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Updated Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 12:16 AM

Mariners fans deserve a bat like Josh Hamilton's

By Steve Kelley
Times staff columnist

Josh Hamilton is exactly what the Mariners need. A power-hitting outfielder, a run-producing machine, a proven star, a shot of adrenaline in the middle of the order.

And Josh Hamilton is exactly what the Mariners don't need. An outfielder whose birth certificate says he's almost 32, but his body says he's more like 38. A player with a history of serious drug addiction, whose asking price is way above his worth.

Hamilton could send a buzz through Seattle's baseball community. He could sell season tickets. He could be the guaranteed bat in the middle of the lineup that this team hasn't had since who? Adrian Beltre? A-Rod? Junior?

Or Hamilton could send shivers through Mariner fans if he arrived late for a game, or went AWOL for a day, or limped off the field after diving for a line drive in the gap.

As late as last June, Hamilton was considered the best player in the American League. But by October, he looked like a fading star. He was the scapegoat for the Texas Rangers' spectacular September crash. Hamilton hit .259 in the second half of the season and his OPS dropped nearly 200 points.

He didn't produce in the final days of the division fight with the Athletics, dropping a fly ball for a two-run error in the deciding game at Oakland. And after the Rangers' wild card loss to Baltimore, he was booed by the same home fans that had hero-worshipped him for the past five years.

The Rangers told USA Today on Friday that they would only offer Hamilton a three-year contract, which was the same as saying they weren't going to re-sign him.

And now, it appears that Mariners are one of the teams interested in Hamilton.

But then again, it's November in Seattle, which means it's the Mariners' Season of the Tease. Dating to the days of Bill Bavasi, it seems that every year at this time, the Mariners express interest in a high-priced free agent, or an all-star on the trading bloc, only to finish second or worse in the chase.

They tease fans with thoughts of players like Prince Fielder, but in the end, Seattle gets Jack Cust, Milton Bradley, Russell Branyan, Carl Everett, Carlos Silva or Chone Figgins.

This season, the reachable star is Hamilton. Apparently he will ask for a seven-year, $175 million deal, but he's not going to get it. The Mariners might be willing to play a waiting game, offer him a four-or-five-year deal, but even that would be gamble.

Hamilton has more baggage than Lady Gaga on tour, but more talent and better credentials than any other free agent on the market.

The Mariners have to consider him. They absolutely have to find a big bat for the middle of the lineup, either through free agency or a trade.

The Mariners' No-Moneyball doesn't work. Never has. They can't spend another season waiting for a half dozen prospects to suddenly become all stars.

The M's need a veteran who can produce. They need a leader with credentials. And they need to spend to get him.

This year isn't rich with possibilities, but there are hitters who can help Nick Swisher, B.J. Upton, Alex Gordon, Torii Hunter, Shane Victorino, Billy Butler, Cody Ross. All of them are more productive than anybody in the Mariners' lineup last season.

Why not get serious get serious about competing for the division and sign both Hamilton and Swisher? Shock the sport.

The Mariners have the money. They've smartly let their long-term contracts run out. They can't poor-mouth us anymore.

But is Hamilton the answer?

Hamilton and his contract could suffocate the franchise, or he could resuscitate the team. He could hamstring the Mariners, or he could liberate them.

He is the most intriguing, scary, thrilling free agent in many years. At the right price, not $175 million, he could be the answer to the Mariners' prayers.

They have to consider him, while also having a fallback position if he doesn't sign. They have to do their homework and make a determination on whether Hamilton's second half slide was a glitch or a pattern.

This is the most important winter since Pat Gillick left town. General manager Jack Zduriencik's job is on the line and he has to deliver.

It's November in Seattle and the fans deserve a bat, not another tease.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Hitting credentials
Texas' Josh Hamilton was the American League MVP in 2010.
Season Gms Avg. HR RBI
2007 Cincinnati 90 .292 19 47
2008 Texas 156 .304 32 130
2009 Texas 89 .268 10 54
2010 Texas 133 .359 32 100
2011 Texas 121 .298 25 94
2012 Texas 148 .285 43 128
Source: baseball-reference.com



Josh Hamilton could provide what the M's need, but his baggage and second-half slump are concerns.




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