only busted for PED’s, he tried to publish a fake website and embarrassed himself and in the process, turned his personal brand into a joke. His track record to that point had been mostly disappointing. He’s the very definition of high risk/high reward and had this been 2010, would have been your ultimate pillow-contract player.

Fast forward to now and not only were the Jays willing to pay slightly above market rate to get him, they were willing to dish 2 years to do it. We live in a new world, folks, where $100 million contracts aren’t what they used to be. In fact, they’re really not that expensive given the big picture. If we’re talking guys in the same wOBA territory with Hamilton since 2010, here’s what it runs you:

Joey Votto received $251.5 million over 12 years
Albert Pujols received $240 million over 10 years
Prince Fielder received $210 million over 10 years
Joe Mauer received $184 million over 8 years
• Mark Texeira received $180 million over 8 years
Matt Kemp received $160 million over 8 years
• Adrian Gonzalez received $154 million over 7 years
Troy Tulowitzki received $134 million over 7 years

The landscape has significantly changed. Whether we think these are good deals or not in a vacuum, teams are willing to pay them and the means to acquire upper echelon talent begins at around $100 million. To be able to get one of the best hitters in Major League baseball at 4-5 years and $100 million should be viewed as an opportunity – even with the associated risk.

The other factor to consider is inflation. Contracts are getting longer and more expensive every year. In three to four years, this deal might look like a total steal relative to what everyone is dishing out for comparable production. Taking the chance on Hamilton – risk and all – seems more worth it than not.

It’s even more appealing when you consider where the Red Sox are now

While Hamilton might seem like an expensive asset in a vacuum, when you set him up against the backdrop of where the Red Sox are as an organization, it starts to look more like a well-placed gamble.

Heading forward, the Red Sox will have to haggle over an extension for Jacoby Ellsbury, should they chose to do so. The same will likely be said of All Star 2B Dustin Pedroia and SP Jon Lester. Outside of those three, the Red Sox financial landscape looks relatively clear.

The farm system looks to be producing an outfielder (One of Brentz, Bradley, Jacobs or De La Cruz), Shortstop (Bogaerts) and a mess of starting pitchers (Webster, Barnes, Wilson, De La Rosa) in the coming years. Ryan Lavarnway and Will Middlebrooks may be question marks now, but should fill in two additional positions on the cheap. Should Bogaerts and Bradley step into the equation in the next two years, it could mean as many as four positions are mostly cost-controlled. Depending on what happens with less sexy prospects like Bryce Brentz, Keury De La Cruz and Brandon Jacobs, the Red Sox could have as many as five positions filled for pittance over the next few years. The need to spend will be significantly mitigated.

All that while shedding Ortiz and Lackey deals – among others. With the exception of 1B, the Red Sox are mostly guaranteed to not get stuck with any above-market payouts. Hamilton’s contract – so long as it’s kept to a reasonable number of years – really shouldn’t burden the Red Sox all that much. Even if it does, the Yankees, Tigers and Angels will all likely be feeling the downside of the A-Rod, Texiera, Fielder and Pujols deals a whole heck of a lot more than the Red Sox would be experiencing with the last 2-3 of Hamilton’s. While that’s not exactly a case for acquisition, it’s worth noting.

The ‘playing in Boston’ thing is a horrible reason not to sign him

If there’s anything I hate in baseball, it’s speculating on what will work and where based on someone’s mental health and/or side issues.

If you sift through the history of the Red Sox, there have been plenty of players who have come to this city with an abundance of off the field issues.

Some succeed and become media darlings. Some succeed and the media hated them. Some don’t succeed and the media befriends them. Some don’t succeed and the media can’t wait to kick them to the curb and tell us all ‘we told you so’. My point is – there’s really no way of telling how Hamilton handles Boston until he’s here.

In fact, the whole ‘can they play in Boston’ meme is mostly a media driven excuse for them to behave collectively like petulant a-holes towards players if they slump or underperform. While there are exceptions, choosing players largely based on media perception is an exercise in futility. If they want to dump on the player, they’ll find a way to. Even with seemingly great guys like Adrian Gonzalez.

