It's amazing how differently the 2012 free agent market is playing out than it did in 2011.
Last year at this time the Albert Pujols feedy frenzy was near its explosive end. Pujols waived off a reported $275-million, 10-year bid from the Marlins and a $220 million offer from the Cardinals to take a $240 million deal with the Angels.
Pujols was a high profile media darling with reporters and columnists all over the country gushing about the possibility of the best hitter on the market coming to play for their team. Who cares about the cost? Pujols is worth it, they wrote.
In 2012 the top free agent hitter is Josh Hamilton. He's a career .304 hitter who bashed 43 home runs last season. He has five consecutive All-Star Game appearances under his belt to go with an MVP award and two other top seven finishes in the MVP balloting. And yet no one seems to be interested in giving Hamilton more than a four year contract.
It seems that his current team doesn't want him back much at all.
Pujols split last year without warning, telling his agent to call the Cardinals and inform them that he was headed for the West Coast. Hamilton has promised to give the Rangers, who basically dared him to go out on the market and negotiate his best deal, that he would give them an opportunity to match any offer he finds.
It seemed a few days ago that Hamilton was leaning towards a re-union with Texas. But, in the meantime, the Rangers are hot and heavy with top starting pitcher Zack Greinke. They basically told their superstar slugger he'd have to wait until the Greinke situation was resolved before the team would have time for him. And, if Grienke signs with the Rangers, it seems the club won't have enough money to sign Hamilton. The club is also in trade dealings that could land outfielder Justin Upton who would seemingly replace Hamilton in the line-up.
Hamilton has a history of substance abuse problems. So it seems that there is some logic behind teams' caution. But when has baseball free agent bidding ever involved logic? Never. At least not when there's a free agent on the market with Hamilton's considerable talent. Not only was there rampant speculation last year that Albert Pujols was several years older than the 32 years old he admitted to. But, even if he really was 32 last season, the Angels knew they would be paying Albert way past his prime in a 10-year deal.
The Rangers have a huge local television package kicking in. So they could afford to make a large mistake if Hamilton backslides. Still, I get the impression they aren't just playing hard to get. They seem to be very lukewarm to the idea of Hamilton back in Arlington in 2013. Do they know something the rest of us don't.