Worth the risk
Reds' gamble on Hamilton paying huge dividends
Posted: Wednesday April 18, 2007 11:44AM; Updated: Wednesday April 18, 2007 2:27PM
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Back in December, when the Reds acquired Josh Hamilton, the former No. 1 pick and drug addict, as one of the biggest Rule V gambles in years, most others baseball executives wondered whether Reds GM Wayne Krivsky had lost it. Yet now, after other baseball people have seen that Hamilton has retained his extraordinary talent, a few of them are already viewing that acquisition as perhaps the smartest transaction of the year.
The poor, unlucky Devil Rays can't really be blamed for leaving the troubled Hamilton off their protected list after he missed four years of baseball (not to mention what they'd been through with him since making Hamilton the No. 1 choice over Josh Beckett in the 1999 draft). And while recent reports suggested the Marlins and perhaps the Phillies were considering Hamilton as well, it was Cincinnati that shocked most in the baseball crowd that December day in Orlando by working out a deal in which the Cubs took Hamilton in the Rule V draft and immediately traded him to the Reds.
Krivsky gambled just $50,000 (and maybe the chance to look silly, as if he cared) when he acquired Hamilton. But after Hamilton's eye-opening spring, during which he hit .403, he and Krivsky have won fans galore. Two general managers recently told SI that they believe Hamilton -- who was suspended nearly four years following failed drug tests -- looks so good that the Reds ought to consider shipping Ken Griffey Jr. to an AL team and giving Hamilton the starting right field job. One GM called the oft-injured 37-year-old Griffey "more of a liability than an asset" in right field now. But the real stunner isn't that Griffey is aging but that Hamilton has retained his vast skills after so many years away from the game.
Griffey has started slowly while Hamilton has stayed hot from spring. Griffey, who averaged only 92 games played from 2001 to '06 due to an assortment of frustrating and freak injuries, is batting .277 but has no home runs in 47 at-bats. Hamilton, who others see fitting nicely into the Reds' young, athletic lineup (the reason I picked the Reds to win the wide-open NL Central), has hit three home runs in his first 22 at-bats.
The mere mention of giving Griffey's job to Hamilton highlights how far Hamilton has come. If he continues to play like this, a more likely scenario is center fielder Ryan Freel moving back into a utility role to make room for Hamilton in the everyday lineup.
Krivsky isn't ready to say Hamilton should be playing full-time and Griffey should be DHing in the AL.
"Griffey broke his wrist in winter and he's making an adjustment to right field," Krivsky said. "We don't have the DH in this league. He's going to play right field when he's in the lineup. We're happy to have him. He brings a lot to the table. But he had an abbreviated spring training, and I'm sure he's playing catch up right now."
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