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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Oh Josh, What a Disaster the Angels Have On Their Hands in Hamilton

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AP Photo


Hey, remember Josh Hamilton? Eh, not to worry. You're not alone.

The former Most Valuable Player comes to Boston with the Los Angeles Angels this week for a four-game series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, a place that Hamilton could have called home had Ben Cherington done something insanely foolish after the 2012 season. Instead, the Red Sox let the Angels make the ludicrous investment in Hamilton, a five-year, $133 million free agent deal that is making Carl Crawford’s seven-year, $142 million pact look like a relatively intelligent bargain.

The 33-year-old Hamilton has responded to his pay day with all the offensive threat of a sedated toad, hitting .255 over 223 games with the Angels, bashing 29 home runs in all – eight this season. This from a guy who averaged 28 home runs a season while with the Rangers for five years, including totals of 32 in 2010, 25 in ’11, and 43 in his walk year of ’12. In his 2010 MVP season, Hamilton had a league-leading 1.044 OPS. It was .739 in his first season with the Angels, only .752 in 2014.

What an all-around disaster.

Hamilton, who once served as inspiration for battling his much-publicized battles with substance abuse, is now the poster boy for ill-conceived, long-term contracts, which is something that seems to becoming more and more of a deterrent for teams. Oh sure, the Yankees will probably give Jon Lester seven years in the offseason, but contracts like Hamilton’s and Crawford’s come with beacons of warning, harking an end to an age when eight-and-10-year deals could be the end result of some negotiations. In 2014, only someone like 24-year-old Giancarlo Stanton is likely worth such an investment.

Three more years of Hamilton will only feel like 10 by the time the Angels are through paying for their mistake.

Hamilton last hit a home run on Aug. 1. He’s driven in a total of three runs this month for the Angels, who despite his struggles have roared out to an 11-4 August mark. He’s struck out 23 times over the last 17 days, leading Angels manager Mike Scioscia to give him a “mental break” on Sunday, when L.A. lost to the Rangers in Arlington, Texas.

“We need to get him back to where his confidence is where it should be and he’s attacking the ball the way he can in the batter’s box,” Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times. “And right now, we think that just taking a step back today is good. Tomorrow, he’ll get back in there.

“But this last week has been tough for him, and I think it’s just time to let him exhale a little bit. Hopefully it’s something that can be a quick fix. He’s just not playing with the same confidence that he’s had. … He knows when he’s right—we saw it for a number of years — he was one of the top five players in baseball.”

Great. But the Angels have seen little semblance of that player over the past two years. Hamilton slugged 21 homers last season, but that was his lowest output since hitting only 10 in 2009. His WAR went from 8.7 in his MVP year to 3.7 in ’11, 3.9 in ’12, then 1.5 and 1.1 each of the last two years in Anaheim. This isn’t just adjusting the wheel a bit in order to right the ship, this is falling off the map.

How close might the Red Sox have come to making the same blunder?

Boston was among the teams in the running for Hamilton’s services when he hit free agency, but was seemingly only willing to go as many as three years, essentially taking the Red Sox out of any serious consideration. There was a Facebook page created entitled, “Red Sox should sign Josh Hamilton for 2013 and beyond.” It has 12 “likes.”

Instead, they signed Shane Victorino and won a World Series. Guess it worked out OK.

“We know that Ben Cherington has explored it,” the Globe’s Nick Cafardo, a proponent of the Red Sox signing Hamilton, wrote in November 2012. “We know that teams around baseball are waiting for the market to settle on him because no one wants to give him a seven- or eight-year deal. In the end, there may be a team or two willing to go that far, but if he would take five years — even with an outlandish yearly base — then you do it.

Initial reports were that Hamilton wanted a seven-year, $175 million deal. So, $25 million a year? Do you overpay so you can get him for five?

There are always going to be concerns about his history of addiction problems, but as someone close to the Hamilton scene has said, 'As long as you have his support system in place, he’ll be fine. His performance by the end of the season is always superb. He’s one of the top two or three players in baseball, and there’s no way you can dispute that.'"

I would like to dispute that.

Hamilton isn’t one of the top two or three best players on his team (Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Garrett Richards, hell, Kole Calhoun, there’s four), never mind in all of baseball these days. He’s making $17 million this season and gets a raise next season for all his outstanding work ($25 million next season, $32 million in 2016 and ’17) . Imagine where the Angels, tied for the AL West lead with the Oakland A’s, might be if he gave them a sniff of what he used to be in the middle of their order.

If the Red Sox were still into making offseason “splashes” (i.e., if the Red Sox still let Tom Werner make the decisions instead of Cherington), he very well could be here in Boston. While Crawford may have scared them off for good from making long-term investments, Hamilton only serves as insurance for their reasoning.

That will be Josh Hamilton in Boston this week. But the player, the five-time All-Star, he’s all but gone now, disappeared with dollars. No longer does he pose a threat, but a warning.

Don’t let it happen to you.

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