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The risks and rewards of Josh Hamilton

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  November 13, 2012 01:53 PM

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Josh Hamilton hitting at Fenway last summer. (Jim Davis / Globe Staff)

There is a team out there that will commit to paying Josh Hamilton a lot of money to play baseball for them.

There will be a press conference, a lot of smiles and photographs and handshakes all around. It's inevitable.

Later on that day, the general manager of that team will probably have trouble sleeping as he wonders whether he just made the best move of his career or the worst.

Here's the question: Should that team be the Red Sox?

The Red Sox can quite easily make Hamilton a three-year, $75 million offer and that could well be enough to get him. Cut short on the years and offer him a higher average annual value, it makes sense.

Hamilton just finished a two-year, $24 million deal. For him, $75 million would be a major step up.

There's plenty to like. Hamilton has hit .313/.370/.583 over the last three seasons with 100 home runs, 102 doubles and 322 RBIs. He hits righthanders better than lefthanders but certainly does not struggle against lefties.

Hamilton is not as good in the outfield as you might think (his UZR was -12.6 last season, actually) but he has the athletic ability to figure out left field at Fenway Park. A strong arm would give runners pause as they turn first base on ball hit off the wall.

Hamilton also would bring eyeballs to NESN, a part of the equation that only a fool would ignore. He is exciting to watch at the plate because you wonder if this will be the at-bat when he hits a ball 450 feet.

(As an aside, the show Hamilton put on at the Home Run Derby at old Yankee Stadium in 2008 is still something that causes me to sake my head in wonderment. The man nearly hit one out of the place, which should be impossible.)

Let's be honest, the Red Sox have been a boring team of late and Hamilton is an exciting player to watch. The Sox could use some excitement after subjecting the populace to assorted Triple A guys in the outfield last season.

But the Red Sox should not take this leap of faith. Here's why:

Hamilton will be 32 in May. That's not old, but that's getting to the far edge of his prime years.

The Rangers have all but pushed him out the door. It's always a red flag when a player's team doesn't really seem committed to keeping him, especially a team with the resources to do that.

Hamilton fell off a cliff (.259/.323/.510) in the second half last season.

Hamilton has missed 157 games over the last four seasons. He played 148 last season, but there are concerns about his physical health moving forward. He also was the DH in 10 games last season. That's not a lot but it's probably nine more more than the Red Sox would want him to DH.

And there's the question of his past. This is a guy who was seriously addicted to drugs and, remarkably, reclaimed his career after many had written him off. Hamilton is an amazing story.

But who can say with any certainly to what degree his drug use will affect him in the years to come? Hamilton didn't occasionally use drugs and got caught, he was a crack addict who nearly ruined his life.

You can't sign Hamilton without factoring that into the decision. Hamilton has admitted to some relapses in the past and the Rangers tried to have a system in place where he had people monitoring his actions and even handling his money.

With a large contract will come pressure to perform and that would be magnified in a place like Boston. Some people like baseball in Texas. But it ranks behind pro football, college football, high school football and spring football in terms of interest.

Calm, cool and collected Adrian Gonzalez admitted the pressure got to him in Boston and he tried unsuccessfully to hit home runs. Carl Crawford said it ate at him. Boston is a great place to play when things are going well. It's the worst place to play when you're in a slump.

Forget for a second what the Red Sox need. Let's say Hamilton was your brother, would you advise him to go play in Boston? That may answer the question.

The Red Sox have run afoul of free agency in recent years and paid a significant price for the mistakes they made. There will come a time, maybe this winter, when they commit a huge contract to another free agent.

If it's Josh Hamilton, it will be quite a story. But that seems like a risk you let another team take.

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