Commentary

Josh Hamilton next for Red Sox?

Prized free-agent outfielder would be ideal fit for Boston in many ways

Updated: December 3, 2012, 11:19 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- David Ortiz said the Red Sox needed more thunder, and Ben Cherington responded, coming to terms with right-handed slugger Mike Napoli. Where he'll play, the Red Sox general manager said, they'll figure out later. It's enough that he show up with his bat.

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Now, about that void in right field. Cherington was asked Monday night whether he could describe his ideal candidate. He didn't miss a beat.

"Dwight Evans," he said. "I'll take him."

What was true in 1983, of course, doesn't quite hold up 30 years later. There is an ideal candidate, though, and his name no longer appears to be Cody Ross. With the addition of Napoli and Jonny Gomes, the Red Sox lineup has taken a decided tilt to the right. The Sox need a right fielder who hits from the left side and is the defensive equivalent of a second center fielder.

The Red Sox don't have to look far to find their man. He's in town, at an undisclosed location. Cherington and manager John Farrell were seen leaving the winter meetings site at midday Monday and not returning for 2 ½ hours. Could it be they were paying a top-secret visit to Josh Hamilton? It would take Carrie Mathison to unlock that mystery.

There's no skulduggery required to figure out how well Hamilton would fit with the Red Sox. Look at this lineup, and then tell us the Sox wouldn't compete in the American League East next season:

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, L
Dustin Pedroia, 2B, R
Josh Hamilton, RF, L
Mike Napoli, 1B, R
David Ortiz, DH, L
Will Middlebrooks, 3B, R
Jonny Gomes/Ryan Kalish, RF, R/L
Jarrod Saltalamacchia/David Ross, C, S/R
Jose Iglesias, SS, R

Speed, power, balance, Gold Glove-caliber defense up the middle in Ellsbury, Pedroia and Iglesias (and Ross when he catches), and "another Millar" in Gomes, as Rays manager Joe Maddon termed him during a media session here Monday.

[+] EnlargeJosh Hamilton
AP Photo/ Bill NicholsJosh Hamilton would cost a pretty penny, but the Red Sox have money to spend.

Hamilton would give the Sox a hedge against Ellsbury leaving as a free agent after next season. He potentially could morph into Ortiz's successor at DH if his physical skills show any decline in the outfield, as the Red Sox have young outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr., Bryce Brentz and Kalish in the pipeline.

The only better fit would be Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who at 23 is eight years younger than Hamilton, bats from the right side but hit 27 of his 37 home runs this past season against righties, and is extremely aggravated that the Marlins have blown up their roster, which would seem to make him receptive to a deal. "Everybody has asked about him," one major league executive said Monday.

But the Marlins say they plan to build around their young star, which would take him out of play. And even if they were open to moving him, the price would be extremely high: three top prospects, according to another club executive.

There are lesser players who could fit, such as Nick Swisher and Shane Victorino, but they would hardly have the electric effect Hamilton would have.

All it would take is money. The Red Sox have boatloads to spend.

Publicly, the Red Sox have vowed to remain conservative in their approach, limiting the number of years they would be willing to offer in a deal, although Cherington said there are exceptions to every rule. Privately, they have sent mixed signals. One source said Monday that owner John W. Henry absolutely will not go past three years for Hamilton. Another said the Sox were interested.

It's hard to imagine Hamilton not getting at least five years from somebody. Albert Pujols' 10-year deal last winter averaged $24 million a year. To cite recent Sox precedent, Carl Crawford came in at just more than $20 million per, Adrian Gonzalez $22 million. So there's no confusion about which tax bracket Hamilton would fall in.

No one expected the Angels to swoop in and sign Pujols last winter. Are the Red Sox trying to duplicate that stealth act with Hamilton, waiting to see where his market is and then blowing everyone away? "Don't rule the Red Sox out," one baseball source familiar with their thinking said Monday.

That should be enough to keep Carrie on edge for the next few days.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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