Written by Jim Mancari
Published: 30 November 2012
In the year’s free agent market, center field is a position where many players will be on the move. Shane Victorino and Angel Pagan may all call somewhere else home in 2013, and B.J. Upton has already signed with the Braves.
But Josh Hamilton and Michael Bourn highlight the list of available center fielders, though Hamilton may be viewed more as a left fielder. Though Hamilton is a former MVP and has put up great stats, Bourn may be a better long-term investment. Bourn will turn 30 prior to the 2013 season, while Hamilton will be 32 in May.
Mainly though, it’s an issue of whether or not Hamilton can stay healthy. Since 2007, Hamilton has played in over 140 games just twice, as he’s dealt with a multitude of different injuries. When on the field, he naturally has been productive, but his injury history, as well as his track record with drugs, may preclude a team from making a long-term pact.
When the dust settles, don’t be surprised if Hamilton agrees to a shorter deal with a higher annual base salary. For example, a team could sign Hamilton to a three-year, $75 million deal, averaging $25 million per year.
Rather than committing seven or eight years to a soon-to-be 32-year-old, teams will hope Hamilton agrees to something similar to the above contract.
As for Bourn, he’s shown he can be more durable than Hamilton. Bourn has played in at least 140 games in four of his five full seasons, and the other season he played in 138.
Bourn and Hamilton are two completely different players. Bourn will never hit 40-plus home runs or drive in 100 runs in a season, and Hamilton is nowhere near Bourn in terms of base-stealing ability.
But in their own way, they both can significantly transform a team’s offense. As a result, the impact of wherever these players sign will be determined by who is able to stay on the field more often.
When looking long-term, Bourn won’t be able to steal 40 bases per year as he approaches age 35 and beyond. But still, a team looking for an influx of speed may be willing to commit five years to Bourn. The base salary would be in the $10-15 million range, but rather than hoping Hamilton stays healthy for five years, a team would be relying on Bourn’s durability for a longer period.
Of course, Bourn can go out on Opening Day and get hurt trying to make a circus catch in center field. That’s a risk teams are willing to take though, since an injury really can happen to any player at any moment.
It would be quite surprising if Hamilton eventually signs a deal more than five years. If so, a team will really be going all-in hoping that he can stay healthy.
But Bourn’s minimum contract may wind up being five years, especially for a team that has power but lacks speed.