We'll start with the caveats. The Phillies could have far more cash at their disposal than they are letting on. They could have an ownership group that is willing to risk four or five years on Josh Hamilton. They could be trigger-happy. Or the Rangers could just be claiming interest in retaining Hamilton out of politeness. But absent a significant extenuating circumstance, I simply cannot envision a scenario in which Hamilton signing with the Phillies makes sense.
Yesterday, Sports Radio 610 WIP reported that the Phillies have made the free agent slugger a three-year, $80 million offer. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of that information. In fact, it makes perfect sense.
What doesn't make sense is why the Rangers would not match that offer. The conventional wisdom at the winter meetings last week was that both sides would like their partnership to continue. Early in the free agent signing period, various national reports cited anonymous sources saying that Hamilton was looking for a contract of six or seven years, which led to the speculation that the Rangers might wave goodbye to their star slugger. But if Hamilton's best offer really is for three years at about $27 million per year, and if the Rangers really do want to retain him, then I have to think that they will.
My sense is that the Phillies made their best offer and put it on the table just in case the Rangers really have decided to move on from the player who helped turn their franchise around. Maybe this really does turn out to be the start of a negotiation, but it would require a huge risk on the Phillies part.
The Phillies know that the window for winning a World Series with this current crop of players is no longer than three years. Even with a player like Hamilton, it might only be two years. Between the money they saved last season, the new national television money they will receive, the increase in the luxury tax threshold next season, and the potential of a new local television deal within the next few years, the Phillies have money to spend.
So why not engage in bidding war for Hamilton? To me, 2016 is the key year. That would be the fourth year of any Hamilton deal. It's also the last year of Ryan Howard's contract. They'll be on the hook for $25 million in salary. Howard will be 36 years old. Hamilton will be 35 years old. Plenty of players have remained productive through those ages. But plenty have broken down. And what happens if both players' production suffers a significant drop off between now and then? You can certainly envision a situation in which the Phillies are paying $50 million to two broken down players. And that would be an excellent way to undermine whatever new core of players the Phillies have developed by that point in time.
The worst case scenario is for them to develop a new batch of players and then look at their payroll and say, "Gee, if only we had $50 million to spend on a couple of pieces that we think can push us over the top." Actually, the worst case scenario would involve a Cole Hamels breakdown too, leaving them with $73 million in dead money.
A three-year deal would make sense because the Phillies are built to win now. And if signing Josh Hamilton doesn't result in a World Series, well, they probably weren't going to win one anyway. But in a multi-year deal, every extra year carries with it the risk of disrupting the next window of contention. Which is why I think three years is likely the maximum the Phillies would go. And I'm not convinced that three years will get it done.
But again, I could be missing something.