As much as I keep hearing issues surrounding Hamilton and pressure, he’s been a guy who seems to thrive in it. Who could forget his performance at the 2008 Home Run Derby in Yankee Stadium? How about his playoff performances in helping to lead the Rangers to two of the last three World Series? If David Freeze doesn’t hit his HR in the bottom of the 11th, it’s Hamilton’s moonshot in the top of the frame that becomes the lasting image of the 2011 World Series. He’s been in the spotlight. He’s thrived in the spotlight. What’s to say he can’t do it here? Who’s to say he can? My point is that we just don’t know.

If surrounded with the right structure and supportive teammates, there’s really little reason to assume he can’t succeed here. To issue a verdict on him without him being here is being overly presumptive.

What’s the worst-case scenario – addressing the red flags and question marks?

I keep hearing everyone talk about the Josh Hamilton nightmare scenarios, but no one seems to be willing to paint a picture of what that would look like. So maybe we should grapple with that here and now.

His career high 25 K% should scare us – Hamilton’s career mark is safely around the 19% mark. Over a 1/3 of his K’s this year were produced in June and July – right on the heels of him quitting tobacco. Everything seemed to return back to normal once we hit August and September.

Major injuries – Most of the major injuries that Hamilton has incurred have been mostly freakish. For example – his broken rib cage, a broken arm in 2010 and a sports hernia and back strain in 2009. With the exception of the back injury, those are all more or less freak injuries.

Nagging injuries – Hamilton has certainly had his fair share of odd ailments all over the years, spanning from vision issues to problems with the gutty works. But to chalk them up to him being ‘soft’ would be silly. Hamilton DOES come with risk. Hamilton did drugs. They effect everything over time, including issues with your joints and digestive system all the way to your teeth. I don’t doubt that Hamilton will likely continue to deal with nagging ailments. There’s nothing here – outside of his substance abuse issues – that give me huge reason for concern with regards to his day-to-day health outside of the macro risks. If the Red Sox give him 3-4 years, he may spend the later half in the DH spot, which would likely mitigate those issues.

Drugs – Quite obviously, it’s the purple elephant in the room – one that shouldn’t be denied. The threat for Hamilton to relapse is extraordinarily real. The Red Sox (or whomever signs him) will have to conjure up a way to keep him on the straight and narrow. While we spend a lot of time lamenting the pressures of Boston – there’s also something to be said for the support mechanisms that exist here for people like Josh. We have the best medical facilities in the world with incredible support systems designed to help people like him. We have a generally supportive population to substance abuse issues. He could also find a unique niche as a role model for people with his issues in the area. While in baseball terms, Boston can be a challenging place to play – it can be an equally great place to live. That would make it more of an ideal fit – not a poor one.

The Rangers don’t want to keep him – While there might be some truth to the fact that the Rangers don’t want to keep Hamilton because they no longer want to deal with him, there’s a whole swath of baseball related issues surrounding their general lack enthusiasm towards resigning him. First and foremost would be their lack of need to keep him due to what’s coming around the corner. Jurickson Profar’s an incredible talent who could move incumbent SS Elvis Andrus over to 2B and relegate Ian Kinsler to the OF. Leonys Martin has graded out as a decent player himself – proving to be someone who could not only be a reasonable cost-effective replacement for Hamilton over the long haul, but also a potential fit to fill Nelson Cruz’s spot in RF. Mike Olt could also find himself blending into the mix sooner rather than later, making it difficult to justify signing Hamilton to big money. With other, more cost-effective options also available on the horizon, the Rangers may simply be making a cold, hard, bottom-line decision.

I’m not necessarily standing on a soapbox and screaming for the Red Sox to sign Hamilton. Quite obviously, they need to use caution. But the idea – the concept – of Hamilton in a Boston uniform shouldn’t be shunned altogether. It should be looked at – given the right circumstances – as an opportunity. One the Red Sox and their fans should be willing to take advantage of.

One of the biggest misconceptions to fly out of the big August Gonzalez trade was that the Red Sox are done spending. Not only is that silly, but it’d be flat out wrong to assume. The Red Sox – at some point – will have to dump big money on someone. Whether Hamilton is that guy or not remains to be seen, but he shouldn’t be discarded. Not in any way, shape or form.

And especially not because of our assumptions as to how he’d perform here given his issues. Color me the eternal optimist – but Red Sox nation, this organization and its fans… we’re better than that. And you know what? I think Josh Hamilton is, too.