Buster Olney's blog post at ESPN this morning is primarily about Josh Hamiton, and what teams would be a fit for him when he becomes a free agent this offseason.
In running through the options, Olney points out why most of the traditional big-spenders -- the Dodgers, the Angels, the Yankees, the BoSox, the Phillies and the Mets -- would be unlikely to commit $20 million or more per year on a long-term deal for Hamilton, and why even though other potential suitors seem to be less than perfect fits.
Olney seems at the end to have Detroit is the most likely destination for Hamilton, calling them a "wild card" and noting that owner Mike Ilitch has been willing to spend big. Hamilton also could slide into left field with Detroit, with Austin Jackson holding down centerfield.
The problem with Detroit is that they've already got big salary obligations on the books for the next couple of years. The Tigers have $90.2 million in obligations for 2013 for seven players who will be on the roster, and $78.1 million in 2014 for just four players (Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, and Victor Martinez).
The Tigers are looking at paying about $24 million for arbitration-eligibles Alex Avila, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Austin Jackson, and Doug Fister next season, so that puts payroll at almost $115 million for 2013 for twelve players before looking at other potential arbitration cases, other free agents, etc. And all of those players are arbitration-eligible and looking at raises for 2014, as well. If the Tigers sign Josh Hamilton, they're going to have to either significantly backload the contract, or be prepared to go $150 million with their payroll for 2013-14.
And it may be that they're willing to do that. Ilitch is in his 80s, and reportedly wants another championship. The Tigers are fighting the Chicago White Sox for the A.L. Central title, and appear unlikely to be a Wild Card team -- their record is such that they'll most likely either win the division or have a record worse than two other Wild Card eligible teams -- and finding themselves on the outside looking in could prompt Ilitch to go on a spending spree, much like Arte Moreno did this past offseason.
I still think the Baltimore Orioles look like the ideal fit for Hamilton. They are going to be coming off their first winning season of the millenium, they have just $53.169 million committed to 2013, they have an owner who historically has liked big names and been willing to spend on free agents, and Hamilton is likely to take the biggest money deal offered. But Olney suggests that Buck Showalter wouldn't be enthused about adding Hamilton, and such a move would likely require Peter Angelos to push payroll to the highest level its ever been.
The Nationals are a popular suggestion, a team willing to spend and enjoying success, but they have some expensive arbitration cases coming up -- notably Stephen Strasburg -- and more importantly, they have Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper locked into the corner outfield spots through 2017, meaning that they'd have to either commit to Hamilton in center long-term or move Werth at some point.
Realistically, every team comes with a "yeah, but..." caveat. Texas is probably willing to go $20-25 million per year, but not for more than three or four years. If there's not a huge money deal out there, then Hamilton could take such an offer and return.
But as Olney points out, it just takes one team to decide to spend big to change the calculus. And every year, it seems, a team decides to spend big. It could be Baltimore, or Detroit, or Washington, or an off-the-radar team like the Chicago White Sox or the San Francisco Giants. Regardless, someone is likely to give Hamilton a big, big contract, something north of $150 million, when the season is over.