It’s a bad pun, I know, and despite reports to the contrary there’s not an ounce of me that believes that the legendarily tight-fisted Orioles have any real intentions of bringing in Josh Hamilton through free agency, but it’s the first week in November, still months away from pitchers and catchers reporting and the suddenly “frustrating” Ravens are preparing for an anti-climactic match up against the Oakland Raiders. So just for a second let’s pretend that the Orioles rumored interest in Josh Hamilton is real.
If there’s any part of this “news” that Orioles fans can view as a positive, it’s that maybe the Orioles are (or will be at some point) genuinely interested in spending some money to bring in some veteran talent. The down side is that there’s little to be excited about at the top end of this year’s free agent class, and that those leading the talent parade, Josh Hamilton and Zach Greinke, both have enough question marks to make “Buyer Beware” the understatement of the off-season.
On the surface, this seems like little more than an Orioles effort to do what they’ve become really good at in recent off-seasons. It seems like another Orioles attempt to insult their fans’ intelligence by feigning just enough interest in a free agent superstar to grab a headline or two, but not enough interest (or money) to actually catch said superstar’s attention. There’s no better time than now to do that, as the market hasn’t begun to be set on Hamilton yet, so whatever the Orioles are wiling to offer today is better that any of the numbers we’ve heard so far. That’s because so far we haven’t heard any real numbers, from the Orioles or anyone.
This is the same Dan Duquette who claimed last off-season to be waiting for the sharks to finish feeding before venturing out to feed off of what was left. Why on Earth would we now believe that the Orioles have after one moderately successful season changed courses completely?
If they have, the timing couldn’t be worse. In this (what we hope is) the post steroid era of Major League Baseball, we’re quickly learning that players can no longer be expected to live up to the lofty contracts that take them well into their mid and late thirties. If the Orioles were compelled to pass on a 27-year old Prince Fielder with a bit of a weight problem last season, there’s no logical reason to consider a long-term alignment with a 31-year old Josh Hamilton with an array of baggage in tow.
The improbability of last year’s success was amusing to the fans that watched writers and analysts struggle to explain it, but as the team itself prepares for next year and beyond, the source of their amusement has left them in an awkward position. At every position other than second base (and a starting pitcher or two) there’s a guy from last year’s team who either projects well for next season or who at least merits another look in 2013. There have been plenty of years in which free agent bonanzas would have been both welcome and necessary, and in all of them the Orioles failed to pony up. Now, with legitimate and justifiable reasons to stand pat, the Orioles would like us to believe they’re ready to spend? And on Josh Hamilton no less?
I’m certainly not averse to the Orioles opening the purse strings if they feel inclined to do so, but there are plenty of reasons to be apprehensive if that spending begins with Josh Hamilton. Not only is Hamilton on the wrong side of 30 in the post steroid era and not only is he an all or nothing type of proposition; Hamilton is also a guy who’s sat out too many games for health related reasons when he was on the right side of 30; and how his indiscretions have lent themselves to the aging process is the subject of much speculation and debate.